Korg MS-20 by MikeInOttawa
Imagine a beautiful, raven-haired woman. Sleek and sexy. It just feels right when you’re holding her. And when you turn her on, she’s the wildest, most uninhibited girl you’ve ever had. That, to me, is the best way to describe the Korg MS-20.
Released in 1978 and produced until 1983, the Korg MS-20 is a voltage-controlled monophonic synthesizer, and is essentially a Japanese Minimoog. It has two oscillators, with triangle, sawtooth, sine, square, pulse, and rectangle (ring modulator) waves. The basic pitch of each oscillator is controlled by a knob, similar to the pitch of organ pipes- 32’ to 4’ for Oscillator 1 and 16’ to 2’ for Oscillator 2. The overall pitch of the MS-20 is fine-tuned by a knob as is the amount of portamento, and the pitch of Oscillator 2 relative to Oscillator 1 can be fine-tuned as well. The levels of each oscillator can also be independently adjusted by two knobs. The MS-20 features a low-pass and high-pass filter, and the cutoff and resonance of each can be changed- at maximum resonance levels the filters self-oscillate, creating some pretty incredible sounds. The MS-20 also features one VCA, a white and pink noise generator, and a sample/hold module that is great for creating random notes. Every section can be modulated by the two envelope generators. The MS-20 also features one LFO, called a Modulation Generator, which can use either a pulse or sloped wave, and is useful for creating repetitive functions by being patched into the oscillators, filters, or VCA. There is also a wheel controller and a trigger button that can control a variety of functions, depending on how its patched.
One of the great things about the MS-20 is the semi-modular design. This routing capability gives the MS-20 an amazing flexibility, allowing the user to route the Modulation Generator and Envelope Generators to the oscillators, filters, and VCA, among other things.
The MS-20 also features an External Signal Processor, allowing other sources to trigger the MS-20 and be processed through the filters. The MS-20 can also be controlled by the SQ-10 sequencer, MS-10, or MS-50. It can also be controlled by midi by using a Midi/CV converter such as the Doepfer MCV4.
Enough of the technical stuff. The MS-20 is one of the greatest synths ever made. It can do growling bass lines, screaming leads, and out-of-this-world noises. Its simplicity makes it a great learner synth, and many bands continue to use it. Unfortunately, its ongoing popularity means that current prices for these babies are pretty high- if you can get a good one for $1,500 you would be very very lucky. If you can’t get one, Korg has developed a VST version of the MS-20, which is included in the Korg Legacy Collection. There is also a Korg DS-10 program for the Nintendo DS and a Korg iMS-20 iPad app that emulates the MS-20. All of these alternatives pale in comparison to the real thing though. The MS-20 was likely the inspiration for the look of the Korg Monotron.
I’ve had mine since 1980. I’ve had my share of sexy, uninhibited girlfriends, but the Korg MS-20 is the sexiest and wildest of them all, and it’s the one I will never let go of.