Category Archives: Gear

OP-1 the most curious music gadget of them all!

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Aah, the Teenage Engineering OP-1. What a thing of wonder! It is the most peculiar little electronic music device I have ever encountered bar none! I have been the proud owner of one for a few months now and I’d like to share a few stories about it with you if you don’t mind?

This Swedish device first came on the global radar back in 2009 or 2010 and we discussed it on Sonic Talk (on Sonicstate.com), the weekly podcast I usually partake in, keeping track of the developments and even wondering if it would remain ‘vapourware’ as in never existing as a consumer product. But in August 2011, Nick at Sonicstate managed to get an early one in for review and I was fortunate to get a bit of a hands on. I was fascinated but felt that since I’d recently bought an iPad ostensibly for the same job – mobile music making, I’d give it a miss plus it’s extremely high price was a a turn off. €799 seemed like a ridiculous sum for a tiny little music toy. Fast forward to April this year and during a stop over at Cologne on the Karl Hyde European tour, we popped into the massive Music Store. Sure enough in their music tech department they had one of these tiny miracles in a fancy wall display, I immediately got down to some serious twiddle with it, Karl being bemused but sagely talking me out of the impulse buy. But what had changed? Why was I now ready to shed some serious wedge on one?

Firstly, the iPad, as good as it is just sometimes doesn’t inspire, I simply get too distracted to stay within one piece of software, even grade A titles like Samplr, I just end up going online or switching apps. This is a terrible bourgeois guilt I have but the plethora or riches on the iPad often leads me to a kind of paralytic state of too much choice. The OP -1 just seems to be a little more restricted, focused even.

Secondly, I recently read Jean Michel Jarre’s top ten synths of all time and he included it there. That really hit home, made me think about it differently.

I had decided to spend a bit of my touring spoils on a new synth as there were a bunch of new (analogue) ones released this year that took my fancy. In fact this year has seen some really great new releases:

The Contenders

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Moog Sub Phatty – even though still retaining the dated, cringe inducing ‘street’ epithet Phatty, this little gem from synth pioneers Moog looked like just the ticket – a knob laden true analogue synth with interesting filter drive controls, modern connectivity with its USB port plus a whole raft of useful and well thought out ideas. Nick’s Sonicstate review is here.

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Arturia MiniBrute – although launched 2012, it really became widely available this year. Like the Sub Phatty, the MiniBrute is an all analogue mono synth with sub oscillators for beefyness. Unlike the Phatty however is the almost agricultural return to a preset less structure, what you see is what you get, no memories just plain and simple synthesis. Eyebrows were raised by the somewhat peculiar Steiner Parker filter which sonically quite different from the Moog ladder filter that one might expect to be included on a product like this. Bravo Arturia for creating something a bit different. Again, here is Nick’s review.

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Korg mini MS20 – This one took us all by surprise somewhat when it was launched at Winter NAMM this year. A  3/4 scale replica of the venerable 70’s Korg legend. True analogue but also like the aforementioned Moog and Arturia synths, replete with a midi USB socket. Patch leads and mini keys are a funny match but Korg managed to make this little gem sound virtually identical to its classic forebearer.  Nick’s review is here.

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Novation Bass Station 2 – The British synth gurus new all analogue monosynth with its switchable filter from classic to acid!  I was fortunate to have a go on an early one of these at Barcelona’s Sonar festival back in June.  A very nice synth that I reckon will do well for Novation.

Apart from these four mentioned there were other class acts released this year for my consideration. The unexpected (and still very tempting) Stylophone S2, the newly released Waldorf analogue module the Pulse 2 and the exciting Dave Smith Prophet 12. So with all these quality instruments, why oh why did the two year old tiny digital OP-1 make the grade? Oh and what the blooming hell is it anyway?

The Teenage Engineering OP-1

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In a nutshell, the OP-1 is a self contained synth workstation/groovebox.  It has a multitude of different synth engines and also can function as a drum machine.  It has a sampler built in and can sample from its line in, it’s surprisingly good built in mic, resample itself or from a built in fm radio! It has cute graphics for the different modes ranging from a pair of apes, a 3D view from a racing car, a boxer and a psychedelic cow! These little touches lend the OP-1 a toy like appearance but that is slightly misleading as it can be a very powerful professional instrument.  One of its most compelling features is a four track (simulated) reel to reel recorder which can also be put to use as a looper (although can be glitchy).  The OP-1 is resolutely a mono timbral affair though so utilising the four track is the only way to get layers out of it.  It does have midi functionality through its USB connection and I have had much fun connecting it to my iPad and using it both as a midi controller and as a sound module.  This can be fun as one of the downsides of this little wünderkind is the lack of velocity sensitivity or pressure on its keyboard. Using the iPad I have been able to access the sounds of the OP-1 with some expressive midi control apps like Soundprism Pro and Thumbjam.

Here is a little video I made of the OP1 and iPad

The OP-1 is a design classic, make no mistake.  It has been heavily influenced by a peculiar mix – Casio VL Tone mini keyboards of the early 80’s, Nintendo Game and Watches (graphically), Apple Macbook’s Unibody construction and various Roland drum machines and grooveboxes.  It is really small ( 282x102x13.5mm) very light (580 grams) and has a built in lithium battery that gives it something like 16 hours use on a single charge.  I recently put this to the test during a long haul flight from the UK to Australia and after using it extensively, I still had over half the battery remaining.  Since it’s 2011 release, there have been several significant OS releases for it too adding new synths and FX’s plus some operational tweaks too. Nick’s Sonic State review typically was one of the first to surface so therefore is a bit dated as it has come on quite a bit.

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Probably the thing that is most striking about using the OP-1 is that you make music you simply wouldn’t have created on any thing else.  The peculiar workflow means that due to NO undo, you have to plan and be a bit more careful, approach it with a bit more reverence than you would  computer based music software.  The virtual reel to reel is six minutes long and you can make mix downs onto a virtual album, side A and side B. You have to be careful though and not do what I did,  finish a six minute mix, make an album mix, delete the multitrack so I can start a new piece but then blooming well press record on the mix down page instead of play and wipe the whole thing instantly! I tell the tale here on a Sonic talk podcast.

Cuckoo

One of the glorious things about the internet is discovering new talents and interesting people.  Cuckoo is one such find and he is the greatest proponent of the OP-1 I have yet discovered.  He has made a load of useful you tube videos like this one here showcasing how to create drumkits on the OP-1.

He also makes great presets which he gives away for free.  He is a regular contributor to the fan site OhPeeWon.com.  This forum is a great place to discover more about the OP-1 and is a friendly place populated by real nutters.

Bag!

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My father sadly passed away a few weeks back which was a devastating thing for our family.  A few days after his passing, my mother and me were glumly on the sofa as the midnight hour approached.  We were both feeling thoroughly depressed and lacking motivation.  I then said to my mum “umm there is something you could help me with…” and proceeded to explain my Op-1 travel dilemma.  You see, I have a nice leather bag which I use as my carry on luggage when I fly and other such things and the Op-1 fits quite nicely in there but without sufficient protection.  I had been wrapping it up in bubble wrap which is hardly a dignified way to transport my mini marvel.  So then after an hour of frantic sewing machine action, she made me a custom bag for my OP-1 which is just perfect!

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Overwater Original – A beast of a bass!

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I recently bought a rather unusual bass.  It’s a 1979 Overwater OS957 that’s generally referred to these days as an Overwater Original.  This particular model is quite interesting as it has a bunch of original features such as the carved top and the graduated fret system.  The frets, according to Overwater, have three gauges starting with wide and chunky at the bottom for maximum sustain graduating to a thinner band style of wire at the second octave.  Ease of fretting, chording and unbelievable bending action without choking is the claim.  I think Overwater stopped this process at some point probably because it was a PITA to build and possibly didn’t actually make that much of a difference.  I’ll try and contact Chris May the luthier who made this, to validate the claims. Speaking of Chris May, I heard a rumour that John Entwistle was involved in the design of this bass which makes sense as it does resemble some of his later designs of Buzzard basses for both Status and Warwick.  I can’t seem to find anything to back that up other than it was known that Entwistle had some Overwaters.  Overwater are still around today making fine basses and have recently teamed up with Tanglewood to offer a budget range too.

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From behind you can see how the through neck is sculpted to allow for easy access up “the dusty end”.

On this video I play the bass firstly with a blend of both pickups then the rear, front then a blend again.

I bought this bass about a month ago but then immediately took it to my guitar tech, the fabulous Gareth Lewis, based in Cardiff to get a few bits and bobs done on it.  I have known Gareth for many years and have played in the Tanya Walker band with him.  I always take my basses to him for setups and tweaks and he always manages to make them beautiful instruments to play.  Gareth is such a good musician too and has a huge passion for guitars.  I strongly recommend him for all guitar repair and setups.  You can contact him through his Facebook page here.

Gareth Lewis

Gareth Lewis

I had the wiring returned to its original format as the previous owner had modded it to his preferred pickup 1 vol, tone, pickup 2 vol, tone.  It is now master volume, master tone, pickup 1 vol, pickup 2 volume.  I think I prefer it this way.  Once I collected this bass last week, I used it at a Rumble-O’s gig, the surf band I play in.  The bass was completely the wrong one for this band!  It was way too forceful sounding so the next gig I returned to using my regular surf bass, my Reverend Rumblefish!

Here I am playing the Overwater with The Rumble-O’s in a little Vine my wife took.

I didn’t get this bass for The Rumble-O’s though, I got it for my new top secret project!  I may let some details slip on here though…

I got this bass from an Overwater enthusiast called Steve “Tayste” Taylor up near Macclesfield, England.  Steve is a superb innovative bassist and we spent a great afternoon jamming and talking all things bass.  His fine blog is here.  Steve has owned 5 Overwaters over the years and luckily I caught him at a time where he was trying to cut back a bit and was selling off two Overwaters including a lovely fretless that I was sorely tempted to get. He did however, give me one hell of a tricky choice with the bass, either I could take it with its original brown leather covered hard case or a proper touring flightcase with a laser cut insert specially made for this bass.  Arrgh!!  Do I go for the original case knowing that finding another would be next to impossible or go for the excellent professional touring option.  In the end I plumped for the original reasoning that I could get a custom case at a later date.  Problem is though, the Overwater is a least 4 inches longer than a precision bass and thus a tricky bass to house.  Steve, who is a very generous soul however, offered me both cases for a little extra dough – total no brainer!  I have now wrapped, sealed and stored the original case and am happy to be using it with the hard core flight case.

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