Which Synth Was It? A Closer Look at 5 Classic Tracks

One of the beautiful things about a great synth is the flexibility of sounds it can create. Going as far back as the earliest consoles and Bob Moog creations, the wealth of knobs and patchable inputs invited any player - no matter how experienced - to craft a totally unique sound with each stop behind the station.

Despite this open-endedness, there are some recorded sounds that have an especially close and iconic relationship with the synth that made them. There are certain recordings that come to mind when we first think of a particular instrument, recordings that serve as a touchstone when conceptualizing how a synth might fit into a new project.

Here's a look at just a few personal favorites that I've come to associate with a specific synth. There are certainly many more iconic synth sounds out there. Feel free to add your own in the comments thread!


"Jump" by Van Halen
Oberheim OB-Xa

Whether you applaud or dismiss Van Halen's entry into synth-tastic territory, it's hard to argue the opening chords from "Jump" off of 1984 don't stand as one of the most instantly recognizable synth lines of all time. The chords were written by Eddie and performed on an Oberheim OB-Xa. There's some debate as to the exact signal flow and settings used to achieve the sound, but it all seems to have stemmed from some implementation of the OB-Xa's A1 patch.

Van Halen - "Jump"

"On The Run" by Pink Floyd
EMS Synthi A

For some of us, the frantic synth swirls of "On The Run" off of Dark Side Of The Moon recall images of Dorothy freakishly gliding through Oz. For others, the pulsing soundscape represents a major leap in the use of early sequences like those found on the EMS Synthi A. For this track, Gilmour and Waters played a simple sequence of notes, ran them into the Synthi's sequencer and sped it up. Check out the video above for an amazing breakdown of how this early synth was deployed in the recording of Dark Side.

Pink Floyd - "On The Run"

"I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" by Hall and Oates
Sequential Circuits Prophet 5

Choosing an emblematic usage of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 is probably easier than any other synth except for maybe the MiniMoog. This landmark keyboard was the sound of the '80s, showing up on countless hit singles spanning many genres. "I Can't Go For That" by the law offices of Daryl Hall and John Oates might seem like a random choice, but it's all in the soft, swelling parts at the beginning of the track. It's those lush string sounds that come back time and time again when thinking of the mighty Prophet. Just look at the music video above for a clear illustration of how these sounds were put to use.

Hall and Oates - "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"

"Chameleon" by Herbie Hancock
ARP Odyssey Bass line

With the release of Headhunters in 1973, Herbie Hancock embraced a new funk-infused take on post-bop jazz, with a set of electric pianos and synths forging the way. Now heard in high school jazz ensemble warm-ups all over the world, the original bass line in the crossover hit "Chameleon" was recorded with an ARP Odyssey. The track also features the use of a Hohner Clavinet and an ARP solo track about four minutes in. Original ARPs are increasingly hard to come by, but Korg did announce a reissue of the original in all its funky glory at NAMM this year.

Herbie Hancock - "Chameleon"

The Theme From Seinfeld
Korg M1

As many know at this point, the slap bass theme song from Seinfeld is not a bass at all but a Korg M1 keyboard played by TV composer Jonathan Wolff. As you can see in the video below, Wolff combined a bass patch on this Korg with a few organic noises he made with his mouth to reflect the cadence of Jerry Seinfeld's comedy delivery. So committed was Wolff to matching the rhythm of Seinfeld's jokes, he re-recorded the theme for each new episode. Watch the video below for his full explanation.

Theme From Seinfeld
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