Thinking of buying your first vintage synth? We run through a selection of the best value analogue options and a couple of top digital alternatives.

Buying your first vintage synth can be a nerve-wracking experience. There are usually no refunds, no guarantees and no promises when buying second hand. Trawling eBay for bargains, buying a 30-year-old unknown quantity and waiting for it to arrive at your door can test anyone’s bravery. The dreaded phrase “sold as seen” might be the ultimate test of nerve in the world of electronic music. Will you get the analogue monster of your dreams, ready to provide basslines on every track you make for the rest of your life, or an unreliable dud with wobbly controls, broken keys and zero resale value?

The experience of cutting open the box and unwrapping the bubble wrap can be a lot less stressful if you’re sure you’ve done plenty of research in advance, which is why we’ve put together our suggestions of ten of the best choices for anyone looking to buy their first vintage synth. From these starting points, it should be easy to narrow down your options and find something to suit you.

We’re going to assume a few things here. Firstly, you’re probably on a budget. Not many people are buying Minimoogs or Jupiter-8s as their first vintage synth. We could recommend all the most classic synths, but there’s not much point if most people couldn’t afford them. Instead, you’re looking for value for money. That means something better than other options – both vintage and new – at a similar price point, something with a versatile sound and, ideally, something reliable. A first synth should also be relatively easy to find. There’s no point recommending an incredibly underrated bargain if it’s going to take you six months to find one.

Buying your first vintage synth can be a nerve-wracking experience. Will you get an analogue monster or an unreliable dud?

On the other hand, there are also plenty of truly classic synths that just don’t make much sense as a first investment in vintage hardware for various reasons. At the cheaper end of the scale, a few years ago a Korg MS-10 would have been a great starting point for anyone making the leap. Now, for around the same price, it’s hard to recommend the vintage MS-10 over a brand new MS-20 Mini.

Even a stone-cold classic like the Roland TB-303 just doesn’t make a lot of sense as a first vintage purchase. The 303 is undeniably iconic, but with that status comes a formidable price tag. For such a one trick pony, it’d probably be foolish to suggest dropping four figures on the real thing as a first vintage synth. By all means buy a 303 if you only make acid or you want an investment that’s likely to appreciate over the next few years. Swerve it if you’re looking to make any other kind of music; chances are you want something a little more versatile for your money.

there are plenty of truly classic synths that just don’t make much sense as a first investment in vintage hardware

So, with all that in mind, we’ve put together our suggestions of some of the best options at various price points. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are lots of other synths worth checking out – but these would be our starting points for anyone beginning the search for a first investment.

We’ve tried not to overlap too much with our previous run-down of the most underrated synths, even though the objective here is slightly different. You can also get a timely reminder of how quickly prices rise by taking a look back at our selections from two years ago. As countless comments section heroes will vociferously inform you, many of those synths we identified as underprices bargains back in 2012 now change hands for much higher prices.

Synths are listed in approximate order of current second-hand value.

 

24th November, 2014

Comments

  • Excellent. Good article and useful info. Maybe some drum machines next then samplers? Good job and great read.

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  • i fucking love attack mag. awesome article. so good to see someone writing a genuinely informative piece on this subject without just trotting out the usual suspects. i already have a poly 800 and love it despite the shitty programming so i definitely second that one. i was thinking about a korg m1 next for those 90s sounds but the triton is a great shout. thanks guys, keep this stuff coming

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  • Dave – it’s slightly different (a mixture of new and second-hand options) but you can check out our Ten Of The Best: Hardware Drum Machines here: http://www.attackmagazine.com/features/ten-of-the-best-hardware-drum-machines/

    Nine Samplers That Defined Dance Music here: http://www.attackmagazine.com/features/nine-samplers-that-defined-dance-music/

    A Ten Of The Best feature on samplers will be on its way some time next year.

    Thanks

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  • Love you guys but, you’re stretching the definition of “vintage” with the Virus, JP8000, and Triton. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Great article overall.

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  • when i first clicked through to the jp8000 i thought the same thing, but the more i think about it the more i agree that those synths probably should count as vintage now. people were definitely calling m1s and d50s vintage synths 10 years ago. they’re less than 10 years older than the jp and virus.

    from collins dictionary definition of vintage:

    adjective

    7 representative of the best and most typical ⇒ vintage Shakespeare
    8 of lasting interest and importance; venerable; classic ⇒ vintage films
    9 old-fashioned; dated

    don’t the virus, jp and triton all fit those definitoins?

    dance music’s obsession with the past can be regressive and reactionary but isn’t it better that we at least move on to DIFFERENT influences from the past? instead of ONLY looking back to the belleville 3 and larry heard, isn’t it better that people are at least drawing from OTHER retro influences, whether they’re kerri chandler or mk or early jungle or todd edwards?

    instead of ONLY seeing anything pre-1985 as vintage, isn’t it better that we acknowledge that there are hundreds of other CLASSIC synths and drum machines to explore? time didn’t stop when the last dx7 rolled out of the yamaha factory.

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  • i’d also be interested to know when other people think the cutoff point for ‘vintage’ is. how do you define it? 20 years old? 25 years old?

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  • Good points gago.
    Maybe it’s cause I can remember stuff like the Virus and JP8000 being released and they were supposed to be alternatives TO vintage synths (knock offs if you will). Doesn’t make them any less useful. It’s more of an issue of people thinking anything “vintage” is somehow better. Personally I sold my entire collection of vintage synths years ago and have zero regrets. There’s so many modern analog synths being made (including a shit ton of modular) now it’s hard to justify paying outrageous prices for even lower end vintage analogs (that you used to pick up for next to nothing).

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  • hardware fetishism is babylon

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  • I just got a Juno-60 for a first vintage synth. Works great but the sliders are a little dusty. No regrets though, got it at a decent price!

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  • My first synth’ was a Yamaha DX-100, some time around 1994 or 95. I loved that thing and coaxed a couple of decent sounds out of it over the next few years messing about with my mates recording stuff onto Tascam Portastudios. It was only years later that I realised synth’s weren’t all as complicated as that. Wish I’d got something analog instead but in those days we didn’t have the Internet to guide us. This is a pretty good top 10. I’d also recommend the small Yamaha CS synth’s (5, 10, maybe even the 15) and the Roland Alpha Junos. Whatever you do, just don’t buy a DX-100!

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  • Somewhat a little disappointed my juno 6 dint make it into the list, the 106 is alright, when i got mine i plugged it in and the 6 and 60 sound so much warmer, i dont really buy them to use into a daw, i get them to unplug from the daw and just jam out.

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  • I’ve been hearing this “the moog prodigy is cheap” nonsense since 1998 when it was featured in Future Music magazine. It has NEVER been cheap and definitely not been sold for 350 quid anywhere. Not at least for the last 15 years.

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  • I had a voice chip go on my 106. I took it to Roland in the Toronto area, and they performed an acetone soak to remove the black epoxy off of the chips. All the chips work great now, no issues. So you might be able to rescue a failed 106 with this method if you catch it early.

    I also got an HS-60 – it’s basically a 106 with built in speakers and an expression pedal input(!) for about 2/3 of the price. I immediately had the voices soaked in the same way just as a precautionary measure. If you can’t find a 106, the HS-60 is actually a better choice. It’s usually cheaper because of the built in speakers, and has that expression pedal input. Finally, they were not often toured with or taken into clubs as much back in the day, so they are often in better shape than a 106.

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  • those prices are fairy dust !!!

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  • I think this article is wrong in many ways.

    Why are there Vintage Analog Monophonic synths on this list?
    In todays market, there is no reason to look for vintage synths, if you are looking for a mono synth. There are no bargain vintage synths that are more interesting than what you can find new today. And rarely do you find synths cheaper than those that are on the market now. And if you want to save a bit of money, you can find many on these new synths used for good prices. Sure they will likely go down in value, so they are no investment, but used synths from the 80s or 70s aren’t either, trends can always shift, but even worse, if they break down, it’s getting harder and harder to have them fixed, with discontinued components.

    So really, an article like this should strongly state that if you are looking for an analog mono, or a way to learn how to program synths, you should be looking for a contemporary, and then you could publish a link to the newest guide of those.

    There is really no reason to keep driving prices of vintage gear up. Let the prices go down, and leave the market open for those looking for something in particular, as a collectors piece, or to replace a synth that has broken down.

    Really why by a Rogue or even a prodigy, when you can get a Sub phatty, or used little phatty for no more money, perhaps even with warranty.

    Sure, you can battery power the Sh-101 and the CS01, but there are synths out there, that are at least as interesting for the same money or less, if you can live without battery operation.

    Vintage mono synths, are more for the collector than a person looking for a synth to play. There was a time when vintage synths were a nice way to build your hardware collection, way back because they were cheap, and later on cause there were no alternatives. But today, I think you should start with a collection of new analog monos before you start to look in to the vintage market.

    And what is this about 90s workstations?
    If you are looking for a nice synth, perhaps to start off with, that is absolutely not the place to look for such a device. 90s workstations are hard to program, as in does not have that good programming interfaces. On most, sound manipulation is also quite limited, leaving you very unsatisfied.
    Sure, for someone specifically looking for that 90s sound, they might be the way to go, but that is really not what this guide is about (finding 90s sample playback sounds), there might be interest for such a guide, but I think this isn’t the place.

    Virtual analogs are not investments either. But sure you get a pretty good programming interface and polyphony for a decent price. But I’ve never seen the JP-8000 for those prices, the SH-32 however (keep in mind though that it has quite a few parameters that are shared, and that the supersaw isn’t editable, you do get more polyphony, multitimbrality and drums).
    If you can live with computer screen and mouse for editing, plug-ins are mostly better deals than used virtual analog gear. But there is something special with having a lot of dials and sliders close to hands, so I agree, that is a valid alternative.
    Keep in mind though that there are still some pretty competitively priced virtual analogs out there, that are not used and from the 90s. And the used ones from the 00 are a bit newer, hence probably less used and about the same prices as those from the 90s, so vintage doesn’t really go together with a guide for finding good virtual analog synths. Perhaps a guide to virtual analog hardware would have it’s place on this site, then you could reference it, when making guides of vintage synths. But I do feel like those virtual analog feels a bit misplaced in this guide, since they aren’t really collectibles and the prices aren’t as good as you would have thought.

    And those prices?
    The author doesn’t seem to have done a good investigation when it comes to prices.
    Is the add real?
    Are there reoccurring offerings for about the same price?
    If there are, how long after the add was published, was the device sold? Good deals often goes very fast. And if you need to be superquick to dial and in a lot of luck to find gear for those prices, this guide could be quite misleading.
    And did the price end up the same as in the add? Or was the interest so high that the seller got a better offering?
    And was those synths in the same state as described in the add?

    Since there are so few new analog or hybrid polyphonic synths, making guides focused on only those kinds of synths would feel more valid than this. Sure, many won’t be bargains, but a lot would still be the best way to get polyphonic analog sounds, since there isn’t much on offer today besides the Tetra/mopho x4, prophet 12, the newly announced prophet 6, the analog four and analog keys and the quite limited volca keys, and most of them are quite expensive even compared to som vintage gear.

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  • I have a book on vintage synthesizers which was first published back in 1993. At the time it was released, a good chunk of the analog gear featured was barely even a decade old. What that in mind, I’d say it’s pretty fair to classify the first wave of VA synthesizers as being vintage now. Some of them are already hitting the 20 year old mark at this point.

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  • Looks like someone needs to do a little more homework here.

    3 noticeable absentees are: the Korg DW8000; the ARP Odyssey; and the ever so popular Yamaha DX 7.

    They should be on this list and also the other list about synths.
    To exclude them means that these list are simply flawed and incomplete.

    Just sayin’…

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  • how come its says i can easly find a roland jp 8000 for less than 150 but all i find are people selling them for 500+

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  • I agree with Jim ! DX7 from Yamaha is not in to list….

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  • A Roland Juno 106 £500-700?? On What planet?

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  • I bought a Juno 106 for $400 in Canada. replaced a slider and 2 prong power and sold it for $850. Even thought I made like $400 on it, I was still really sad to see it go. I loved that synth, for all the reasons mentioned above.

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  • I know price’s are way off.

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  • This article is totally off on price’s.

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  • It’s like they let a 14 year old write the article and price’s stated are wishful thinking.

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  • Good article. As for my two cents worth, I would choose a Korg DW 8000, a Korg M1, or a Korg M3 r. I, too, own a Korg Poly 800, and love it. (Actually, I own multiples of each of these synths, and they really assist me in Flushing out an 80s-inspired sound.) The prices are pretty good for these units.

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