Rare Synth Showcase Part 11: Yamaha GS-1

Yamaha's first foray into FM synthesis wasn't quite the success story of the later DX7
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Housed within an unassuming 30,000-square-foot building just outside Philadelphia is a massive collection of historically significant music gear. Under 25-foot ceilings, an extraordinary stockpile of vintage synthesizers sits alongside other keyboards, amplifiers, stompboxes, and recording equipment from years gone by. The climate-controlled building and all its contents belong to the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project. EMEAPP is a non-profit organization devoted to collecting and preserving outstanding parcels of rock ’n’ roll and electronic music history for future generations.


Fig. 11

Fig. 11

After Yamaha first licensed John Chowning’s FM synthesis technology from Stanford University in 1973, it was another eight years before they shipped their first FM synthesizer, the GS-1. Although New England Digital beat them to the punch in 1978 with the Synclavier’s FM capabilities, the GS-1 had a much lower price tag — just under $16,000. Housed in a beautiful all-wood case, it weighs almost 200 pounds and offers no user-programmable parameters other than detune, tremolo, vibrato, and a chorus effect (see Fig. 11). It came bundled with a voice library on plastic cards with magnetic strips. Each card contains parameters defining a single instrumental timbre, and memory accommodates as many as 16 at a time. The GS-1 features 16-note polyphony and four tone generators, each with 2-operator algorithms. (The DX7, introduced in 1983, has 6-operator algorithms.) The 88-note keyboard is velocity- and pressure-sensitive and has a weighted hammer action.