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Viewing topic "Who Are the Best Synth Players of All Time?  Please!"

   
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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 05:59 AM
lastmonk
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I’ve been in a debate now for about two weeks with some of my mates, trying to nail down, who are the best synth players (as opposed to the most famous synth players) of all time.  Two weeks ago I thought this would be an easy list. I was wrong! The discussion was kicked off by an old Synth Gods book we were looking at. During the discussion-debate-argument-fight some of the names that quickly popped up were:

Brian Eno,
Joe Zawinul
Stevie Wonder
Jan Hammer
Chick corea
Suzanne Ciani
Herbie Hancock
Jordan Rudess
Vangelis
George Duke
Anne Dudley
James Lloyd
Hiromi Uehara
Wendy Carlos

But we couldn’t agree on what we meant by the best.  Was it voice programming, technical dexterity, midi-magic during live performance, most original sound, most keyboards on stage at one time, most original synth compositions.  Finally the arguments degraded into trying to identify what it meant to be a virtuoso on a synthesizer and from there it dropped into Analog vs Digital.  So it just dawned me, the folks on Motifator might be able to help put together a legitimate (even comprehensive) list on who the greatest synth players of all time are.

Folks is our above list even close?  LOL

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 09:41 AM
MapleCarbine
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To judge any of them, I’d need to be more sucessful or at least on a level with them having real experience of working with or around them.  I am none of that, so I’m not qualifed to judge.

I’d sound like a bit of an idiot doing that kind of thing from a bedroom studio, knowing full well in about 3 hours I have a hospital shift.

Presumably you and your friends have 10+ Grammy Awards in the bag and personal experience of all of those people to argue their merits or faults out?

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 10:26 AM
lastmonk
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MapleCarbine - 03 August 2017 09:41 AM

To judge any of them, I’d need to be more sucessful or at least on a level with them having real experience of working with or around them.  I am none of that, so I’m not qualifed to judge.

I’d sound like a bit of an idiot doing that kind of thing from a bedroom studio, knowing full well in about 3 hours I have a hospital shift.

Presumably you and your friends have 10+ Grammy Awards in the bag and personal experience of all of those people to argue their merits or faults out?

Hey, MapleCarbine interesting input?  So do I understand your position to be if you can’t personally do it then you can’t make a judgment about it?

For example: Since I’m not a quarterback in the NFL, then I can’t make a determination or judgment about who the top 10 ten quarterbacks of all time are?  Not only can I not make a judgment, I shouldn’t even be asking the question :-)

If that truly is your position, then you probably can’t make judgments about most things in life, because you haven’t personally done them…

Or Should I take your response to mean you have no idea or opinion who the best synth players are, and you have no idea or opinion on how you would arrive at such a list?

Or is your lack of giving a constructive response to an honest question another prime example of “Trolling” that is so rampant on the Internet these days?

Btw, since I posted this question/request this morning, someone e-mailed me the name of Keith Emerson, So now my new lists looks like:

Keith Emerson,
Brian Eno,
Joe Zawinul
Stevie Wonder
Jan Hammer
Chick corea
Suzanne Ciani
Herbie Hancock
Jordan Rudess
Vangelis
George Duke
Anne Dudley
James Lloyd
Hiromi Uehara
Wendy Carlos

I know there are competitions for Piano like Van Cliburn, that help to ferret out certain skill levels in Piano playing, is there such a thing for synth players?  How would we (or can we) go about definitively identifying the best synth players of all time?

Especially if we are not on the list ourselves LOL

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 10:55 AM
MapleCarbine
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If you don’t like my comment that’s fair enough, but no need to be dick about it!

Being a medical doctor, I can help you with that problem.

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 11:14 AM
lastmonk
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MapleCarbine - 03 August 2017 10:55 AM

If you don’t like my comment that’s fair enough, but no need to be dick about it!

Being a medical doctor, I can help you with that problem.

First of all, I’ve just been given a new name to add to the list:
Rick Wakeman.

Second, I made no mention about liking or disliking your comments.  I was simply trying to clarify.  And speaking of clarification, what does being a “dick about it” have to do with my questions to you.  Btw my questions still stand., and along with a new list, if I may here are a few new questions.  Here is my list so far:

Rick Wakeman,
Keith Emerson,
Brian Eno,
Joe Zawinul
Stevie Wonder
Jan Hammer
Chick corea
Suzanne Ciani
Herbie Hancock
Jordan Rudess
Vangelis
George Duke
Anne Dudley
James Lloyd
Hiromi Uehara
Wendy Carlos

MapleCarbine, are you familiar with (any/all) of the folks on this list?  In your opinion as a medical doctor, would you say these individuals are among the best synth players of all time?  Is there anybody on the list that in your opinion shouldn’t be on the list?  Is there someone that me and my mates should have put on the list but have left off?  Or is it the case you have no idea who should be on the list?  Or are you opposed to the very ‘idea’ of even attempting to enumerate the best synth players of all time?

Or let me put another way., do you have any constructive input with respect to the subject matter of the topic of this thread?  :-)

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 01:14 PM
MrMotif
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Always enjoy these threads… (and do keep comments on the light and fun side, folks. No one’s claiming input from on high here in terms of their right to create such a list)

I’ll resist the temptation to include myself in my own list of additional candidates even though I have been fortunate enough to make other lists! :) but the following should also be on the starting lineup I’d say:

Also, your poll looks at ‘synth’ players as opposed to ‘keyboard players.’ Accordingly, my list includes people who have made a significant contribution specifically using synthesizers. There are obviously oodles of great keyboard players, pianists and organists who have not necessarily moved the ball forward that much in terms of their synth usage.

Don Airey
Richard Barbieri
Norman Cook
Billy Currie
Deadmau5
Geoff Downes
Thomas Dolby
Keith Emerson
Edgar Froese
Jan Hammer
Jean-Michel Jarre
Gary Numan
David Paich
Roger Powell
Prince
Trent Reznor
Rick Wakeman
Edgar Winter
Steve Winwood
Bernie Worrell
Hans Zimmer

MM

PS You have rightly (imho) added Mssrs. Wakeman and Emerson already I see.

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 02:46 PM
5pinDIN
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For me, the problem is indeed with the definition of “best”. If nothing else, the resources available vary with time. W.Carlos did some amazing things with Switched-On Bach, working within the limitations of a monophonic Moog modular system, requiring a multitrack tape recorder and many hours to capture the performances. More recent players using modern synths have it a lot easier. Does the incredible effort that was required make Carlos “better”?

I think “------------------” should/shouldn’t be on the list.  ;-)

That doesn’t mean I have no opinion(s) - it’s just that “of all time” encompasses a wide range of technology, and that alone makes choosing “best” players difficult. Throw in several other variables, and the list could get quite long. Unless the parameters can be better defined (and I’m not suggesting they should be), I’m not prepared to voice my opinion. However, I will read other comments with interest.

I know of no skill competitions for synth players such as the Van Cliburn one for piano. That competition, after all, is about proficiency on a single instrument. If there was a synth-playing competition, would the players have to all play one model of synth? If so, which one? Would that be fair?

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 02:49 PM
5pinDIN
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MrMotif - 03 August 2017 01:14 PM

I’ll resist the temptation to include myself in my own list of additional candidates even though I have been fortunate enough to make other lists! :)

Since MrMotif is apparently too modest to blow his own horn, and some Motifator members might be unaware of his “credentials”, see:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Colbeck

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 03:06 PM
philwoodmusic
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I’ll add (in the same way as MrMotif):

Steve Porcaro
Tony Banks
Mark Kelly
Thijs van Leer

I’d also like to add Viv Savage just for fun! - “Quite exciting, this computer magic.”

As a big Stevie Wonder fan, I’d say Stevie Wonder can be listed alone, but also listed again with Tonto’s Expanding Head Band (Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff) too.

For me, it’s not just about how these guys play or what they play, it’s the overall “swag” they bring.

Think about Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, video.  The visual power in the video comes from the size of Alex’s drum kit, 4 kicks and most of a kitchen!  Imagine it if it was the same video with a little trap set?

So, with keys in mind, here are some extra categories aside of ability:

- Biggest rig

- Dress Sense (capes, boots, headgear)

- Biggest hair,

- Facial hair complexity and depth,

- Diva tendances,

- Optometric correction style.

- Stand up or sit down playing,

- Able to walk in to their keyboard rig vs the need to be winched in because of too much surrounding gear.

- Drug addiction and/or alcoholism vs no addiction.

- Number of marriages.

- Marriages to other keyboard players ex wives.

- Bonus - Played at Eric Clapton’s Wedding.

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 04:57 PM
MrMotif
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Amen PhilWood. Love to see your style adopted by the GRAMMYs.

Agreed 5pinDIN that choosing the ‘best’ of anything is extremely hard to turn into anything meaningful unless it involves running shoes but with synth players (and this being conducted on a synth forum) I think this has some legitimacy in terms of people who have made meaningful contributions to the very notion of playing a synthesizer (as opposed to playing B3, Rhodes, acoustic piano etc).

In other words it’s more than simple keyboard dexterity (Rick and Jorden would probably scamper away with those prizes without too much argument), it’s also about use of texture and tone color, programming, and plain envelope pushing. I’ve always regarded Edgar Winter as almost peerless on that score and here would be the proof, played live to boot.

Perhaps nominations could come with a Tweet-sized ‘reason?’

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Posted on: August 03, 2017 @ 07:15 PM
lastmonk
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Yes, yes, yes,

This is exactly the beauty and the problem of it all.  The synth is such an awesome instrument, and there is so many aspects to it, where does one start, if the goal is to describe who is the best at playing it.  The synth is in its own class.  Obviously with all instruments there is the whole subjective thing.  But there seems to be some agreement when we are talking about greatness for some of the other instruments like, violin or piano.  If we were talking about guitarists it would be clear (at least I think) that guys like Al De meola represent a very high bar.

But for synths like 5 pinDin said there is the whole time-frame-technology-available issue.  What Synths were capable of 3 decades ago versus the beasts we have today.  The polyphony is insane, the automation, the number oscillators, and filters, its proven to be very difficult to put together a list of those who have set the bar high.

I’m in Ohio, and we are organizing an annual synth conference/workshop that is
tentatively named Synth God M.A.S.S (Music Automation Synthesis Symposium)

Where synth players and gear heads, synth programmers, and enthusiast can get together exchange techniques, knowledge, swap equipment, see demonstrations, get the scoop on new synthesizer stuff , explore the past, and imagine the future, celebrate the synthesis tradition, and have good ole fashioned fun.  Some one brought up the idea of having a Synth God competition for cash prizes, give-aways etc.  And that’s where the dilemma kicked in.  How in the hell would you pick the winner?  Would it be based on who could program the most original/interesting voice, who could produce the nicest envelopes, the most interesting use of LFO’s, the most unique and interesting use of controllers, the most dexterity, the most automation done in a zone?  what?  Would there be a Midi component?  Would Presets be allowed?  To arpeggiate or not to arpeggiate that is the question?  What would be a legitimate measure of a Synth God, if there be such a thing.  We all know good when we here it, but was there any way to be fair?  So we’ve been arguing / discussing the issue for a couple of weeks now.  Herein lies the reason why I started this thread.

Where I’m at we’ve got a lot of young musicians who are just now becoming interested in synthesizers (some being introduced through EDM) and they have no idea who Wendy Carlos, or Bob Moog, or Keith Emerson even are.  They have the gear, but no history.  The information is out there if you know where to look., So part of the motivation for our annual conference is to help bring the young musicians interested in synthesis along.

a list of best synthesizer players of all time seemed to be a good place to start and consequently if produced would be a very valuable thing to young synth wannabes that have no idea what analog was really about, or what the word patch originally referred to.  Even if the list is subjective, incomplete.  It could be used as a starting point, for one generation to share with the next and it will help our group in Ohio try to organize workshops, talks, demonstrations, etc.  that will be held at Synth God M.A.S.S.  2018.

The suggestions that are in this thread so far are very very very appreciated!  Wow Steve Winwood how have I never heard of him?  I will combine them all as people add names and generate a master list, get rid of the duplication and repost.  Its not that there are no other lists on the Internet, its I value the unique perspectives of the people on Motifator because many share fondness for the Motif., and that brings a welcome bias for me in this situation.

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Posted on: August 04, 2017 @ 01:53 AM
zpink
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I’m probably the super-amateur on this forum, but may I suggest Dave Greenfield anyway?
IMHO, the man’s the missing link between Punk and Prog! :-)

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Posted on: August 04, 2017 @ 06:03 AM
lastmonk
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zpink - 04 August 2017 01:53 AM

I’m probably the super-amateur on this forum, but may I suggest Dave Greenfield anyway?
IMHO, the man’s the missing link between Punk and Prog! :-)

good suggestions are good suggestions.  Here is the list so far.  There are 39 on the list.  Some of them are totally new to me!  It will be fun just listening to their body of work.  So I’m looking forward to checking out as much synth playing from the players on this list as I can.  Hopefully I’ll find good representation of their stuff on youtube.

Don Airey 
Tony Banks 
Richard Barbieri 
Wendy Carlos
Suzanne Ciani
Julian Colbeck 
Norman Cook 
Chick Corea 
Billy Currie
Deadmau5  
Thomas Dolby 
Geoff Downes 
Anne Dudley 
George Duke 
Keith Emerson 
Brian Eno
Edgar Froese 
Dave Greenfield
Jan Hammer 
Herbie Hancock 
Jean-Michel Jarre 
Mark Kelly 
Thijs van Leer
James Lloyd 
Gary Numan 
David Paich 
Steve Porcaro 
Roger Powell
Prince  
Trent Reznor 
Jordan Rudess 
Hiromi Uehara 
Vangelis 
Rick Wakeman  
Edgar Winter 
Steve Winwood 
Stevie Wonder 
Bernie Worrell 
Joe Zawinul 
Hans Zimmer

I know that there are “oodles” of synth players. But do these 40 represent the best synth players of all time.  Maybe we should look for the 50 best synth players of all time.  Would 50 cover the range of techniques, approaches, gear, synth philosophies?

And what does ‘Best’ even mean?  I personally don’t want to use record sales, or numbers of grammys to define ‘Best’.  At the moment I’m more inclined to use a consensus from a community of synth players.  If a community of synth players can agree on a list of say 50 players as representing the ‘Best’ then I would consider that a meaningful list.

And then I would ask the community how did they arrive at their definition for ‘Best’ LOL.  Yea ‘Best’ is so subjective that its likely impossible to nail down, but it will be fun to try.  Could some of the factors that make up Best be:

Virtuoso use of subtractive, hybrid, additive, etc synthesis in voice programming during a live or recorded performance.

Virtuoso use of effect processing in conjunction with presets

Virtuoso use of layering, zoning, and automation during a live performance.

Virtuoso solos that demonstrate mastery of some aspect of either harmonic, rhythmic, melodic or atmospheric capabilities of the synthesizer

Or could we narrow it down:

Best LFO use.
Best Filter use.
Best Use of elements/layers and movement within a voice/patch.

I dunno., what the criteria will ultimately be for our Synth God M.A.S.S (SGM).  But it will probably be a fun fool’s errand trying to come up with something that will allow us to try to fairly judge some of the event’s competitions with.  Since we are planning on holding SGM annually, I suppose the criteria will get better over time.

Btw folks, SGM2018 will be a one day event and will be open to the public and is donation based. So if you’re anywhere near Youngstown Ohio next year when it goes down, you won’t want to miss it. Synth workshops, talks, demonstrations, how-tos, gear swaps, synth competitions, movie screenings, etc.  The event is being sponsored by NEOACM a non profit group (mostly computer geeks) but some who are musicians too.

http://www.neoacmchapter.org

As we get the format of SGM2018 nailed down will post more information.  And of course all in the motifator family are welcome to come and any input to the event would be appreciated!

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Posted on: August 04, 2017 @ 07:49 AM
meatballfulton
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Putting Brian Eno and Jordan Rudess on the same list really runs the gamut. I’m not sure how you can equate a player who is mostly intersted in sound design with one who has virtuoso keyboard chops. I find on some forums like Gearslutz there is a huge split between those who think synths shouldn’t even have keyboards and those who find the whole concept of making music that is just a collection of sounds ridiculous.

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Posted on: August 04, 2017 @ 10:54 AM
lastmonk
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meatballfulton - 04 August 2017 07:49 AM

Putting Brian Eno and Jordan Rudess on the same list really runs the gamut. I’m not sure how you can equate a player who is mostly intersted in sound design with one who has virtuoso keyboard chops. I find on some forums like Gearslutz there is a huge split between those who think synths shouldn’t even have keyboards and those who find the whole concept of making music that is just a collection of sounds ridiculous.

I think the tent has to be big enough for both camps!.  Its like we have factions in our group that believe the only real synthesizers are analog! and they totally dismiss something like the Motif as being valid.

We might need multiple criteria, or different categories of ‘Best’

We have some ideas though.  There is a synth repetoire out there.  And just like they do in some of the piano competitions, maybe we could use the performance of famous synth pieces/solos as one possible base line.

e.g.  If you can reproduce this piece and then add some of your own innovation that would be a basis for comparing folks in a for-fun-synth-competition.

Likewise with sounds.  The idea would be to reproduce in real time famous synth sounds that represent the high bar, while also adding your own innovation.

It could be fun.

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Posted on: August 04, 2017 @ 12:41 PM
philwoodmusic
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3 more of note:

Howard Jones
Nick Rhodes
Jeff Lorber.

Jeff is possibly more a of a rhodes and piano guy but there is a tonne of Jeff Lorber fusion synth stuff.

Also something you could think about is who is the most sampled?

That’s the ultimate accolade for me.

Jeff would score high on that with Rain Dance for example:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNqfnZ24pSg

Sampled use:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWC79TcWWsI

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