MS-20 sharing and discussion thread


#1

I made this thread because a few of us got onto the topic of the MS-20 in the pictures thread and I wanted to hear/see more of what people here are doing with their MS-20’s.

It’s perhaps the most ubiquitous synth I’m aware of. You can spot it in use by so many artists, each of them using it for wildly different sounds, throughout the past 4 decades. The reissue is widely available and I’m sure it’s the first patchable instrument many people get the chance to interact with, and that’s such an inspiring experience that can change a person’s ideas about synthesis and sound itself. It’s my favorite physical design of any synth–it looks like it should be a prop in a 60’s sci-fi film, and it’s also extremely intuitive and malleable.

If you have any tracks, ideas, patches, or videos involving the MS-20 please share them!

I have not seen mention of Ippei Tambata’s MS-20 patches on this site, and if you have not yet seen his stuff you should check it out. He has made videos of hundreds of patches and most of them are really interesting and creative, with lots of feedback paths and self generative patterns. I’ve learned a ton studying what he does.

His Youtube channel is the easiest way to see all of his MS-20 stuff. He has a blog as well but it’s mostly in Japanese and the patches are scattered among other posts.


#2

I still haven’t messed with using my ms-20 and modular together (very small workspace so I just tend to use one thing at a time). I am interested in how they might work together without something like English Tear. I know that the ms-20 wants gates to go low from high (I think) and there’s the hz/v thing. How are you finding them together?


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#3

They’re great together if you’re looking for something rough around the edges :wink: You can get a lot of great results by just working with the weirdness of the two “not playing well together.” The MS-20’s envelopes, VCA, and modwheel output make it into a lot of my patches. I especially like using the keyboard cv output as a modulation source though. Since the portamento will actually slew the cv output you can get some cool, slowly drifting offsets. I’m using that in the patch in the picture to change up the drum pattern generated by Batumi and Vert whenever I change notes on the MS-20 (which is playing a self-generating percussive thing and clocking the modular/digitakt).


#4

the ms-20 wants high-to-ground triggers, yeah. I have mine stacked together with my little modular (you probably saw?), but I admit I patch them together less lately, mostly because I’m enamored with new modules. My favorite patches, though, mostly focus on having them modulate each other more than mixing the signal paths, since I’m trying to think of them as two things that play well together more so than one Frankenstein thing


#5

Yeah I’ve used the ms-20 very little since getting into eurorack, though I did plug it in recently and was again blown away with how great and organic it sounds. Did you see this? ;


#6

I hadn’t! This is adorable!! I love how little they’ve patched the MS-20—there are so many crazy tones on just the knobs.

Keep that baby plugged in! Euroack is amazing of course, but the MS-20 is really something special.


#7

After going into Eurorack and various other semi-modular synths I keep returning to the MS-20 for its simplicity and immediacy. It is a very deep instrument in terms of all the different organic timbres that it can create. I’ve been listening to this as well from a recommendation on another thread:

It’s really great to hear the depth that this machine can achieve.

There is a section on this page, Converting Gate to Switched Trigger that shows a very simple circuit one can easily build that does the necessary conversion to trigger the MS-20 from something like a Eurorack system. It’s a very easy build if you know how to solder.
http://www.doepfer.de/faq/gen_faq.htm#S-Trig

For Hz/V to V/Oct I don’t know of any easy solutions apart from the English Tear by The Harvestman and the U-201 an U-202 by Ladik. I’m personally not too worried about pitch tracking since I mainly use the SQ1 if I want to sequence the MS-20 which gives you the option to output Hz/V.

It would be great to hear what you are all doing with your MS-20s!


#8

Not to take us too far afield from the theme of pictures, but here’s a little piece I made for a Junto a few weeks ago. It’s all the MS-20, multitracked and postprocessed in Ableton.


#9

My first synth was a Korg MS10 in the late 90s, and I had an “educational” limited edition MS20 for some time (the huge flat version with oversized knobs/etc.).

One thing I almost always did on the MS10 and that can be done with slightly different results but more control on the MS20 is a simple controlled feedback loop by multing the main output to the external input (I typically used a mono to dual mono jack connector but with the MS20 mini you can just use a Stackcable for example).

With the right amount of feedback, the synth starts overdriving very nicely…


#10

I used an original MS-20 in my college electronic composition classes, back in the 90s. Bought the mini three years ago, which led to the SQ-1 sequencer (amazing), and volca beats. Then…Clouds. I started off processing the output of the mini with Clouds, modulation from the mini, and the mini’s VCA to attenuate Clouds output. I keep getting close to selling the mini, or better yet trade for modules…my 6U is likely to turn into 9U later this year.
While it is wonderful on its own, it is a gateway device in some cases. While it doesn’t exactly speak eurorack, it plays nicely enough for some applications.


#11

In large parts, the patch field of the MS-20 offers control voltage possibilities that the majority of synthesizers offer ready to use via knobs and switches, like…
…allowing the wheel to control the pitch, or
…using the button to engage LFO vibrato, or
…creating random staircase LFO waveforms.

The audio path is in fact non-modular: all you can do is to inject an audio signal, you can’t break the VCOs-Mixer-HPF-LPF-VCA chain.

I could go so far to claim that the patch field of the MS-20 mostly has an educational value, as it helped me to understand and use the basic principles of voltage control.

So the comparatively minimal patching in the video is – from my perspective – a consequence of the comparatively limited patching capabilities.

The exception being the MS-20’s External Signal Processor, which can not only serve as a audio-to-CV processor (I fondly remember using my Casio VL-Tone’s sequencer to control my MS-20), but which offers a non-voltage-controllable HPF-LPF filter with lots of gain distortion, which can really help shaping e.g. the MS-20 phone output when it is used as a feedback or modulation signal…

…which helps creating (at least in my ears) the most organic, acoustic-instrument-behavior-like sounds in the MS-20.

Disclaimer: I love my MS-20. It was the first analogue synthesizer I got, back in 1982 (the first synthesizer was a Casio VL-Tone VL-1 in 1981). I sold the MS-20 in 1985, because I thought I knew it (haha!), bought another one in 1989 (together with an MS-50 and SQ-10), traded all three for an Oberheim Matrix-6R (fail), bought another one in 1994, but thought this was a sentimental move, so I sold it in 1995, only to regret it and bought the final one in 1997, which I kept.


#12

I’ve had my MS-20 since 1981, the year I graduated from college…

Mostly using it as a modulation source for the Eurorack these days but wanting to experiment with using my SQ-1 as a midi-cv converter from Ableton…


#13

I like to sit down with the MS20 and see how far West I can take it by ignoring the keyboard, patching the envelopes to self cycle, using the filters as osc for additive tones, taking advantage of env2 routed to amp/lpf as a low pass gate, etc.


#14

I was going to say “why not just use the MIDI in on the back” and then I reread the 1981 bit :sweat_smile:


#15

the first song on my band’s last record starts with a deeply dusty/crackly ms-20 being pitch controlled by my bandmates’ voice via the external signal processor. I love how the analog pitch tracker works, the way it drops back to it’s lowest value when the signal doesn’t meet the volume threshold. one of my favorite sounds.


#16

You’re the guy in Sylvan Esso?

How cool is that!?!

Love your work…

Are you still in the Boston area?


#17

I’ve considered getting rid of my ms-20 a few times to downsize but that processor always had me changing my mind, I’ve not found anything like it. I moved into a new painting studio this year and that song was on an often looped playlist, I’ll probably always associate it with what I’m making at the moment. Thanks for the insight into how it was made!


#18

I had an MS-20 mini for a moment, and while I loved the sound the patch-bay was a bit too elusive for my budding knowledge of synths at the time…

I know both of these pieces are (to my knowledge) made almost exclusively with the MS-20, which is pretty magical.


#19

Love those ms-20 Jon Hopkins tracks. I read an interview recently where he said he uses it pretty straight, minimal editing on the timeline, and didn’t use the external processor at all. Before reading that I thought he was running a beat through it and using the processor to get some of the stuttery swinging stuff. I’ve been trying to ‘decode’ that album for ages, I’d love to know more about how he is getting that out of his ms-20.


#20

thanks, I live in North Carolina.