Buying a synthesiser - Updated August 2008

Views 101 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful
First consider looking at the very excellent and essential A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers by Peter Forest. If you are serious about buying he gives details of many faults you are almost guaranteed to find with older (pre-midi) synths and many newer analogue models. There is also Julian Colbeck's Keyfax 2 (and 4) which cover newer keyboards up to 1986 and 1993 respectively. If you can't find what you want to know from these  books I would recommend not bidding unless you are an expert. Read the other synth guide written prior to mine for good general advice. Recommended before buying is a visit to the Sonic State site. You will be able to read reviews on particular synths from users rather than the trade. I have occasionally not even bid on certain kit after reading the opinions of users but you will still need to have some idea of what you actually want to do with the synth.

Mine is more about prices but I would also recommend several things:
don't buy from anyone with low or negative feedback unless you can collect and try out the synth;
ask for payment on collection for anything above a couple of hundred quid unless you can afford to lose that amount of money although most sellers are honest people;
check the photo's supplied.

My opinion after buying seven keyboards via  Ebay is that £20.00 should be enough for insured postage for most keyboards, especially the plastic cased variety, although there seem to be some people asking £25 or more when others ask only £15 (or less) for the same keyboard. Some very heavy or vintage synths may cost more and still be a fair charge.

Currently hot is the EDP Wasp but if you pay much more than £300 even for an immaculate one with manual you are probably going too high as they generally sell for less. Recent articles on Goldfrapp have brought this synth to prominence. During early 2007 two Wasps went for ridiculous (in my opinion) prices of around £800 but more recent sales have been under £400. I cannot see the justification for this kind of price when you can buy a new Little Phatty Stage Edition now for less. The LP is a much better piece of kit for the money and built properly. It also has the Moog filter with excellent low bass and screaming leads. I know because I have the original Signature edition. These can be had for slightly less than the original retail price but do not come up very often. Since the start of 2008 LP Stage editions can be occasionally found for £500 or less. I feel the sellers have not bothered trying to get the best out of the keyboard. There are some excellent videos on "You Tube" that show what the LP is capable of.

Another niche synth that can command a fairly high price is the Oscar. I was very fortunate in being given one! Depending upon how many bidders there are these can sell for anything between £600 and £1200. I would recommend the lower end myself as there are better synths available once you start breaching the £1000 barrier (in my opinion). You should take note that the Oscar is far from being intuitive to set up or programme and a manual or friend essential. Also, unless it has recently been restored or refurbished it is likely to need doing sooner rather than later so consider this need when bidding and budget accordingly. It can be a very satisfying process mastering the Oscar but I would recommend a novice to start with a Jen SX1000 or the Korg Micropreset to cut your teeth on.

The Korg Microkorg can still be bought new for about £260 so expect to pay currently around £200 plus p+p or less if you are lucky. It has held this price point during 2006 and steady during 2007. This is because it is a deceptively powerful synth for the size and price point and will eventually recoup the cost if you decide to sell it on. During four or more years of watching I have noticed that the Microkorg holds its price well and rarely dips below £200. They seem to be well built and the only real fault, in my opinion, are the small keys. I tend to use it via midi controlled by a full sized keyboard.
The larger Korg MS2000B can be bought new for under £500 so paying much over £400 for second hand could be a false economy.

I recommend paying between £120 and £180 for the Korg Micropreset depending upon whether you get a manual (not essential) and the patch cards (essential). I also recommend considering changing the lead for a kettle type connection if you know someone who can do it. Although it seems to be very limited it has a wide range of sounds and the "Repeat" function enables some pretty wild sounds to be made. I send mine through a Zoom Studio 1201 rack effects unit.

I bought a Korg ix300 Workstation from Cash Converters for £210 when the going rate, on the rare occasion they appear on Ebay is nearer £400. I would not recommend paying more than £300 as there are others, such as the M1 which are even more powerful for similar money.   Obviously newer workstations such as the Oasys will be less affordable but if you are an amateur you will be unlikely to be spending that amount of money. Over the past year Tritons have become more affordable to the enthusiast and amateur player. If I have not already bought an Akai s3000XL I would be getting a Triton rack with sample option.

The Korg M1 is a comparable and more modern keyboard but like the ix300 it is big and heavy. I use an M1R (rack version) to supplement my own home studio with different sounds and you can get data cards to increase the range. Prices tend to be lower than the Triton in any version but I think either version is a good buy for the home musician or even semi-pro. For the full M1 expect to pay up to £200 (preferably less) and no more than £150 for the rack version unless it comes with cards as these go for between £20 and £50 on Ebay.

Despite Pete Forrest not liking the Jen SX1000 I have found it a surprisingly interesting synth with some amazing sounds. I had mine modified to use a kettle style lead for the mains and a midi input socket plus upgraded chip. By plugging in a keyboard with pitch bend and mod wheels you can get even more interesting and unusual sounds. In my opinion, on this occasion, Pete is wrong. However, don't pay much above £100 unless it is in immaculate condition. The main chip is likely to go sooner rather than later but you can get the mod done for a reasonable price (considering the work involved) by a very nice young man in Cambridge. He has his own web site which can be easily found via any search engine.

The Minimoog seems to average out at between £1500 and £2000. From my research the latter is probably the top price you should pay for very good condition keyboard. There are some people offering "buy it now" for around £2400 but I think that is too much to pay for a name. The other Moogs such as the Prodigy and Rogue go for around £500 or less. More than that and you may as well buy a new one such as the Moog Little Phatty for around £800. A new Moog Voyager costs around £2000 so to pay more for a Minimoog is, in my opinion, not a good deal, as the Voyager comes with midi and lots of excellent presets as well as giving you a lot of control of synthesising your own sounds. There are a lot of chancers offering Minis, Prodigies, Multimoogs, Rogues, Polymoogs, Source and Taurus but you really need to know what you are getting or you will get burned financially. Buyer beware.

Most other desirable synths such as the DX7, Rolands, Korgs and recent (10 to 15 years old) rack mounts should not cost you more than £200 and if they do wait for another to come up on Ebay. This is not because I do not value the keyboards but there is no shortage of them about unlike Oscars, Wasps and Minimoogs. I've seen many synths go for relatively low prices when there is no bidding war or there are a lot of the same keyboard listed at the same time. Don't pay more than these prices unless it's a seller with masses of positive feedback or if you can try before you buy.

My experience comes from watching the listings over the past four years, buying a Microkorg complete package in box for £199 plus p+p, buying a Yamaha DJX (first version) for £85 inclusive boxed with manuals, and a Micropreset for £195 in as new condition with manual, patch cards, music rest and a contemporary Korg product guide. The reason I paid more than I recommend for the Micropreset was snipe bidding in the last minute of the auction however I am very pleased with it. It is in as good condition as you could expect and has everything but the original packaging (and how many 15 year old synths come in the box?). More recently I bought and had modded a Jen sx1000, £195 plus £260, which adds some unusual sounds to my arsenal. The Jen came with patch cards (essential), manual (nice to have) and a custom made wooden carrying case. My Little Phatty came from Turnkey as I couldn't afford a Voyager at the time but even could I afford the bigger synth I would keep it.
Research, buy and enjoy...
Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides