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
Dallas Campbell: is a synth nerd and general gear fanatic from West Virginia, USA. He has been in many music project over the years, usually playing bass and or vocals. Over the past 12 months, he has focused more on making electronic music. Drawing influence from the sounds of the late 70s and early 80s, Dallas continues to obsess about hardware and sometimes even finds the time to record a track or two
I♥SYNTHS: Tell us a little about your music project and how you go about recording.
Dallas Campbell: My music project is really just me messing around while my family is sleeping. I don’t usually have any goals or anything, I will just pick a synth I haven’t used in a while and start programming a patch until I get an idea, then hit record and play something. Generally, I’ll write most of the song with one synth and I’ll go back and replace a lot of the parts with other synths or bass. Then, I’ll write the drums. Last, I’ll send all of the instrument and drum tracks to external fx gear, which is a total pain right now because i only have two inputs so, I have to do every take one at a time. It’s not efficient, to say the least.
I♥SYNTHS: In a world filled with virtual instruments, what draws you to hardware?
Dallas Campbell: Glutton for punishment? haha Virtual synths just never worked very well for me. Other people are great with them, but I’m just more inspired by an actual piece of hardware that I can touch. It’s kinda cool to ponder all the shit these 30-year-old pieces of technology must have been through!
I♥SYNTHS: When did you start collecting gear and what is your prized possession?
Dallas Campbell: This dude I knew in college let my roommate and I borrow a four track cassette recorder. I was pretty much hooked on gear and music after that. I started buying synths about 10 or so years ago. I’m guessing the rarest thing I have is a Yamaha SY20. I don’t think it was ever released outside of Japan. All the writing on the synth is in Japanese! My favorite synth is probably my SCI Pro-One for mono and the Korg Polysix for poly. As for favorite fx units, I would say the Dimension D Chorus, Multivox Multiecho Delay, the Eventide Space Reverb, and the Roland SBF-325 flanger.
I♥SYNTHS: I see you are also a bass player? Did you start playing before or after getting into synthesizers?
Dallas Campbell: Yeah, bass is fun. I had been playing it in some Screamo/Metal bands years ago, before i got into synths. Actually, i bought a Roland Alpha Juno to use in the metal band, that’s when I started learning more about what the heck a synthesizer was.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite synth for bass tones?
Dallas Campbell: Thats a tough one, i have a few pretty sweet bass synths. The one that really stands out and impresses me almost every time is the Roland SH-09. The deep low bass tones you can get with that thing are ridiculous.
I♥SYNTHS: Do you mostly you use keyboard synthesizers or do you use rack gear as well?
Dallas Campbell: Oh, I love rack gear too, I’d actually prefer all my synths to be racks just to save space!
I♥SYNTHS: Do you rearrange your gear a lot to create a better workflow and do you have any future plans to build a bigger room?
Dallas Campbell: I spend probably half of my time moving gear around while I’m recording. I don’t have anything wired right now so I’m moving synths every time I record a track, it’s slightly tedious. I plan on moving to a bigger space at some point in the future, because not having to move 10 things just to get like a bell sound or something would be incredible!
I♥SYNTHS: Have your kids shown an interest in all of the pretty knobs and lights?
Dallas Campbell: For sure! My daughter is obsessed with banging on the keys and turning the knobs. I usually pull up some VST synth and let her bang away on my midi controller.
I♥SYNTHS: What’s next on your list? Are there any rare synths you’ve been looking for?
Dallas Campbell: The quest for gear is never ending! I’ve been wanting an OB8 or OBX for a while, but damn those prices these days are not nice. Oh yeah, maybe a Jupiter 4 to compliment my ProMars! I’ve also considered starting a modular, but i fear that would open up a whole new can of worms to be obsessed about!
I♥SYNTHS: We’d love to hear some of your music. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with?
Dallas Campbell: I’m currently writing a couple EPs that are synth based. The material sounds a bit like the last couple tracks I did for a compilation and an online comic book.
Dallas Campbell: Also, last week my friend Geoff Hoskinson directed and edited an awesome video for one of my tracks called “Return to Earth” and I have a bunch of other tracks up on my soundcloud.
RetroSound is the German-based musician and vintage synthesizer geek, Marko Ettlich. He is a publisher of a popular vintage synthesizer channel on YouTube and an author for different music magazines.
I♥SYNTHS: What kind of music do you listen to?
RetroSound: I am a child of the 80s and I love the music from Depeche Mode, The Human League, Talk Talk, Propaganda, The Fixx and other bands from this time. But, I also like electronic music with guitars like the french band, Phoenix.
I♥SYNTHS: Who is your favorite synthesizer player and what is your favorite synthesizer company?
RetroSound: Vangelis has a big influence of my musical work since I know what synthesizers were used. I heard the futuristic tunes in the late 70s and I was completely blown away. I have a lot of vintage Roland synthesizers so, those are probably my favorite.
I♥SYNTHS: What is your favorite synthesizer that you can’t live without?
RetroSound: My absolute favorite synthesizer ever is the Oberheim OB-X (not the later OB-Xa). The raw sound and the power is pure sex. It’s really the best!
I♥SYNTHS: Do you use any computer-based soft synthesizers and how would you compare them to the real thing?
RetroSound: I use only hardware stuff. Software synths are not part of my world.
I♥SYNTHS: When did you start collecting synthesizers and do you normally buy them on eBay or from other musicians/collectors?
RetroSound: I started collecting in the mid 90s. Some synths are from eBay or local markets and some are from other musicians.
I♥SYNTHS: You’re videos are fantastic and you seem to have a large following. What made you decide to start this project?
RetroSound: Thank you! I started the vintage synthesizer demo project back in January 2007. Good demo videos were very rare at the beginning of YouTube and I wanted to share the fantastic sound possibilities of the older hardware in a time full of software synths.
I♥SYNTHS: What do you think is your rarest synthesizer?
RetroSound: The PPG wave 2.2 with the Waveterm A . Only 500 were made by Wolfgang Palm
I♥SYNTHS: What are your thoughts on new synthesizers that have come out recently? Are there any you have your eye on or do you prefer to stick with the vintage stuff?
RetroSound: I miss a lot on new synths. I’ve compared new MOOGs with the old ones but, the sound is not the same. I miss the raw, dirty sounds and the colours. Most of today’s synth sounds are very clean and boring to me after a few days.
I♥SYNTHS: Would you like to share a new song or video with us today?
RetroSound: Check out some of my newer songs on my SoundCloud page: Retro Sound on Soundcloud