Early Keyboard Synthesizers
Moog, Roland & Yamaha
'Opalong' by Shankar Barua


Robert Moog and Moog Synthesizers

Robert Moog was originally a maker and seller of all sorts of Theremins (amongst the earliest and most fascinating of all electronic musical instruments), starting out in 1961 ~ with his dad, as some say. But he soon also began developing new electronic instruments, proceeding substantially from ideas of the German designer Harald Bode about transistorized modular synthesizers.

Soon enough, Moog began to produce instruments of his own design, and after toying with the idea of a portable guitar amplifier awhile, turned to the synthesizer.

Though first introduced to the idea of building new circuits capable of producing sound at a convention in the winter of 1963, he was invited to exhibit his own new circuits along these lines within less than a year from that, on invitation, at the Audio Engineering Society Convention, September 1964. And still in 1964, Moog actually began to manufacture complete electronic music synthesizers, designed in collaboration with the composers Herbert A. Deutsch, and Walter (later Wendy) Carlos.

Soon enough, Wendy Carlos's album "Switched on Bach", played entirely on Moog synthesizers, launched synthesizers from the electronic avant garde directly into public consciousness and commercial popular music. The Beatles at the peak of their popularity reportedly bought and used a Moog, and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones also got himself a hugely expensive modular model in 1967,.. but apparently never made any music with it at all!

Sadly, although the Moog Synthesizer Company pioneered breakthroughs and set future standards for analogue synthesizers, it did not survive the decade, with larger companies carrying forward the concepts and protoypes into more sophisticated and cost effective instruments.

And Robert Moog returned all the way back to his electronic roots, making and selling some of the worlds funkiest Theremins all over again.

below: some Moog Production Models

The Roland Corporation

Roland was itself one of the early products of the electronic music and synthesizer revolution, releasing both an analogue synthesizer, the SH1000 ('Japans first synthesizer'), and a domestic electronic combo-piano just one year after establishment of the company in 1972, in Japan.

Its famous System 700 modular studio synthesizer, aimed at the broadcast market, was released in 1976.

1977 brought the GR500 series analogue guitar Synthesizers and the first commercial rhythm machine, the "Compurhythm" CR78. A range of innovative yet inexpensive Synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines followed through the eighties, including the MC202 sequencer, TB303 synth/sequencer, the SH101 monsynth and the TR-808 drum machine. All were compact and affordable, and yet each had uniquely versatile features that ensured market success and huge popularity with all sorts of musicians for the company and it's products till date.

below: a few early Roland Synthesizers

Created mainly for the corporate broadcasting studio market in 1976: Rolands first modular synthesizer, the System 700

The System 100 was basically a more affordable version of the System 700

The SH101 was a popular monophonic analogue synthesizer with a 32 note keyboard housed in a light plastic casing, with optional 'guitar style' handle controller

The Roland SH2 was a dual oscillator analogue synthesizer with a 37 note keyboard

The CR78 was one of the first commercial drum synthesizers, with preset rythms and switchable voices.

The Jupiter 8 was an 8-voice polyphonic synthesizer with a 61-note keyboard, 64 patches, 8 "patch presets" and 2 VCOs per voice. VCO1 could be set to a triangle, sawtooth, pulse or square wave, and be switched between 4 octaves. VCO2 had the same options and also a noise generator switch.

The Roland TB303 "Bassline" synthesizer/sequencer

The Roland TR808 Drum machine

The MC202 (1983) was a 2 track sequencer and 1 VCO monophonic synthesizer with a 32 button key 'keyboard'


Yamaha has been around a very long time as a company that makes all sorts of things, ranged from motorcycles, guitars, furniture, archery equipment, bathtubs, skis, tennis rackets and construction machinery, all the way through to the pianos it has been making for more than 100 years now.

Their first synthesizer was the GX1 in 1974, but their first electronic musical instrument was the Electone D-1 electronic organ, designed and built in 1959.

below: some early Yamaha Synthesizers

Yamaha's first polyphonic synthesizer, the GX1, was innovative for its time but cost a whopping £30,000 in 1976,.. and weighed about 2/3 ton.

The CS80 polyphonic synthesizer was basically the GX1 carried forward into a more affordable price range (£5,000 in 1976). It was a complex polyphonic synthesizer with 16 oscillators, 32 filters, 32 envelopes allowing voices to be split and layered and stored in a six part memory allocation. The keyboard boasted both velocity and poly-aftertouch sensitivity.

The CX5 music computer was an FM multi-timbral digital synthesizer with a keyboard and Video Display Unit (VDU). Synthesizer information was viewed, arranged and edited on the VDU screen using proprietary software including composition software for multi-timbral sequencing and notation, FM voicing of the internal synthesizer, DX7 Voicing software for programming and manipulating patches, and so on. It also operated some general-purpose computer programs such as word processing, spreadsheets and games, as it was entirely MSX compatible. The CX5 was the only 'affordable' computer synthesizer of its time.

Yamaha's DX7, released in 1983, is regarded as the first truly *digital* synthesizer, using a type of synthesis developed by Professor John Chowning at Stanford University in the 1970s, which Yamaha called "Frequency Modulation" (FM). In this, sounds are created by interacting 'operators' that act as 'carriers' or 'modulators' in the form of a sine wave that can be shaped and given its own pitch, etc.

With one of the world's earliest LCD input controls taking the place of traditional analogue sliders and knobs, it is said that most users were too intimidated to really go deep into the synthesis possibilities of the DX7, prompting Yamaha to follow up with a series of extra sound cartridges to bypass programming complexity.

The DX7 was one of the first Synthesizers to have a full complement of MIDI ports. *And* it also had a unique breath controller input port, which allowed the user to manipulate timbre through breath pressure via a tube held in one's mouth.


The Yamaha DX27, DX27S, and DX100 were low-end versions of the professional Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. They had smaller 61 note non velocity-sensitive keyboards, while the sound source was a 4 operator, 8 algorithm FM Tone Generator that yielded 8 note polyphony. The DX21, 27, and 100 were essentially the same with just slight variation in effects and portability.