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Tucked in back of a nondescript commercial building in Emeryville, CA, The Vintage Synthesizer Museum contains one of the most impressive vintage synthesizer collections ever assembled. The edge city just north of Oakland may be best known as home to digital innovators like Pixar Animation Studios, but it’s this humble analog space that makes it worth trip for synth enthusiasts and analog freaks alike.
Although just two years old, The Vintage Synthesizer Museum, owned and curated by East Bay local Lance Hill, is quickly becoming the premier public collection on the West Coast. Whether you’re seeking out the sound of Herbie Hancock’s ARP Odyssey on Headhunters or the torrid tone of Geddy Lee’s Moog on “Tom Sawyer,” you’ll be hard pressed to find a greater assortment of classic synths.
“This isn’t just a generic collection of synthesizers,” Hill explains. “It’s a purposefully put together collection, of like, some of the best synthesizers ever.”
Much more than just a museum, Hill has made all of the instruments available to anyone looking to explore the world of analog synthesis. Independent musicians including Bay Area staples Neurosis and Blackalicious have recorded synth parts here utilizing the museum’s fully-equipped studio space, which offers multiple high-end audio interfaces in addition to an array of vintage drum machines, tape echoes and spring reverbs.
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Hill began assembling the collection after buying and repairing broken synths on Craigslist to perform with his band. But as his collection grew, he knew he wanted to make it available to the public: “I’ve been involved with buying, repairing and selling synths for over ten years and have been wanting to do the studio thing for most of that time. When we found this space it was way out of our budget, but we took a chance.”
A few highlights include modular and semi-modular synths like the legendary ARP 2600 and the Battleship pegboard-styled EMS Synthi, perhaps best known for its use on Pink Floyd’s “On the Run.” Another prized piece is a rare Gleeman Pentaphonic synth originally owned by Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, complete with a gorgeous transparent Plexiglas casing.
The newest addition to collection, an early digital sampler called The Fairlight CMI, employs a delightfully ’80s stylus touch screen and giant floppy disk-driven hard drive to record and store samples on the drive, while also allowing the player to draw their own distinct wave forms directly onto the screen.
Now that anyone can easily learn how to model wave forms on the computer, Hill explains the advantage of tinkering with these vintage instruments: “Just having your hands on them, being able to touch knobs… all of these synthesizers are over 30 years old, and if they were brand new they’d certainly still sound different than a computer, but thirty, forty-year-old electronics are going to sound different because a lot of it’s dying.”
To view a full list of the collection as well as booking and rates, visit vintagesynthmuseum.com.
What do you think of this special guest article about the Vintage Synthesizer Museum? Let us know in the comments below or drop a line on the Performer Magazine Facebook page or on Twitter @Performermag. Read more from the special Synth Issue of Performer Magazine and be sure to follow guest author Roger Lussier on Twitter @iamtherog.