A Tour of Federico Vindver's Synth Collection

"I feel there’s something we forget to do as producers, which is having fun," says Federico Vindver, who’s worked with everyone from Mariah Carey to Kanye West, from Christina Aguilera to Chance the Rapper, from Muse to Justin Timberlake. One of his primary jobs with these and other artists he produces is to find and provide new, different, and unusual sounds. And his collection of hardware synths has brought a good deal of fun to such sonic explorations.

Working so hard, he finds an increasingly short supply of time for simply sitting down and doing music. "The process of making music for the fun of it is so important," he says. When he moved house a year ago, he decided to set up his home studio with a clear route to recreation, achieved through what he calls his stations.

He points by way of example to his grand mono-synth station. Immediately obvious is a rack of four Behringer units and a venerable ARP Omni down at the bottom. It’s an impressive tower of tools that regularly feed his creativity. "I feel this little station allows me to just go in and have fun.

"A lot of times when I’m sitting down making music, it’s for a project, for an artist. So that’s why I built this. Sometimes I’ve been working on a mix or a production, I’m like, ‘Man, I really can’t nail this chorus,’ or whatever it might be. I just need to take a little break making sounds on my synths—my relaxation moment. My two-year-old son loves it, too, because it has all these lights," he adds with a laugh.

Not only is his setup good for male bonding and general enjoyment, but he reckons it can enhance musical insight. "It’s good for your ears. Synthesis has this quality that makes you a better listener, because you start hearing harmonics, dynamics, all kinds of things. It’s almost a cool little exercise, like a meditation. There’s this magic of doing something for fun, with no goal in mind. Just go! Play!"

Back in the early 2000s, Federico bought his first synth, a used Yamaha AN1x. "It did sound really good, even though it was a virtual analogue," he recalls. "And it had some sort of envelope where you could record anything you did, almost like an automation. That gave you 30 seconds or so where you can play anything, then mess with the LFOs or whatever—it will remember that and make it part of the patch. I haven’t seen many synths since with that."

moog slim phatty

Today, more than 15 years later, he estimates he has around 45 hardware synths (and many, many more soft synths). "Often what leads me to buy another is when I listen to something that has a certain sound I want. A perfect example: I was listening to a song not long ago that had an ARP/Solina-sounding string thing, and I’m working on an album for this group who want an ’80s thing, so it would be great to have that sound. OK, which one to get? I started doing my research and found I liked the ARP Omni, so I ended up getting one of those."

Federico likes a synth that reveals a personality when you push it beyond its limits. "Any analogue synth, with a few exceptions, can do decent basses and leads and whatnot, but I want to know the thing that this synth has that no other synth has. And then I push it that way." For example? "A Minimoog has three oscillators, and that’s kind of uncommon. Most synths have two, in general. Just having three oscillators and that type of filter, that’s the Mini’s thing. Push it!"

Right, let’s get back to that mono tower over there. Top left is a Behringer 2600 Blue Marvin, with a Make Noise Strega and 0-Coast below, and then top right Behringer’s Neutron, Pro-1, Model D, and Wasp Deluxe. Below those is a Moog Slim Phatty and an Arturia Keystep Pro controller alongside a Mackie mixer, and then at the bottom the ARP Omni with a little Yamaha Reface CS tucked on top of it. "What I like is that I don’t have to look at the computer or anything. They’re Eurorack standard, so I can patch them all into the Keystep, which is like a master sequencer," he explains. "None of those synths are polyphonic, and that’s kind of on purpose for me, because it makes you think on melodic lines, versus playing a chord."

Once he has something he likes, he’ll start messing with the sounds. "I’ll patch, for example, the Strega to the 0-Coast and vice versa, and then patch some of the Behringer stuff. Like, the 2600 has the three oscillators, so if I’m not using that, those can be three LFOs that I can use on anything else in the system. And then I can get the envelopes from the Neutron, and the Moog, too, so there’s a lot of flexibility. It’s like a modular system—but there’s nothing like a modular case or anything, it’s all semi-modular stuff patched in together, and the Keystep becomes the main thing."

synth stack

He has some pedals available to this system, too, including an Eventide H9 Max Harmonizer, an EarthQuaker Devices Disaster Transport delay, and a Hologram Microcosm, all patchable to any of the synths. "I’ll mess with all of that, make different sound sequences, and then everything is connected to my Ableton. It’s very flexible—I can sequence with them without looking at the computer, or I can do it with the computer."

Elsewhere, a more recent fave is his Moog Grandmother, which always sits close to hand on Federico’s desk. "That’s my go-to for any synth bass," he says. "Even though I could do it with anything, I just know it so well. If I want to do a highly resonant bass, if I want to do a sub bass, if I want to do a percussive bass, I can do it all with the Grandmother. And its spring reverb makes it real nice for old-school-sounding leads. But the magic of the Grandmother is that when you start getting into patching and using the onboard sequencer, you can do so much."

In the studio with Justin Timberlake recently, the Grandmother was among the synths he was using. "I’m showing it to my friend, and I’m playing chords. He’s like, wait, can you play chords on that thing? And I’m like, no, you can’t—let me show you how you can! It sounds a little bit funky, but you can do pads. You put the arpeggiator very, very fast, then close the filter and set the reverb to 100 percent. Then when you play a chord, it’s arpeggiating so quickly that the reverb is creating like a ball of sound, not really separating the notes. So believe it or not, I can do pads on the Grandmother that way. Crazy!"

moog grandmother

There’s lots more around the room. Look at that old-school-sampler station over there, with an Akai MPC300 and an Ensoniq ASR-10, as well as a new MPC. And this Fender–Rhodes has a custom rack to hold more stuff above: a Roland Fantom 6, Korg MS-20, and Yamaha CS-10. Ah, there’s a Roland Alpha Juno 1 and a Yamaha DX7s, here’s his Nord Lead 2X, and on the desk is a Sequential OB-6 module.

Sometimes Federico’s asked to recommend a first synth for people to buy when they’re starting out, and his current top tip is the Yamaha Reface CS. He got one when he was working with a group who wanted to write outdoors as much as possible, so the simplicity and portability of the Reface appealed.

"It just does the most basic stuff—but there’s something about it. It has an LFO with only one destination at a time, you can go to amp filter, pitch, and so on, but it’s great, because it really teaches you if you’re new to synths. With Coldplay’s Everyday Life record, when we were jamming in the studio, sometimes this was my quick-synth-bass thing. I know it’s one of those things people would not even expect to be cool, but it’s really good. It’s so easy to get some amazing sounds, actually."

How about if we asked for a nomination of just one high-end hardware synth? He doesn’t hesitate: it’s the Prophet 10. "If anybody’s thinking about throwing a good amount of cash on a synth, that to me is the one I’d recommend. One of the things I love about mine is actually one of its limitations, the fact that it has a mono output. It doesn’t do the stereo thing. And I feel that’s great, because it’s taught me the value of doing more stuff in mono. It forces me to think in the music. Sometimes a crazy stereo thing will seem amazing. But it might just be the sound. With mono, you have to be sure the music is correct."

nord lead 2x, yamaha dx7, roland chorus pedal
stack of synths: roland, sequential prophet 10, a pad controller, and moog sequencer

So far, he’s found his 10 incapable of making a bad sound. "Everything sounds so present and beautiful. It’s crazy, because I don’t know technically why it just comes out of the speakers so well. It’s limited in its capabilities as far as what you see is what you get—there’s no menu diving or anything. But sometimes those simple designs are the ones that allow you to be more creative, in my experience. I’d say the Prophet 10 has everything I will possibly want."

Really, Federico? We take a final look around the room. It does not resemble the habitat of a man who is drawing the line any time soon. "Well…" he hesitates, smiling. "I’m probably getting a Moog One. I played with one for so long, and I wanted to like it, but I never did. There was something about the feel of the keys and the sounds—I felt like I’m not vibe-ing with this thing. It was between that and the Prophet. And the Prophet, as soon as I played one thing, it was perfection. But, you know, I still think I might get a Moog One… ."

About the author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. His books include Fuzz & Feedback, The Ultimate Guitar Book (happy 30th birthday UGB!) and Million Dollar Les Paul. Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at tonybacon.co.uk.

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