Blast from the past: Korg MS-20

Posted May 12, 2014 at 7:12am
Read more about Blast from the past: Korg MS-20 at MusicRadar.com

While other big-name manufacturers steadfastly resist delving into their own pasts, Japanese instrument manufacturer Korg has heeded the pleas of electronic musicians everywhere.

The company's recent hardware offerings certainly have a vintage vibe to them, even drawing on retro products from rival companies. Korg was among the first to embrace the idea of virtual recreations of its own classic kit, too, recreating a stream of legendary Korg instruments for both desktop and mobile devices.

One ancient Korg stands proudly over them all, demanding the most attention: the legendary MS-20 semi-modular synthesiser. Unleashed in 1978, it was intended as a simplified, monophonic version of the company's massive (and expensive) PS series of polyphonic analogue synths. Like those bulky behemoths, the MS-20 offers a normalled (ie, pre-routed) signal path that can be overridden with a patchbay that comprises the right half of the slanted vertical front panel.

"The MS-20 really shone in the hands of purveyors of industrial and aggressive dance styles, and experimentalists embraced its ability to bypass the standard signal path to create unconventional timbres."

With a pair of VCOs, noise, ring modulation, LFO, and a pair of envelope generators, this diminutive dynamo offered enough to impress even without that modular-style patch field. Add to that a pair of 12dB filters (high- and low-pass), each with rip-snortin' resonance (called "peak" here), and you have an instrument with a decidedly edgy character.

The MS-20 really shone in the hands of purveyors of industrial and aggressive dance styles, and experimentalists embraced its ability to bypass the standard signal path to create unconventional timbres - Aphex Twin (Richard James) and The Legendary Pink Dots' Phil Knight are longtime proponents, the latter still hauling his out on tour year after year.

Savvy readers may have noticed that the MS-20 bears some resemblance to the ARP 2600 and the EMS VCS3. While they don't sound the same, they all share some common features, not least being the fact that they all allow external signals to be shunted through their innards, making them an interesting candidate for processing, say, guitars, drums or vocals.

Second coming

Something of a dinosaur even at the time of its release, the MS-20 sold respectfully well for a few years and then vanished from the catalogue. Yet enough were made to keep it in the public eye, increasing desire and secondhand prices among aficionados of audio esoterica.

When that desire coalesced into a frenzy, Korg heeded the call. You can now buy a new "mini" version of the MS-20, or even a full-sized kit, and that's in addition to Korg's own official plugin emulations.

And why wouldn't you? The MS-20 is an ideal instrument on which to learn the arcane art of synthesis, but more than that, it has a sound all its own. Bright, brutal, brash - the sound of this brilliant blast from the past translates perfectly into today's musical styles. Let's hope it sticks around this time!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Three great Korg MS-20 emulations

Korg ms-20 legacy

Korg MS-20: Legacy, $50

Originally bundled with a mini hardware replica of the real deal as part of the Legacy Collection, you can now get Korg's own virtual VST/AU/RTAS version of the MS-20 on its own. Fully patchable and with modern niceties like unison and MIDI sync, this is the real deal by the company that invented the thing.

Find out more about Korg MS-20: Legacy

Korg ims20

Korg iMS-20, £21/$30

Korg was among the first hardware manufacturers to embrace iOS - first with its stunning iElectribe and then with this, a tablet-based recreation of the MS-20 that throws in a virtual version of the lustworthy SQ-10 analogue sequencer. Additionally, there's a wicked MS-20-based drum machine. Awesome for making tunes on the fly.

Read Korg iMS-20 review

korg ds10

Korg DS-10, £19

Not strictly based on the MS-20 but rather its littler brother, the single-oscillator MS-10, the DS-10 has the distinction of packing an awful lot of power into what amounts to a plaything, the handheld Nintendo DS game system. The DS-10 offers a convincing sound from dual oscillators (like the MS-20), built-in sequencing and X/Y control.

Read Korg DS-10 review

Read more about

Add a Comment
0 Comments

Similar Guitar News

Blast from the past: Korg Wavestation (8/1/2014)
Read more about Blast from the past: Korg Wavestation at MusicRadar.com The Wavestation is an odd one. Released in the early 90s heyday of (often generic) sample-based hardware ROMplers, it offered a decidedly distinctive sound. Sure, it was pac...
Korg unveils SDD-3000 delay pedal (7/10/2014)
Read more about Korg unveils SDD-3000 delay pedal at MusicRadar.com Korg has unveiled the SDD-3000 delay pedal, which was developed in collaboration with U2 guitar tech Dallas Schoo. Based on the legendary rack-mounted SDD-3000 from the early '8...
Korg Announces New Rimpitch Acoustic Guitar Tuner at Musikmesse (3/17/2014)
Korg announces the Rimpitch, a new style of acoustic guitar tuner for players who want a tuner close by at all times, but in a more discrete format than a clip-on option. The Rimpitch is a unique tuner that attaches to the sound hole of an acou...
Musikmesse 2014: Korg reveal Pa300 Professional Arranger (3/12/2014)
Read more about Musikmesse 2014: Korg reveal Pa300 Professional Arranger at MusicRadar.com MUSIKMESSE 2014: Korg have unveiled details of the Pa300 Professional Arranger. Due this May, the keyboard is said to have captured the essence of Korg's ...
Musikmesse 2014: Korg launches Rimpitch and resurrects Nuvibe (3/12/2014)
Read more about Musikmesse 2014: Korg launches Rimpitch and resurrects Nuvibe at MusicRadar.com Musickmesse 2014: Korg has launched two new guitar products, the Rimpitch acoustic guitar tuner and Nuvibe modulation effects pedal. First up comes t...
NAMM 2014: Korg announces Pitchblack Pro rack-mount tuner (1/24/2014)
Read more about NAMM 2014: Korg announces Pitchblack Pro rack-mount tuner at MusicRadar.com NAMM 2014: Korg has announced a new flagship rack-mounted tuner in the form of the Pitchblack Pro, which it claims combines a 3D-style tuning display (i....
NAMM 2014: Korg announces the MS-20 kit (1/23/2014)
Read more about NAMM 2014: Korg announces the MS-20 kit at MusicRadar.com NAMM 2014: Given recent form, it seemed pretty inevitable that we'd see some form of new analogue gear from Korg at this year's NAMM. Follow closely on from the release of...
NAMM 2014: Korg announces RK-100S keytar (1/23/2014)
Read more about NAMM 2014: Korg announces RK-100S keytar at MusicRadar.com NAMM 2014: Five years after Roland revived the keytar with the AX-Synth, Korg is putting its own contemporary spin on the performance-friendly keyboard with the announcem...
Win a Korg MS-20 mini signed by its makers (1/13/2014)
Read more about Win a Korg MS-20 mini signed by its makers at MusicRadar.com Have we got a prize for you. Last month we heaped much love o
Korg UK to host Education Suite at The Music Show, Manchester (10/31/2013)
Read more about Korg UK to host Education Suite at The Music Show, Manchester at MusicRadar.com PRESS RELEASE: Korg UK has announced an exciting line up of seminars and workshops at The Music Show, a brand new music and education exhibition, whi...
Korg announces analogue and synth UK tour (9/24/2013)
Read more about Korg announces analogue and synth UK tour at MusicRadar.com Korg UK has announced plans to hit the road this autumn, taking the company's entire range of analogue gear on a massive UK tour.The tour, which kicks off on 1 October, ...
Korg Pandora Stomp puts effects, tuner and rhythms in a pedal (9/9/2013)
Read more about Korg Pandora Stomp puts effects, tuner and rhythms in a pedal at MusicRadar.com Korg's Pandora range of multi-effects processors may have been in service for almost 20 years, but with the Pandora Stomp, the company is proving tha...
Korg Beat Boy: drum machine, recorder and tuner for guitarists (9/9/2013)
Read more about Korg Beat Boy: drum machine, recorder and tuner for guitarists at MusicRadar.com Designed as a fun practice tool, Korg's Beat Boy is for guitarists and bassists who want plenty of drum patterns to play along to, plus the option t...
Korg Announces Pandora Stomp Multi-Effect/Tuner Pedal (9/5/2013)
The original Pandora Multi-Effect Processor, released in 1995, was a new product concept that packed an enormous amount of effects processing and practice features into a unit the size of a cassette tape. Now, the long-established Pandora serie...
Korg Announces PitchHawk Clip-On Tuner (7/15/2013)
Korg has announced the latest addition to its line of clip-on guitar, bass and ukulele tuners, the PitchHawk. It features a newly designed clip and a newly developed, high-contrast display — Korg's brightest clip-on LCD display yet. Additional ...