E-mu Modular Systems

E-mu Modular System Image

E-mu Systems is known today for producing some of the best digital samplers and sample-playback ROM sound modules on the market. But they got their start from humble beginnings in the very early 1970's. Based out of California, USA, E-mu produced over 250 of these modular synthesizers for famous artists and universities. These modular synths were custom-built instruments and, although they competed against classics like the ARP 2500, 2600 and Moog modular synthesizers, they were initially intended for high-end users such as schools and at the request of some famous musicians. The system requires patching via patch cords to route your signal through its various modules to create musical sounds. It also featured a firm-wire patch in which any front panel patch could be made in the rear of the instrument. Inserting a front panel patch would then bypass the firm-wired patch. So you can store a favorite voicing or frequently used connections using the firm-wire patches. The firm-wire patches are not permanent and can be easily changed by the user.

E-mu Modular System Image

Modular systems meant that buyers could custom design their systems by choosing specific modules that they wanted installed into their system. E-mu modules available included: VCA, Quad Inverter, Low Pass Filter, High Pass Filter, Ring Modulator, Dual Trans. Gen., Large VCO, Small VCO, Noise gen., Sample-and-Hold, Envelope Follower, Dual Reverb, and more. Each system was hand built to order and there are less than 100 or so of these babies still around today! E-mu's oscillators were virtually drift-free, unlike other major synthesizers of the time, because of E-mu's unique circuit designs. Their filters were also cleaner than the Moog and ARP, however that wasn't a good thing since people like the grittier Moog sound. E-mu's systems made excellent alternatives to other big name classic modulars. Unlike most others which almost always had black panels, the E-mu modulars featured bright and shiny 1/8" aluminum panels with nice blue lines separating each module. Vince Clarke, Herbie Hancock, Pat Gleeson, Hans Zimmer, Meat Beat Manifesto, Frank Zappa and Roger Linn have used it.

The color photograph above was originally taken by the late Ed Rudnick:
"It was April of 1973 when the first E-mu modular synthesizer was sold to future Director of Manufacturing Ed Rudnick, who had started hanging around E-mu looking for a job so he could learn how to design and build synthesizers. E-mu spent most of the 1970's designing ultrastable VCOs, lab-quality filters, digital/analog sequencers, dedicated music ICs, and polyphonic voltage control keyboards." - E-mu's Corporate History Page

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8 Visitor comments
March 11, 2013 @ 4:54 am
Great fun, excellent instrument. My university had a vastly underappreciated and underused one back in the eighties, and booking six-hour sessions twice a week was a regular occurrence for the lucky few.

The control path's frequency response (nearly all of it) extends to the top of the audio range. There are plenty of ways to make it sound dirty, not just one built-in way - overdriven amps, control processors fast enough to distort audio, and more.

We'd leave giant LFO-driven patches of chomping malevolent machinery and feral screams running when we went out for pizza or a smoke.
January 19, 2013 @ 1:00 am
Ned Lagin used an E-Mu Modular when performing "Seastones" with Phil Lesh on Grateful Dead tours. Ned is pictured here with it onstage in 1974 -> http://jranderson.photoshelter.com/image?_bqG=222&_bqH=eJwzcy3NTc8prsg3dQ7JK iz2MzAr8fTNKMnPTCq3MjSytDI1sDI0AAIrz3iXYGdbl9TElAwgLlYD8.Md_VxsS4Ds0GDXoHhPF9tQk Fp_l6h8H69488z0ZLV4R.cQ2.LUxKLkDAApVyGdI_IDI0000yqEgrPsjSvo
March 12, 2012 @ 4:35 pm
I use one at school. It is an absolute joy to use! It sounds amazing! It's also very stable and has feature-rich oscillators with low frequency mode, waveform mixer and much more! The filters are awesome, but keep an eye on the resonance level at high cutoff frequencies on the LPF! Almost blew out the speakers. OoucH!
Peter Lutz
July 3, 2011 @ 12:50 pm
I have a bunch of the original submodules that were offered for those who wanted to build their own modular synth. All of the submodules work today and the oscillators are very stable More stable than my Moog 1C with 921 oscillators.
I wish these were offered today with the renewed interest in analog synths.
I also built the digital monophonic keyboard based on the Emu digital keyboard circuitboard. It too is functioning very well. I use it to drive my Moog 1C system with a modified trigger circuit.
October 14, 2010 @ 10:56 am
Looks like it may be used on the next Tool album as well. From their site:


"In a highly covert operation involving operatives and secret agencies from several different countries, a "Mothership" from the planet EMU was apprehended this afternoon in Hollywood California. The mission had apparently been in the works for 4 to 5 weeks said project manager Daniel Carey. "It took some of our greatest minds, a lot of determination, and some incredible patience to bring the craft into our custody, but it was well worth it. .... We expect positive results very soon in the future."

And a picture of Danny Carey, Too's drummer, posing with one: http://www.toolarmy.com/images/news/DCEMU.jpg
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Rated 3.16 (178 Votes)

  • Check Price
  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 1 or 2 voices
  • Oscillators - VCO modules feature (sin, tri, saw, sqr; coarse, fine tune, sync, pulse width)
  • LFO - VCC (Voltage controlled clock: saw, pulse, speed); Sample-and-Hold Modules available too
  • Filter - 24dB low-pass (cutoff, Q, key track, res); 24dB Hi-pass module; Universal Hi/Band/Low-Pass and Notch module; Resonant Formant Filter; Ring-Modulator modules available too.
  • VCA - VCA Modules feature DADSR envelope controls
  • Keyboard - 61 note CV / Gate controller keyboard with 4 control sliders
  • Memory - None
  • Control - 2 CV / GATE (1V/octave)
  • Date Produced - 1973 - 1981
  • Resources & Credits
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