I♥SYNTHS: Can you tell us a little about Custom Synth? When did you get started and what made you get into the business?
Custom Synth: A while back, I got involved in music because one of my brothers, Toby Toman, played drums in various British bands (The Nosebleeds, Ludus, The Durutti Column, Blue Orchids, and Primal Scream) so I grew up around rehearsal rooms and studios. I started Custom Synth several years ago, mainly restoring vintage equipment, rack gear, rusty keyboards and more. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to customize hi-tech equipment? Fender and other guitar companies have custom shops so, that kind of started me off. I now notice Roland, Korg and other companies have started to do it. Then, I was commissioned to customize a Nord in black, so it could be used in an orchestra pit and not stand out. Red Nords are cool but having a black option would be handy for something like this.
I♥SYNTHS: If someone wanted a custom synth, what’s the best way to get started?
I♥SYNTHS: Can you explain a little about your process on customizing?
Custom Synth: Once the project is started and the colors/graphics are worked out, the equipment is stripped down. Then, the parts are prepared, sanded, resprayed and screen printed. I work with friend who has a screen printing company (they used to do all of the Joe Meek gear).
I♥SYNTHS: Do you get any other instrument requests besides synthesizers?
Custom Synth: I do mostly hi-tech instruments and rack gear. I did work with Native Instruments for a while, customizing the Maschine for the artist series and a few one-offs. I also worked with Novation with the dicers and launchpads in chrome/gold and more. Really, anything that can be sprayed and printed can be customized or restored.
I♥SYNTHS: You’ve done some custom synths for celebrities and famous musicians. What was your most unique or original project?
Custom Synth: One of the most unique projects was for Tom Rowlands (The Chemical Brothers studio). I built a midi controller keyboard to sit in the bumper rail of a large SSL mixing desk. It has a detachable cover to match the rest of the desk and two modular cabinets. One was for the Serge modular system in a two piece metal arch and the other was a MOTM system to match the Roland 700 system.
I♥SYNTHS: Any other unique stories or projects?
Custom Synth: The restoration work I do for RL Music is rewarding and the finished instruments always look and function beautifully. You can see more at http://www.rlmusic.co.uk/
Custom Synth: Also, the Kaiser Chiefs have a white keyboard set up for their world tours including Peanut’s custom Nova-modded 808-style SH101.
Custom Synth: Howard Jones has a great looking sci-fi Deco chrome keyboard setup.
Custom Synth: Pete Watson, a session musician (Hurts, Lily Allen, Live), uses mainly Nords in black with reverse keys.
Custom Synth: Keane uses a custom Roland SH-201 in yellow.
Custom Synth: Rachel Furner uses a Roland RD-700 GX piano with blue and white stripes.
Custom Synth: Chromeo has a few all-chrome pieces like the MS20, Nord Modular, Nord Stage, a Roland SH-101, Akai MPC, Moog Voyager and Simmons Drum pads.
Custom Synth: Mike Skinner (The Streets) urban camoflage tr 909, a custom white Logan string machine, a white ARP Axxe and pink Fender amp.
Custom Synth: Gary Go has a custom black Nord stage and microKORG.
Custom Synth: Major Tweaks Studio (Roger Lyons) is the north’s leading analogue synth recording studio, custom SH-101s, MS20s, a CS and modular racks. Other customers include: Goldfish , Robbie Bronnimann , Tom (Editors), Shadow Child, Spoony, Funkagenda to name a couple.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a favorite synthesizer to work on?
Custom Synth: Anything is great to work on. Seeing something in a sorry state or rusty and beat up and then refreshing them and making them usable again is worth it.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s been your most challenging project?
Custom Synth: I recently had a Jupiter-8 that had been in its case in damp storage. The lining of the case had turned to sludge, eaten the paint off and bubbled the paintwork. That took a lot of refinishing and it came out rather well.
Custom Synth: Similar with a TR-909, that had sat in a puddle for a year. Someone had a go at painting it which kind of reacted and the finish became bubbly. I gave that an 808-color makeover.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you have a large personal collection of custom synths?
Custom Synth: I used to but not now. I just use a Roland Fantom G6, a Eurorack modular (which is growing) and a laptop with Reason on it, for my music
I♥SYNTHS: Have you ever fallen in love with a project and wanted to keep it for yourself?
Custom Synth: Yes, I love everything I do, but you have to let the kids leave home. They can always come back.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next for Custom Synth? Do you have any future projects or new ideas you’re looking to do this year?
Custom Synth: I have been making a few t-shirt designs, which I sell on eBay. I try and keep the designs unique. They change all the time and helps pay for the projects.You can check them out here on http://www.ebay.com/usr/customsynth
Custom Synth: I’m still finishing a duo SH-09 which is a work-in-progress but, it’s getting there. I am also going to make a few Custom Synth one-offs this year and continue to experiment with different colors and finishes. I did have a plan to make some speakers for modular systems but, I’ve noticed people have started to do that. Perhaps customizing Eurorack modulars would be great! Maybe a rainbow modular? Different colors used for functions might be nice. I’m also working out a way to mount effects pedals into Eurorack formats too.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! I hope to one day own one of your amazing pieces of equipment.
I♥SYNTHS: When did Jam open their doors?
JAM: We first started out as a small used synthesizer store in early 1997.
I♥SYNTHS: What got you interested in selling synthesizers?
JAM: There really wasn’t any business thinking behind it. I just wanted to be around really cool music gear all day, preferably things you had only seen in Peter Forrest’s A-Z of synthesisers or Mark Vails Vintage Synthesizers-book.
I♥SYNTHS: Were you primarily a synth shop and then expanded to other instruments?
JAM: Yes, that’s correct. We have a specialised store for guitars right across the street and a PA-equipment store, just round the corner. JAM Syntotek is specialised in synthesizers (and some studio gear). We are also one of the few stores in Sweden that has both used and new gear, which is sort of how I think a music store should be. It should be fun to visit the store, not like going to your local supermarket.
I♥SYNTHS: What was the coolest synth to walk through the doors?
JAM: Oh, there’s too many, really. We had an original Buchla Music Easel for a day, just visiting from the Royal Music Academy collection. Apart from that, I would say the Technos Acxel (which we’ve had one of before and now just got another one in stock, there’s supposedly less than 40 of them around), the Synton Syrinx Special Edition (super rare, only six made), the super obscure swedish modular Dataton, some EMLs which I am really into and a huge Moog Modular IIc.
But, the coolest piece of gear will always be the EMU SP1200 sampler for me.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you collect as well, or is everything for sale?
JAM: I do keep gear for my self periodically, but usually everything in the store is for sale.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your rarest synth in the collection?
JAM: At the moment it is the Technis Acxel. We really don’t know how to put a price on it.
I♥SYNTHS: Have you had any celebrity sales? What did they purchase?
JAM: Mostly swedish celebrities, although Daft Punk bought an MaM sequencer in the late nineties. Philippe Zdar, who I really like as a producer, bought a couple of Neumann mikes and turned out to be about the nicest guy we’ve ever met.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you do repairs and maintenance too?
JAM: Yes, we do. We have a service technician who shares space with us, who is really good at fixing stuff without schematics. We also know most of the repair guys around so, whenever we’re too busy or if it is too hard, we call them in.
I♥SYNTHS: Modular synths have exploded onto the scene in the past few years. Are you noticing more traditional keyboard players getting into it or is this a whole new breed of music makers?
JAM: I would say both, really. There’s these guys who use them only for production, and those who make modular sound just for the activity, I guess. Both is ok in my book. I think the dubstep kids etc are mostly into soft synths though.
I♥SYNTHS: Thanks again for the interview! Care to share some original music or a popular album you’re into at the moment?
JAM: You should always plug your friends so I will have to say, Andreas Tilliander / TM404, his stuff is great, check it out on https://soundcloud.com/tilliander
Also, Smutskatt is a really good swedish beats producer that I tend to play at work a lot http://soundcloud.com/smutskatt
The represses of Eliane Radigues fantastic drone music is also well worth checking out.
Oh, I would also like to plug our instagram account where we put up all the goodies as they come in;
Jam on INSTAGRAM