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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36 Visitor comments
July 22, 2014 @ 12:58 am
These guys use it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4ygQqsWvF8

Listen at about 2:08

A bunch of other noises are going from other synths, but there is the unmistakeable "running your fingers over a balloon" sound of the VCS too!
Ian Roberts
April 25, 2014 @ 12:06 am
Don't forget Tim Blake ( his crystal machine was based on 2 VCS's) and Hawkwind who were, and still are, users of the same; Portishead also use them and they are very much in demand today. Unfortunately they are changing hands for silly prices (£10k +) but interestingly emails sent to the eMS website are not being answered so does anyone happen to know why?
March 3, 2014 @ 4:14 am
Please don't forget the magnificent (and much sampled) Bob James! Although a Jazz man and primarily a pianist - he cites the VCS3 as the first synth he ever played.

"The first synth I remember playing was a Putney...

... I could modulate it in crazy ways by sticking little push-pins into the holes in a square grid on the console. I felt like a mad scientist!"

"In the early 70's, I started to play Rhodes, Oberheim, and in the 80's, Yamaha DX7 on studio gigs... My keyboard corruption had begun."

Bob James
February 22, 2013 @ 2:37 am
There is some great VCS 3 work by Francis Monkman of Curved Air on their Second Album. My favourite is on the track Young Mother, especially around the middle of the track which strays briefly into a Dr. Who moment. The track also includes some nice electric violin played by Darryl Way and the vocals of Sonja Kristina. The finale is also quite breath taking. It can be heard on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4QLn5HFMwg
January 18, 2013 @ 11:22 am
for [beep] , read "D i c k" which is hardly a profanity, but a common shortening of 'Richard'. Silly censor!
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User Rating

Rated 3.78 (666 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 - 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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