korg ms 20

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Built this because I really wanted a korg Ms 20 but I couldn’t afford one. It’s an absolute mess inside and I don’t wan’t to move or open it from fear of it not working. But this was used in heartache and a lot of upcoming tracks. It was the beginning of a larger modular synth. This is the base. It’s all analog and made from a mish mash of prototype stripboard circuits and pcb’s on the inside. Most of the time if it isn’t making the right sound you can just hit it hard on the side and it will start making something good.

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Synthesized: Neon Indian’s Vintage Instrument Collection

To see more of Alan’s synthesizers, check out @alan_palomo on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

“Hmm, let me think here. Oof.

Alan Palomo (@alan_palomo), better known to the world as electronic musician Neon Indian, is trying to figure out how big his synthesizer collection is.

“It must be … Wait, I’m counting here. I’m going to venture to say about 15.”

That … sounds like a healthy amount for a professional musician?

“That sounds like an unhealthy amount,” replies the 27-year-old songwriter and producer. “That’s kind of the threshold where I’ve got to start really trimming things back. I’ve just accumulated a lot of toys over the years.”

Those toys aren’t used in the studio as often as you’d think; Alan only included three on his latest record, Vega Intl. Night School (the Korg PS-3100, which is on the album cover, the Memory Moog and the Minimoog), seven on his second and one on his first. Many of the synths, however, come out on the road during Neon Indian tours — and that’s when things get really challenging. While all the old Japanese synthesizers from the ‘70s and ‘80s are built like tanks, they do break and take their fair share of abuse on occasion, which is what happened to Alan’s poor Korg MS-20.

“It had pretty much stayed consistently working the entire duration that I’ve had it, until one time one of the keys started breaking off,” he says. “When it finally did it was in the middle of a show.”

Then there was the synth that got mishandled by the airline — an event that Alan and his bandmates had the unfortunate pleasure of witnessing.

“There’s been a couple of occasions where I’m looking out the [airplane] window when they’re boarding all the luggage. This one time, we saw one of our cases going up this conveyor belt, and it must have been maybe 12 feet [3.7 meters] in the air when it finally just accidentally slid off and fell to the ground,” he says. “The whole band was like: Ugh. We just knew it’s like, ‘Yeah, whenever we get to that venue, we’re going to need some f—ing super glue.’”

Sadly, you can’t fix every synth problem with over-the-counter tools. Some need new voice chips, or a power supply or have general electrical issues. That’s where having a local synth repair shop comes in handy — though those are few and far between in 2015. You not only have to know how to repair the instrument, but have a passion for them in the first place, as they are fussy by nature.

In turn, the artists who own old synths tend to be fairly protective of their machines. It amounts to a gatekeeper mentality around electronic producers who feel the need to guard their secrets. But as Alan tells it, he’s much more open about his creative process.

“I’ve always found it really cool and also kind of challenging when someone just puts [which instruments they used] out there,” says Alan. “It’s essentially saying: ‘Just because you know what it is doesn’t mean you’re going to use it like me,’ and really sells that point of it being more so about the person operating the piece of equipment than the piece of equipment itself.”

—Instagram @music