What synthesizers do you play in your band?

I tried finding a topic but couldn’t - please move the post if I missed it.

Preface: every Halloween here in my little midwest town, local bands put together cover/tribute sets, both for the entertainment value, and to try something new (only so many bands in a town this size you see). Anyway we needed a drum machine and some string sounds for my band’s set, so I busted out my trusty Electribe 2 and a midi controller. It works… okay. It’s great as a drum machine but the synth doesn’t really carry much weight on its own. However it’s been a great experiment to break out of my guitar-centric comfort zone and try something new. I’m wanting to work more synthesizer tones onto our next album, as writing and recording it is our next goal after the Halloween show.

I’m wondering if anyone else on here plays in a live band and brings a keyboard on stage with them? If money was no object I would get a Prophet 10 and be done with it, but that’s probably double or triple what I could realistically budget for. I found an old MW thread that recommended the Nord Lead line, which I could see myself enjoying. I used Synth1 almost exclusively when I first started making electronic music.

I’m really looking to cover basic “synth” duties - no interest in piano or organ sounds. You know leads, bass, strings, that sort of thing. I don’t think I need anything fancy, but I’m curious what other ‘liners’ are using in their groups, bonus if it’s anything remotely in the rock/shoegaze/post-punk realm. I know how to google “best keyboard synth”, but that doesn’t really inform what kinds of actual experiences people have had on stage with electronic instruments.

Things I’m specifically interested in: decent keyboard first and foremost, built in effects, and good user interface. I used to have a Roland Gaia but I didn’t find it particularly inspiring, so I sold it to a friend. I also have a Moog Grandmother, the ergonomics and keyboard are great, but I find it works best as a bass voice and we don’t really need that at this time. Realized I would like something more flexible for the space it takes up. I have a DX21 but it lives at home, obviously it’s not really the best thing to tweak settings on in a room with three other people. I briefly had an Opsix that seemed like it would fit the bill, but the keyboard and form factor weren’t my favorite so that went as well. I don’t really want something that just works, but I can’t really afford anything high-end at this time, but maybe I could be convinced to save up if a ~$2k+ synth really is “that much better”.

What do you use? What kind of music do you play? What other instruments are you performing alongside? I’ve spent so much time and money trying to get a live modular instrument for myself that I’ve neglected my real outlet - playing on stage with my friends. I’m done collecting stuff as I’m realizing that performing is more important to me than my eventual generative ambient album, but I want to bring new sounds to the table, so I’m asking: what synths are people taking out to play shows?

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I personally love to use the Organelle with my band. Specifically the Orac patch. There are tons of great synths, tons of effects, drum machines, loopers, sequencers, etc. You can also theoretically program whatever you want for it if you have some Pure Data know how.

I use it in my indie-rock band and an electronic duo. When I am using it in a band context, I will use it as a vocal processor and sampler and have an occasional synth setup for certain songs. I use it extensively in my electronic duo with it sequencing multiple synthesizers, providing clock, sampling, and drum machine with the use of Midi Fighter Twister for easy access to different parameters.

I also have a guitar plugged in as well for looping along side it too but I love to use the Mutable Instruments Clouds instance for all sorts of granular weirdness. Its also fairly inexpensive at around 500 for the S model and it doesn’t take up much space at all.

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After going through a few different setups while touring with my current band, I’ve come to really appreciate the compact nature of Sequential’s Take5 (still can’t stand the name tho and have gaffe tape over it lol). Getting a used one is a steal to have a really playable, good-sounding, smaller polysynth on stage.

I also use a Novation Bass Station up top, but I’m hoping to replace that with a Sub37 at some point. I tried a Grandmother for a bit but ended up being more reliant on saving presets and holding up the next song to patch is worse than having to tune a guitar (at least in a full band context).

We’re a psych/shoegaze/krautrock-leaning 5-piece with 3 guitars, 3 synths, bass, drums, and 4 vox, so being attentive to space both on stage and in the van is important for us.

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we (indie-rock noise duo) used an ms-10 and a moog rogue for a while. super durable, each took a lot of travel wear and tear without complaint. they were also big enough that we could reach across each other in tighter spaces, or get to what we needed on the control panels very easily and also in the dark.

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So when playing with jazz/rock band with a lot of improvisations I have been using Dreadbox Erebus mk 2. There was a piantist besides me so I did not need to play polyphonically, while it being almost pure analog and having knob for each function allowed me to easily dial in the sound that I needed in the heat of the moment.

While playing with post rock band (with some improvisation still throwed in) I was mostly using Elektron Analog 4. I had much bigger sound pallete + patch recall so I could easily swich sounds in a second while playing preplanned songs, but still could tweak sounds. I was using the non key version and for simpler things that I played there I found the mini keyboard sufficient enough.

While playing improvised music in trio - clarinet, vocals and synths/piano I got back again to monophonic synths - first Mother 32 and later upgraded to Grandmother. I liked that I could easily play either arppeggio or program sequence or play something by hand. When I would need polyphony I would just play piano.

What I found with analog synths is that often the simpler sounds can really mix in well together with the rest + if you dont have patch recall you are forced to create more fluid changes in timbre.

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Bass station 2 for me, with an expressive e touche expression controller too sometimes. BS2 is such a great workhorse, it sounds great, has a good variety of sounds, can be powered off a usb powerbank and cos it’s relatively cheap and plasticy you can chuck it in a bag and not feel too bad about it.
I use a hydrasynth too, but need to be selective about the sounds and polyphony of playing, cos it’s so easy to fill the mix and not leave much room for other band members.
I think if I were to start gigging or do more band playing, I would seriously consider a Roland System-8 for that classic Roland vibe in a convenient modern package.
It depends what type of music you’re playing though and how big a part of it the synth stuff is I guess as to what’s best for you

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I play Molly the Poly on norns using gridkeys in a 60s/70s inspired bluesy/folksy rock band

The grid interface works well for me since I come from guitar, and Molly the Poly is a solid synth engine.

I think I’ll be switching to using an iPhone as the sound source and just using grid/norns to send midi, as I recently got a SevillaSoft USB host to host adapter.

But there’s a couple Molly patches I’ve got that have become tied to the songs that I’ll still use

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the few times i filled in on synth for a friend’s band (a noise rock kind of thing) i literally used an op-1 and guitar pedals, which, surprisingly, worked really well for what they wanted (mostly just leads and pads). not sure if i’d try to do that again but it was extremely portable and weirdly playable

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I used to use an Arturia Minilab through Max on my laptop, but the controller bit the dust hard, keys stopped working mid-tour, the debounce on the pads was bad so they would send multiple triggers…
If I was going on tour again (hopefully soon) I’d use my Norns Shield and Korg Microkey. I usually play very simple parts and instead of velocity sensitivity I set the Mod wheel to control volume, so the size/feel of the keys isn’t super important to me personally.
I’ve also had a great time playing a korg minilogue – they had their day and then some people say the filter is sub-par, but I find it extremely playable.

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I play a Korg Prologue in a shoegaze/dream pop band. I personally find it easy to use in live settings as most of the immediately important functions have a dedicated/switch and the panel layout is fairly straightforward. It has a good amount of onboard effects that usually can get the job done as well.

It definitely falls off some when it comes to modulation routing and annoyingly lacks an internal sequencer, but I’ve found it can usually handle standard synth duties despite those shortcomings.

I personally wouldn’t say that prologue is miles better or anything, but the super accessible interface makes it worth it for me!

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I only played a synth in a couple shows but loved the Prophet Rev2 for a full keyboard poly with presets, split layers, and a sequencer. I used an OP-1 too and it worked well but is obviously a different approach altogether. Harder to sync for me.

A Korg Minilogue would be a good in between option if slim keys are not an issue.

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I used to play in an electronic rock band and got a ton of mileage out of an Access Virus C keyboard. It’s built like a tank (also weighs as much as one), it has tons of different sounds, it is multitimbral and does key splits so you can have bass on the left, pads on the right, it has multi-patch programs so you can set up a different multi for every song. It’s also one of the loudest synths I’ve ever owned.

It obviously depends a lot on the sound you’re going for. We wrote pretty much everything using the Virus, and its broad palette of sounds meant we could sound different on every tune. I imagine if I’d picked a monosynth with less tonal range, we’d have turned out a very different band.

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Padshop controlled by linnstrument. Dragging and dropping samples into it and then go grain and spectral on it.

Edit: now with a little bit more time to write. In another band I used to play either Yamaha CS01 or Electronic Dreamplant WASP (whenever a friend borrowed me his synth). The music was quite experimental, we had cello, a trumpet, percussion, guitar, flute varying guests, a story teller. The experience was not a front stage performance, but our goal was to create the athmosphere of a submarine. The locations varied and only some of us played on the stage. It was also largely carried by acoustic instruments. Cello, flute etc. where often played atonal noisy. The trumpet guy often played into a bucket of water for example, making all kinds of chortling and hissing sounds.
The reason K write all this to explain my synth setup. The CS01 as well as the WASP both have built in speakers, and sometimes that and a mic was enough. Other times I brought a small guitar amp, playing at low volume.

The group I play in now is mostly dancefloor oriented and less focused on pure, intimate athmosphere. Since the other go very arp and sequencer like into what they do, the linnstrument brings organic expression into the project. I play Melodie’s as well as just sample weirdness.

Very few recordings exist, some are on instagram.

Edit2: in the end, a guitar has only one preset, but still, a guitar and drums can go a long way. In bands it is all about the dynamic between you and the fellow musicians. Play a synth that complements the sound of your group. Anything Cavan do really. You need to be able to make your contribution on that instrument. All the sequencing features, arps etc. only make sense if your band has a gap to fill. This gap can well be intentional (we have no drummer, but an elektron groovebox operator).

For live shows with my former group Schwarzblut (besides Ableton, bass guitar and percussion) we used a Novation Bass Station II and a Roland System-1. We also used synth percussion on stage: Nord Drum 2, Roland SPD-8 and Roland SPD-S.

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Wow lots of great ideas in here! The Norns/Organelle ideas reminded me that I’ve got a disused iPad sitting in my studio, so for now the plan is to use that on one of those interface docks with several synths on different midi channels in AUM. Thankfully there are good recreations of classic hardware on there and those sounds should act as a good proof of concept before I invest in a “real” stage instrument!

Loving all the replies and I’m glad I started this thread! It’s shaping up to be a great resource for anyone wanting to incorporate live electronics into a band context.

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Great topic, lots of good recommendation from all of you.

I play on keys with my band to.We have trumpet,flute,congas,drums,vocals,bass guitar and electric lead guitar.Music is improvised jazz,reggae ,drum and bass.

Here is one of Recording [YouTube],Not the best audio but we are going budget here.Edit : Recorded on phone placed close to my speaker,so key is on front.

What I’m trying to achieve …its just old casio with 5 faders controlling filter, not many sound presets.Small toy’oish keys that helps me to go “faster” and effect from Audiomulch Software controlled by midi controler.

So if someone reading this topic looking for budget option I can share midi and project to try.Audiomulch trial is long and software itself is easy to work with.

I have Yamaha Vss30 ,great little key to recommend ,very inspiring.Didn’t have a chance to test how will talk with band yet.

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I can’t speak to “decent keyboard” because I play a Linnstrument. I do double duty on touch bass and synth in a post-rock band. I’ve been through many iterations. My current main synth for the band is an AudioThingies Micromonsta 2 that does bread and butter subtractive sounds well – basses, filter sweeps, pads, leads, etc. It also has a very good delay and reverb (chorus is good too but I never use it). But it is also capable of FM that allows me to get into west coast territory when I want. It has the best MPE implementation of any synth I’ve played.

Before that, I experimented with Linnstrument into 2 rows of Eurorack – high cool factor but I quickly learned why gigging keyboardists flocked to presets when they became available in the late 70s. I also tried some other synths: Dreadbox Typhon (mono, cool, screen is a bit small for me); Elektron Analog 4 (really not meant to be used that way); Norand Mono (I love it dearly but also a mono and best as its own thing).

For your purposes where you want an integrated keyboard, you might look at either the Hydrasynth, which is supposed to have a great keyboard, or for considerably more money, an UDO Super 6 (which can have 12 voices if you don’t use all the stereo effects, which for live, isn’t a huge deal IME). I have the desktop of the latter and it is very well built and can be a “do all” synth in a spiritual successor to Roland sort of way.

You can’t go wrong with a Nord, though. Lots of gigging musicians use them for a reason.

Or buy a great good MIDI controller and the synth of your choice.

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For a while I played a Prophet 08 with a band. Made some cool multipurpose patches, it was great fun to play on stage - very expressive. For some reason (maybe the outputs were messed up? Never seemed to be a problem in the studio…) gain staging was weird and sound was a problem maybe 40% of the time. It was heavy to carry in the case and kind of a headache to travel with.

For the next tour I used a Casio cz-101. While it wasn’t as fun to play, audiences responded just as well to a mini keyboard, it fit underneath the back seat, and I never had any sound issues with it.

If I was playing with a band now I’d probably bring a couple of Refaces (the piano and the CS).

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i use a minilogue in both of the bands i’m currently playing in. started with the regular one, upgraded to the xd when i found a used one with a good price. it’s great - easy to recall patches with a set of favorites on the panel, exposed knobs for tweaking stuff on the fly, it can cover whatever non-synth users want to tell a synth to do in a songwriting context (rentals style moog leads, string machine approximations, soupy arps, etc). there’s a lot of menu diving to get deeper with the synthesis of the instrument, but i don’t think it’s necessary to engage with that if you’re playing synth in a pop structured band. keys could leave a little to be desired - but it’s truly the spiritual successor to the microkorg that every indie rock band had in the earliy 2000s.

also toyed with the idea of taking a roland se-02 for a mono synth to stack with it - maybe even control it with the minilogue midi out.

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I haven’t played in a band in a long time; but if were to start now, I would probably start with the minilogue xd and something like an op-1 (small + samples) to go along with it. I feel like that would cover a ton of ground.

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