This was probably a long time coming based on the type of music I enjoy and the way prices have been plummeting on analog synths in the last few years but I finally traded a guitar I never played for a small analog synth. The Korg Monologue, from everything I read online was a great way to get into the synth game with a bit of a vintage feel (also it’s beautiful) which seems like something that would fit in well with my rig.
First impressions of this are that I should have done this a long time ago. I’ve played around with a ton of “out there” guitar effects pedals in order to get the type of sounds that are apparently readily available within even entry level synths. The lack of demos / examples of this type of use was a big part of why I’ve been so hesitant so I’m going to try to fix that here. I’ll drop in a couple audio tracks and outline what is causing the sounds. This will all be done in the context of this type of ambient soundscape playing rather than the typical EDM that every other demo seems to give for these instruments. The idea of using something that is traditionally thought of as a dance / techno instrument for these types of droning soundscapes is really interesting to me.
Before jumping into audio I’ll quickly give my best “guitarist describing a synth” rundown of what this thing can do. Like most synths the core of this unit is a series of voltage controlled oscillators (VCOs) which are the basis of all of the sounds. My hyper limited knowledge is that by adjusting the properties of these oscillators and blending them together you can basically get any sound imaginable. Coming out of the VCOs you can then adjust the sound with filters, sequence them using a step sequencer and even automate changes by recording the control input on any knobs. Super fun stuff that is detailed amazingly on this YouTube series. All of that being said, the big selling point of this for me was how it plays with guitar pedals so let’s get into that. (Apologies to synth experts here. Get in touch if you want to write a better article about this stuff).
The biggest thing that I immediately found was how much this thing absolutely loves reverb. Running this through my guitar amp into OX with the room size cranked up as well as the Empress Reverb unit just creates incredible soundscapes. From here obviously I just started stacking more things. I use an old Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl MK1 which a lot of people don’t love on guitar because of the treble cut but I find it does an incredible job of giving a lot of warmth to what can be a kind of cold synth sound. Another great combo was adding in some reversed delay which honestly I would put on my iPhone if it was technically possible – I can’t get enough of this sound.
The idea of being able to have another texture that doesn’t require me doing something that a guitar isn’t made to do is really interesting. I’ve been using this on a lot of stuff and even attempting to write things that don’t rely on a guitar at all which is a new one for me.
I definitely understand why people end up owning a whole bunch of analog synth gear. I’ve basically found a few sounds that really work for me and that is great – but the idea of having the ability for polyphony or additional VCOs comes up a lot for me. This isn’t a fault of the keyboard by any means, it’s just how my brain is wired when it comes to gear.
This type of thinking probably explains the easy shift that a lot of pedal people have into modular synthesis – being able to control and change the foundation of how a synth works is very interesting.
Running this into my pedalboard sounds amazing but also opens up a lot of electrical issues – this is probably a problem more with the power at my house than with the gear itself but might be a watchout for people wanting to do this type of thing. I’m sure this can be mitigated and I admittedly have done very little research on it, but I’m guessing I’ve got myself into some type of ground loop situation with the amount of stuff I have running in a small basement of an old house.
A few months into this and I’m still giddy with the sounds this creates almost every time I play with it. If you’ve found yourself on the verge of purchase or struggling with some “guitar synth” pedals – I’d highly recommend getting into an actual analog synth. There’s quite a few reasonably priced entry level options on the market today, you can probably pick one up used on Reverb for around the $200 mark. You’re probably going to spend that on your next synth style pedal anyways, right?