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
November 19, 2011 @ 8:31 am
Very unique synth - the VCF's are legendary, and the semi-modular format takes it above other synths of the period in flexibility. Not as versatile as a true modular, but has its own charm. Very rare to get a 2nd hand bargain these days, as current prices are £1000+. Considering it was a "budget" synth on release, this attests to its sonic potential. The plug-in version is a good copy, but the real is the deal.
Jazz Prophet
September 23, 2011 @ 9:51 am
I was talking a walk uptown with a bassist named Jaco when he spotted this synth in a trash can - "This is for you" he said, handing me a unit in several pieces. I hesitated a moment but decided to lug it back to my East Harlem pad. After assembling and fine-tuning the unit - I was blown away by the sound! It sits next to my Prophet 600 in my home studio now. Sadly, Jaco is gone, but will never be forgotten.
September 17, 2011 @ 12:05 pm
I just got my MS20 back from my tech after having it in for calibration. He told me this thing is really primitive and I probably wouldn't be able to get $20 for it in ten years. He couldn't believe it when I told him eBay prices were around $1800 for a nice specimen.
September 14, 2011 @ 9:19 am
A few weeks ago I bought my MS-20. It's sound is really unique. It can sound like my other monophonic analog synthesizers but the MS-filter-sound is totally crazy when you get far from the 'normal' setting. You can't compare it to any other synthesizer I know.
The only thing I hate on the MS-20 is the low quality keyboard.
ear candy
September 8, 2011 @ 3:54 pm
I have one that I bought in Japan 1983 at a music store there. The power is wrong for the USA, so I had to buy a power transformer many years ago. Still works great...I love some of the names of groups listed, crack me up, like Skinny Puppy(?), Legendary Pink Dots and Severed Heads. Haha!
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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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