Electronic Music Studios (EMS) VCS3

EMS VCS3 Image

The VCS3 (nicknamed the Putney) is an analog monosynth housed in a distinctive angled wooden case, a truly classic synth. EMS (Electronic Music Studios) was created in England back in 1969. The VCS3 was one of their first synths and it is still a great, unique, funky little unit! Pictured above is the Mark I model. Pictured is another unit with the small wood-cased DK2 voltage-control keyboard required to play the VCS3.

It has three oscillators, and a unique matrix-based patch system. Instead of patch wires, the VCS3 uses a patchbay grid in which the synth components are laid out, and signal routing is accomplished by placing small pins into the appropriate slots. The VCS3 was, in actuality, a modular type synthesizer reduced down to an extremely portable size.

EMS VCS3 Image

It generates familiar sci-fi sounds (Dr. Who) and other truly analog sounds. Unfortunately, the oscillators tend to drift out of tune. There's a Noise Generator, 2 Input Amplifiers, 1 Ring Modulator, 1 Voltage Controlled Low Pass Filter (VCF), 1 Trapezoid Envelope Generator, Joy-Stick Controller, Voltage Controlled Spring Reverb unit and 2 Stereo Output Amplifiers.

Additonally, the VCS3 was also sold in a plastic breif-case and called the Synthi A. The major Synthi 100 system was based on three VCS3's strung together. Some ultra-rare commercially unavailable synths EMS made include the VCS4 in 1969 which was basically 2 VCS3's plus a keyboard. And the Synthi Keyboard 1 of 1970 was just a VCS3 with a mini 29-note keyboard.

Many of these EMS synth's have been used by Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, Stereolab, Yes, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Jean-Michel Jarre, Astral Projection, Klaus Schulze, Depeche Mode, Vince Clarke, Add N to (X), The Who, Todd Rundgren, Recoil, Freddy Fresh, John Paul Jones and many more.

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34 Visitor comments
December 16, 2009 @ 6:26 pm
It's in the new Portishead video "Chase the Tear"...
December 15, 2009 @ 7:52 am
well well
French composer Roger Roger and his friend musician Nardini used these on many obscure libraries between the end of 1967 and all the 1980 to produce the best early synth music:from experimentation to easy lounge!
Listen to Roger "Chattamooga choo choo" from 1976 on jaycee records uk!
September 20, 2009 @ 4:05 am
I would really love to play and own one of these beautiful synths!!! please add Coil to the list! Some of the best example of this and many other analog synths has been demonstrated on many of Coil's records.
January 13, 2009 @ 6:24 pm
Wish I had all of them. Never played them personally, but I have samples since the 90's and have used from time to time. Nice effects on British Time traveller shows. I love the specs and sounds on this. Hi frequencies LFO effects are great on hear. It's capable of making sounds like a 70's video game effects, but stronger. It can also make Flying saucers and space laser beams. Humongoeus lightning bolts in the laboratory type effects with the built in reverb. It does not sound cheap. Love the wood and/or plastic. I remember in the late 90's they were manufacturing the portable for sale. I was reluctant not to buy one yet. This is one fine apparatus.
December 15, 2008 @ 7:23 am
I know the guy who runs EMS, Robin Wood, they now do all sorts of modifications to old EMS's so they're finally reliable!
A VCS3 is a dream of mine, a VCS4 is something I have now realised is a mere fantasy!
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  • Check Prices on eBay
  • The link above will take you to a 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 - 3 VCO's - Subtractive / FM analog synthesis
  • Filter - Low Pass VCF
  • VCA - Trapezoid waveshape Envelope generator
  • LFO - Yes
  • Keyboard - No keyboard, needs an external CV/gate keyboard controller such as the EMS DK2.
  • Memory - None
  • Control - CV/GATE
  • Date Produced - 1969 - 94

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