10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

In honor of Knobcon V, which kicks off today in Chicago, I thought it would be fun to post a list of influential synthesizer geeks throughout history. Many of them have been featured as former GOTWs (and some may be featured in the future). A list of 10 is below along with their iconic inventions. It’s pretty amazing to see the origins of the modern synthesizer and how it evolved.

Here they are in (roughly) chronological order. There are arguments about the timeline, but let’s not get pedantic about it. LOL. ¬†Enjoy.

1. Thaddeus Cahill [Telharmonium]: This somewhat unknown geek invented the Telharmonium in 1896. It is considered to be the world’s first electromechanical musical instrument. The massive device resembled a church organ, occupied an entire floor of Telharmonic Hall, and weighed 200 tons.

telharmonium 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

2. Leon Theremin [Theremin]: This electronic music geek was way ahead of his time. The Theremin has a sound that is downright other-worldly, even by today’s standards. Just imagine how crazy this invention was in 1919. The Theremin is approaching 100 years old.

theremin 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

3. Maurice Martenot [Ondes Martenot]: Like Cahill, this man’s work is not well-known. However, this influential French designer created the Ondes Martenot in 1928. The keyboard-based instrument resembled a modern organ but sounded more like a Theremin.

ondes martenot 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

4. Hugh LeCaine [Electronic Sackbut]: This musician/inventor created the Electronic Sackbut in 1945. While the Theremin and Ondes Martenot are considered early electronic instruments, the Electronic Sackbut is considered to be one of the first actual musical synthesizers.

elec sackbut 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

5. Harry F Olson & Herbert Belar [RCA Mark I]: This geek duo are the engineers responsible for the ubiquitous RCA Mark 1. This beast is part musical instrument and part punch card computer. While it had the basic components of a modern synthesizer, the interface was very 1950s.

rca mk1 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

6. Don Buchla [Buchla 100 Series]: Arguably one of the most brilliant musical inventors ever, this former GOTW unveiled the first Buchla 100-series modular synthesizer in the mid-1960s. He not only created a revolutionary instrument, but is credited with the West Coast synthesis philosophy.

buchla 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

7. Robert Moog [Moog System 55]: When most people think of synthesizers, they think of the name Moog. Where Buchla coined the West Coast sound, this former GOTW is credited with the East Coast synthesizer philosophy. The Moog Model 55 arrived in 1964 and changed everything!

moog 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

8. Dave Smith [Prophet 5]: This computer geek invented MIDI, but also started Sequential Circuits, who manufactured the Prophet 5 keyboard. This is one of the first programmable polyphonic synthesizers. This former GOTW continues to make innovative electronic musical instruments.

prophet5 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

9. Roger Arrick [Dotcom]: The 1980’s were a dark time for modular synthesizers, but there was a resurgence in 1996 when Synthesizers.com (Dotcom for short) was born. This former GOTW was one of the first to recreate classic synthesizers with modern components. They were like “kit cars” for musicians.

dotcom 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

10. Dieter Doepfer [Eurorack]: This former GOTW had an idea to create a new smaller format for modular synthesizers. He is credited with creating the Eurorack standard which allowed manufacturers to create interchangeable systems. Doepfer’s A-100 series is just one many Eurorack systems.

doepfer 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

I hope everyone enjoyed that little walk down musical memory lane. It’s fun to see the early origins of something that seems so familiar now. BTW, if any of our readers are attending Knobcon this year, look for a guy in a Deadca7 T-shirt… and say hi. icon wink 10 Synthesizer Geeks & Their Inventions

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.