Analog Synth Trends: Tom Oberheim and Dave Smith (2015 NAMM Show)


Synth pioneers Tom Oberheim and Dave Smith explored the analog synth revival with NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond during “Breakfast of Champions” at the 2015 NAMM Show.

Oberheim, who exhibited at the show under Marion Systems, recently re-entered the business after a hiatus. “I’m back in the business, and analog is booming,” he said.

Smith, who founded Sequential Circuits and now runs Dave Smith Instruments, attributed this trend, in part, to the individuality of analog synths. “It’s the interaction,” he said. “We strive to give our instruments personality. It’s like a guitar player. He can pick a Strat or a Telecaster or a Les Paul. Then he picks which one built in which factory in which year—whatever speaks to him as a musician.

“We try to do that with keyboard instruments. Analog instruments are like that. Every one of them’s a little bit different.”

“Any musician who used either of our instruments knows the sound of the Oberheim or knows the sound of the Sequential [Circuits],” Oberheim added. “And those sounds are different. And yet, from an engineering point of view, inside the machine, they had the same circuitry pretty much. They both used custom analog chips that were made at the time. And yet to the musicians that use them, they sounded different.”

Smith credited electronic dance music for helping drive this trend. That said, he acknowledged that analog synth sounds span nearly all genres of rock and pop music.

​“We sell to people you would expect: Radiohead, Arcade Fire—those kind of bands, of course,” he said. “They all use synthesizers. But then Taylor Swift uses one of our keyboards and plays it right out in front. Recently, I spent three days in the studio with Alicia Keys.”