Korg Lambda ES50

Korg Lambda ES50 Image

The Korg Lambda is a fully polyphonic 48-key preset synthesizer released in 1979. It features two types of sound - Percussive (Electric Piano, Clavi, Piano, Harmonics) and Ensemble (Brass, Organ, Choir, Strings I, Strings II). The Percussive sounds have a simple fast attack and variable decay envelope, and the Ensemble sounds have both preset and variable attack/release envelopes. Each key is articulated independently, so there is no note-stealing as experienced on synths limited to a handful of voices. The downside of this is the relative lack of programmability, but the presets sound good, particularly when layered (they are all available simultaneously).

The Lambda uses divide-down technology from three Top Octave oscillators to provide the basis for its sounds. The three oscillators are mixed and filtered using fixed circuits to create the preset sounds, but there are also controls on the front panel for basic low-pass filtering of the Percussive and Ensemble tones, and each section has its own volume control. There is also a control for "click" (used to add attack to the EP sound) and a filter cut-off control for the Brass sound, which has its own paraphonic filter - tuned to give a slightly resonant peak to the sound, and with its own preset filter envelope. This re-triggers on every keypress, so held notes will also be reshaped when new ones are played. In practice this is not much of a problem.

An Octave switch puts the keyboard in regular or Octave Down mode. The three oscillators can be detuned to thicken the sound further, and there is a separate analog "chorus phase" (really just a chorus) for each of the Percussive and Ensemble sections. These can be switched on/off independently but share the same sweep control, which is via the joystick on the modulation panel to the left of the keyboard. The joystick also acts as a pitch bend control. Vibrato can be switched off the Ensemble sounds. Percussive sounds feature a variable Tremolo and a Sustain switch that turns Decay into a Release.

Round the back, there are plenty of interface jacks for a synth of this type. Aside from the headphone out, the mono mix out, and the stereo outputs, there is a short-to-ground Keyboard Trigger output, a Sustain pedal input, and an Expression input jack, switchable between Percussive, Ensemble, or both.

The Lambda is a solidly-built instrument, and its large top panel is perfect for laying out some effect pedals and/or a mono-synth. Despite its preset nature, the Lambda is a more versatile synth than it might at first appear, partly due to the quality of its sound, but also the simple yet useful modulation and tone-shaping controls. It really shines through a phaser and some reverb, and is eminently playable.

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27 Visitor comments
November 3, 2011 @ 1:15 pm
Oh man I love this thing.

I got mine from a guy in the Maritimes who'd found it in his barn. It powered on once for him, screeched and then died. He sold it to me for the cost of shipping.

When it arrived I took it to my tech and we opened it up to find a mouse habitat. It was full of pink insulation and mouse turds. We laughed so hard we almost fell over. After a good cleaning and a handful of inexpensive parts replaced the thing sounds like new! And what sounds . . .
November 3, 2011 @ 1:14 pm
I think it deserves a third star (at least) for its incredibly lush and rich sonic character. I hate trying to describe sound in words but I'll say this about it:

1. It doesn't do nearly everything, but what it does excel at it does better than any of my other 15 vintage synths. There's no replacement for it.
2. No other synth so immediately brings me pure joy as soon as I play it. It cures a bad mood in about 20 seconds.
Hal A.
August 14, 2011 @ 5:10 pm
Yea, like Johannes writes, it's a joy to play. Great for hi strings, I like the brass too, with the adjustable filter cutoff.

Josh Philips from Procol Harum used this, see:
June 2, 2011 @ 1:40 pm
What a joy! I own about 30 vintage synths and this is my favourite one for sure to play.
It has so much charactor!!! And a rich ensemble sound that is simply impossible to emulate. Great to layer sounds, easy to compose with! Organ sounds similar to an SK-20 and the Lambdas strings are very similar indeed to a Trident or Solina... More luscious than the best of the Roland string synths and much fuller than those grainy Italian Stringers. Chorus/Phase sounds so late 70s! Some peculiarities. I keep my tune A at 5 and tune B at 10 to stay in key. Deep lows, soaring highs = one magical synth!
Jeremy dePrisco
March 3, 2011 @ 9:42 pm
Owned one in the early 90s. Bought it for $50 with an entire Rhodes piano. Sold the Rhodes quickly (needed lots of work, and was huge). Kept the ES-50 and it was awesome. Had a great impact on my early 4-track recordings, some of which I am beginning to showcase at Electro-Music.com.

I needed space, so sold mine a couple years ago to a guy in NY who drove down to PA to pick it up. Mine had some tuning issues, and I could never find anyone brave enough to tackle working on it. A few of the sounds didn't work too. Would buy another one if I had space. Anyone have a plugin emulator?
VSE Rating


User Rating

Rated 3.91 (314 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 - 48 notes
  • Oscillators - 3 top-octave generators
  • Waveforms - Divide-down pulse waves
  • LFO - Tremolo and Vibrato; pitch bend
  • Filter - Fixed filter banks for each preset; extra VCF for Brass
  • Envelope - 2 simple envelopes per key; 1 preset filter env for Brass
  • Effects - Analog chorus
  • Keyboard - 48 keys; no velocity or aftertouch
  • Memory - 9 preset sounds
  • Control - Keyboard trigger out, sustain and expression pedal inputs
  • Date Produced - 1979 - 82
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from

    Review by NJ Ramsden.

    Review updated August 2013.

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