Geek Of The Week: Don Buchla

Geek Of The Week: Don Buchla

When you think of the inventor of the electronic synthesizer, most people picture former GOTW Bob Moog. While Moog is credited with the first commercially available music synthesizer, it is generally accepted that Don Buchla’s designs actually predate Moog’s. Buchla (shown above with¬†former GOTW Dave Smith)¬†completed his first synthesizer in mid-1960’s but the exact date is debated. It is a common belief that the Buchla synthesizer arrived several months before the Moog synthesizer. However, there are several synth geeks that argue this fact. For the sake of this article, we’ll say Buchla was one of the early synthesizer masterminds, and that he and Moog were both working on their products simultaneously.

Even more interesting than the nearly identical timing, was the fact that the two men were on opposite sides of the country. While Moog lived in New York, Buchla called California his home, and the two did not meet until after they had each finished their respective designs. The two instruments were similar, but had some design differences. Moog favored a traditional piano-style keyboard and Buchla was partial to capacitive touch pads. Additionally, the Moog synthesizer could easily play the notes of a standard musical scale, which was difficult for the Buchla. Many experts think the familiar interface was the reason why Moog instruments became commonplace while Buchla’s remained niche.

Buchla 100 series Geek Of The Week: Don Buchla
A Buchla 100 Series Synthesizer, circa 1964

Buchla’s company, Buchla & Associates, continued to make musical instruments throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. They were the first synthesizer manufacturer to experiment with computer-controlled sound synthesis, and were eventually contracted by Gibson to work on the Oberheim OB-MX project. Buchla & Assoicates disappeared into near obscurity during the 1990’s, creating a few non-keyboard MIDI controllers, but had a resurgence in the early 21st century with the “second coming” of analog musical instruments. They are still manufacturing synthesizers, and Don Buchla remains active in the company’s daily activities.

Together, Buchla and Moog are considered to be the “fathers” of the synthesizer. When it comes to sound synthesis, Buchla is credited with the “West Coast” sound and Moog created the more popular “East Coast” sound. Modern instrument manufacturers often reference these terms when they describe their products. In reality, they’re referencing the Buchla sound and the Moog sound. icon smile Geek Of The Week: Don Buchla

About the Author

avatar KALE: A geek who works in the IT field and lives in Dallas, TX. He is also a music geek who has played in several local bands. Previous to his IT career, Kale worked as a photojournalist. He brings technical advice and artistic counterpoint to the podcast.