A crafty buyer's guide — what to look for.
PROGRAMMABLE SYNTHS have been around long enough for the secondhand market to be worth looking at. Secondhand gear can save you dosh if you're hard up and seeking a first synth. Or perhaps you're a digital convert who wouldn't mind a cheap analogue for some on-the-side variety. Either way, here are ten tips to happy hunting.
• Press every key lightly and heavily. Beware a note that doesn't sound (poor contact) or a key that continues the sound once released where as all the others fade away (a stuck contact).
• Turn every knob and switch to make sure they do something and don't crackle badly while they're doing it — symptoms of poor components or bad storage. If the salesman says that knob won't do anything to this sound, ask him to select one where it does.
• Check all the memories contain something. Turn the power off for a while, reconnect, then check some of them again. Ask the salesman to make up a sound, memorise it and repeat the power-off test.
• Take a special look at the LCD or LED display and ensure all the segments are working... you haven't got a 8 that resembles a 0 because the middle bar has packed up. There are still some areas of modern synths that can wear out, and this is one of them.
• Take a tuning fork or other pitch reference. Examine the tuning at the beginning of the test and at the end to ensure the synth hasn't drifted. Feel round the back of the synth near the power cable (careful). Is it hot? Could be the synth's been deliberately left on for ages so that it will settle down. See if you can get it turned off for a while, then check how the tuning behaves again when power is restored.
• Take a set of headphones to try the practice socket, and so you can extemporise unhindered by the cage of witness (Addle around without anyone hearing).
• Two tell-tale signs of heavy use (perhaps heavy gigging) are these. Check the area on the back panel around the output socket. If the paintwork is scratched then the incautious previous owner has shoved the lead in from round the front without looking properly, and frequently missed the hole. If the panel is sticky and has thin lines of glue (with dirt attached) these are left over from gaffa tape that's been used to secure the plug on stage.
• If it's your only synth, will it do everything! Don't get a machine that does one sound brilliantly and cheats on the rest, (A) it will become boring, (B) you'll be tempted to use that sound on everything, then you will become boring. You want at least a solid bass-line sound, a cutting lead voice, and perhaps ome percussion effects as well as the standard strings, bass and piano chord jobs. Worry also about tone as well as sound. Difficult to describe but can it sound punchy and hard as well as soft and muted! Ask the salesman to demonstrate the best performances in each area. Variety is everything.
• Finally, does it have all the leads, footswitches, dust covers and manuals it originally came with. They're often expensive, awkward or damned impossible to replace.
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