Video: What's So Great About the Korg MS-20?

In Partnership With Korg

Want a chance to win the very same MS-20 you see in our video above? All you have to do is list an item for sale on Reverb and enter our List & Win giveaway. Visit the link to enter or learn more details.

The Korg MS-20, first released in 1978, is a verified classic. A richly powerful monosynth with the kind of semi-modular flexibility that rewards experimentation, it has kept musicians, sound designers, and producers happy for decades.

Back in 2013, Korg reissued the MS-20 for the first time—as the miniaturized MS-20 Mini—but in early 2020, the company delighted the synth's past, present, and future fans by announcing the MS-20 FS full-sized.

Finally released this spring, you may have seen the rush of release-day videos on YouTube or the ecstatic forum posts about its return. But what's the hype all about?

In the video above, this is the question our host Fess Grandiose is here to answer. Just what made music makers gravitate toward the MS-20 in the first place? And what can new players expect from this instrument?


MS-20 FS in green
MS-20 FS in white
MS-20 FS in blue
MS-20 FS in black

1. The Filters

The MS-20's filter section is one of the most popular filters of synthdom. With both a 6db per octave high-pass and 12 dB per octave low-pass filter in series, the filters can add incredible bite, dirt, or grime to basslines and leads. Their resonant peaks can also be used for all manner of sonic sculpting.

2. Dual Envelope Generators

The MS-20 offers not one but two patchable envelope generators. In addition to the standard ADSR configuration, Envelope Generator 1 also offers a "Delay Time" knob that can delay the onset of the attack, while Envelope Generator 2's "Hold Time" settings can keep a single trigger going for various lengths of time. As Fess demonstrates, you can also bypass them to go straight into the VCA, so that any note you play rings out for as long as you press the key.

3. External Signal Processor

By using the synth's External Signal Processor, you can plug in any other instrument, recorded track, or mono mix and treat it with the synth's circuitry. So want to use the MS-20's famous filter on your bass or vocals? You can do it with ease. With some extra patching, you can also use an external instrument to trigger the synth. In our video, we use a guitar to control events on the MS-20.

4. Sample & Hold

The synth also features a Sample & Hold circuit, which allows you to take a control voltage from one part of the synth and use it to control another. In the video, Fess patches pink noise into the Sample & Hold circuit and sends it to the filter, but there's no set signal path to follow. This is where the flexibility of the patchbay and your own sense of experimentation can create new sounds.

5. Drum Sounds

Fess' final point highlights the MS-20's sounds-sculpting capabilities. With the synth's oscillators, white noise, pink noise, and the resonant filters and envelope generators we've already covered, you can create all kinds of drum hits: deep kicks, snares, hi-hats, and more percussive greatness.

By creating and recording his drums separately—and then adding bass and melodic lines—Fess creates a track completely from the MS-20 sounds you heard in the video.

Shop the MS-20FS—in green, blue, white, or traditional black—on Reverb now.

Want a chance to win the very same MS-20 you see in our video above? All you have to do is list an item for sale on Reverb and enter our List & Win giveaway. Visit the link to enter or learn more details.


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