Synth Gems 1 – Exploring Vintage Synthesizers

  • Published by Bjooks (Denmark), 2021
  • Hardcover book, full color
  • 320 pages, 25 × 25 cm
  • ISBN 978-87-999995-4-5
  • ASIN 8799999544
  • Also available through most retail channels

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Review by Jacob Arpink, April 2023


Who are these synthesizer books actually intended for? I think the target group is mostly musicians or amateurs who own vintage synths, play them or maybe even build one themselves, but probably they all share one fantasy: laying their hands on synths they know exist, but can’t probably ever own.

Maybe this fantasy expands to sourness about owning such a synth once, but selling it when digital synths were introduced. Another fantasy may be discovering synths they have never heard of before.

I’ve found out that I especially like to look at and read synth books that contain a lot of photos of synths: reading about them is fun, but looking at the pictures of synths you wanted but never got is even more attractive. Actually, most of the time spending with such books is just ordinary looking at pictures and dreaming away in a synth-world that is out of reach for most of us.

Lots of books have been published in recent decades. Such as Synthesizer von Gestern, Museum of Synthesizer Technology, Vintage Synths by Mark Vail, the AZ of Analog Synthesizers by Peter Forrest, and many, many more. But quite some of the books do not quite live up to expectations because they offer too little information or use mediocre images. The synth enthusiast wants to read everything about the origin, the design, the ‘quirks’ of this synth, artists that used to play this synth and why it is such a sought-after synth – is it the sound, the possibilities, the design?

If there are already so many books, is the enthusiast still waiting for Synth Gems?

I think – no I’m sure – that this book Synth Gems 1 deserves its own place on the bookshelf. It manages to distinguish itself in many ways from the books we already know.

First: in addition to the well-known Gems such as the Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, Yamaha CS80, Roland Jupiter 8, Korg PS series, and Fairlight CMI, the book discusses synths that you don’t find back in other books, such as the Yamaha GS1, Wasp, Korg Poly800, Casiotone series, Synkey, Waldorf Wave, ARP Quadra, (my beloved) Ensoniq ESQ1, Yamaha DX-1, the Russian Murom Aelita and many more: over 60 synths are discussed in detail – yes that is quite a lot, but it – happily – leaves room for a sequel.

Each synthesizer gets an extensive description that dives into the history, the characteristics – written with in-depth knowledge of synthesizer concepts and techniques, the sequence of voice construction, extensive panel descriptions, features per part, and much more. The author explains in a very tasty but serious way how each synthesizer works and especially why this one is significant in vintage synth history.

Second: the images are very detailed and make you study them for a longer time. Showing details that you may not have noticed before. And each synth gets more pages than you would expect – wow! this is a very good way to get you into the synth.

Vince Clarke’s love for vintage synths.

But that’s not all: an introduction by Synth guru Vince Clarke who knows how to push the right buttons exactly: why does a vintage synth have so much appeal to the enthusiast? And why is he still in love with his vintage synth collection.

Furthermore, the book gives a great overview of the most important synthesizer exhibitions and museums and other sources where you can get more information about vintage synths.

Are there things to dislike? Well, dislike is not the right word, but the glossary appendix isn’t really necessary for me, as well as the explanation of synthesizer sound concepts. But if this is your first vintage synths book, they are an important addition.

Even better: if you are thinking of buying only one vintage synth book then this should be the one.

Synth Gems 1 comes out at a point when everything already seems to have been said – but make no mistake: author Mike Metlay knows exactly what we want to read. Perhaps this is because Mike knows what information is not mentioned in other books that the enthusiast is really waiting for.

The quality of the book finish is great: nice sturdy cover, heavy glossy pages. What an asset! Beautiful to put in your bookcase, but even more beautiful to put it beside your reading chair and enjoy many hours of browsing and enjoying synths …. Especially you will read about synths you will probably never lay your hands on, but with this book – it hurts much less.

A wonderful book, for beginners but certainly also for the spoiled owner of a vintage synth book collection.

Publisher Kim BjørnBjooks Boss, together with Mike Metlay, have hit the right note: this is a must-have putting many other vintage synth books in the shade.

So Kim – when is Synth Gems #2 coming out?