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
September 25, 2012 @ 6:23 pm
my dad bought one of these brand new in 79. passed it to my brother in the early 90's, but it found its way back into my parent's basement. one night while drinking with the old man, we were talking about it. he was saying he should throw it away, luckily i had my rhodes suitcase there, and suggested testing it before throwing it away. plugged it in and alas, it sang. definitely one of the best pieces of gear that i've ever owned. and i got it for free. the octave toggle is pretty wild. playing on the percussive side and toggling the octave switch rhythmically almost sounds like an arpeggiator
May 30, 2012 @ 9:21 am
The Korg Lambda ES-50 has been used by Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Rick Ocasek, (early) Men Without Hats, Ian Boddy, The Moog cookbook, Les Rockets, Rational Youth and others.
February 4, 2012 @ 5:36 pm
2 stars... have you ever seen this awsome instrument???? ...good sample of it is all you'll really need these days.... this is a bull [beep] . I don´t know anybody who is able to compose really good music just with sample of something what is real... This is one of the best Korg products ever. I think Korg Lambda deserve some defence :-) I don´t mean it in a bad way I just like this instrument :-) Have a nice day anybody who read this
December 26, 2011 @ 10:37 am
Piano-like presets are not specially interesting. But it gives you awesome string presets too (low, high and human vox type - vox preset is incredible!) with AR and filter cutoff control. There's also nice percussive preset called "harmonics". Joystick with pitch/effect control is cool feature. Onboard phaser sounds very good - classic!
3 vcos are divided down to achieve polyphony, but it doesn't affect sound quality in way it does in cheapo string synths.
For me, Lambda is among the best string synths. Simple, but quality of some sounds is just astounding!
November 15, 2011 @ 3:03 pm
I sold my Lambda in the mid 80s, but have finally got my hands on one again. It’s great. Vintage, analogue, good sounding, good fun. 2 stars? 4 stars? I think it’s meaningless to compare a Lambda to, say, MS2000. They are so different, and of course a MS2000 can do a lot more.The sheer qualites of the Lambda are different from so many others, so the comparison is futile. As said before, what it does, it does extremely well. It has character. A little refurbishing and it will shine in my living room. I’ll never part with this wooden monster!

PS: Anybyody know where to get a joystick?
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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