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
Author:
Publish date:

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.

YAMAHA GS-1

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.