Korg MS-20

Korg MS-20 Image

The MS-20 was one of Korg's first major successful portable analog monosynths and even today it is still a great little machine! The MS-20 is the big brother to the MS-10. It is an analog two-oscillator monophonic lead and bass synth with hard wired and patchable connections. The hard-wiring can be overridden however, using patch-cords. This type of hard-wired but patchable design was similar to the ARP 2600 of the late seventies. Of course the 2600 was much bigger and better. But the MS-20 offered a lot of flexible control and great sounds at a more affordable price.

In addition to two analog oscillators, the MS-20 featured two resonant VCFs (filters), two VCAs, sample and hold, a noise generator, an assignable mod-wheel and lots of knobs! The VCF (filter) section is capable of high-pass, low-pass, notch and band-reject which is unique and different than your basic lowpass style filter. External sound sources can be routed through the filter section as well. In fact William Ørbit uses the filter in his MS-20 relentlessly to filter and tweak his samples, beats, delay returns, vocals, etc.

There's also a Pitch-CV converter for triggering sounds from external sources. Aphex Twin makes quite a bit of use of this, feeding the input stage of his MS-20s with drum sounds and other untrackable audio to get the synth to make a wide variety of crunch/squawp/screech noises by mistracking the filters, etc.

As for its sounds, the MS-20 sounds great! It makes a great alternative for Minimoog-seekers. The MS-20 is great for just about any type of analog synth sound you could want! Fat round bass sounds, percussive bass or sounds, noise effects, squiggly-bubbly sounds or sinuous-worm leads are all waiting to be unleashed from inside this classic beast. The MS-20 is not only a great sounding instrument, but a great learning-synth. It is fairly easy and intuitive to operate but in doing so you can learn and understand more about synthesis and signal-flow. It is used by William Ørbit, Aphex Twin, Hardfloor, Air, SkyLab, Stereolab, Vince Clarke, Astral Projection, Biosphere, Apollo 440, Mr. Oizo, Jimi Tenor, The Prodigy, OMD, Freddy Fresh, Luke Vibert, Einstuerzende Neubauten, Add N to (X), Daft Punk, Coldcut, Die Krupps, Skinny Puppy, Electronic Dream Planet, Jimmy Edgar, Front 242, Front Line Assembly, The Legendary Pink Dots, KMFDM, Severed Heads, Royksopp, The Faint, The Shamen, Jean-Michel Jarre, Soulwax and Portishead.

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114 Visitor comments
October 10, 2008 @ 5:28 am
This was my first synthesizer ever. I bought a used one in 1981 and payed 800 deutsch marks (about 400 Euro). The MS 20 was fine to learn the basics of classic synthesizer technologies. If you are a pro, you can do all the wired things what syntesizer ar made for. Why not connecting the envelope to the pulsewidth? (try it, and you know what I mean). No problem with a MS 20, but a big big problem with that bling bling digital stuff.

But the sound is a mess. A MS 20 sounds noisy and thin. You have to add a lot of effects to make the 12db filter sound good. Attack in ADSR is far away from punchy, and you need a lot of time to bring the two Osc in tune. (Don't think about syncing them.) I'm absolutly irritated about the hype around every MS 20 on ebay. If you ar willing to invest 800 Euros for your first syntesizer, buy something better ...
Walter Slavik
October 1, 2008 @ 4:41 am
The MS-20 was the first synthesizer that I had ever owned, I think I bought it new in 1980. I mainly used it for melodies and effects, the melodies were easy to acquire via the use of the high pass and low pass filter.
All the fundamental of analogue synthesis are clearly arranged on this machine, it even has an external signal processor; which I tried out with a Roland CR 78 drum machine, electric guitar and bass and mic and vocals, all with varying weird successes,
I eventually acquired a second one, but what would have really come in handy is a sequencer like the SQ-10, but they were very rare in Melbourne, Australia in the early eighties.
I ended up selling both of the MS-20's and getting into digital polyphony, I do regret the loss.
I now use a Roland SH-32 module and sequencer instead, but if I had the money (AUS$1000 - $1500), and if I could find one; I would buy it.
September 9, 2008 @ 3:27 am
great synth! patching and ESP allows huge amount of settings and sounds.
what most people dont know: u CAN use v-trigger and v/oct with the ms 20 WITHOUT additional gear. ESP can invert v-trigger into s-trigger, and there are 2 possibilities for v/oct usage: osc input (not cv in) is in v/oct, u have to adjust pitch with EG1; and the patchable second vca is exponentially, thus it can convert v/oct into hz/v (trigger has to control clock of vca).
well i will never give this one away!
September 5, 2008 @ 5:21 pm
Should be amazing piece of eqipement. I own MS2000B, that's the closest I could get to MS-20. What should be said is that this was the only synth DAF used while recording ALLES IST GUT and GOLD UND LIEBE.
Last August (08) I saw Apoptygma Berzerk live in Germany. They had MS-20 on stage. ABSOLUTE BODY CONTROL (ex The KLINIK and INSEKT members) still (as well) carry MS-20 while playing live.
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  • 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 - Monophonic
  • Oscillators - 2 VCO's + noise
  • LFO - One LFO w/ multiple waveforms
  • Filter - 2 MultiMode VCFs: Lowpass, Highpass, Notch, BandReject; with ADSR
  • VCA - 2 VCAs: ADSR + Sample and Hold with an envelope follower
  • Keyboard - 37 keys
  • Arpeg/Seq - None
  • Control - CV/GATE
  • Date Produced - 1978-83
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from a Korg product brochure and

    Additional information provided by DAC Crowell.

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