What gear do I need?

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...and don't say "All of it." Wink

OK, gearheads, here's your chance to shine!

I'm hankerin' to expand my potential for making different sounds but don't know what might suit me best.

I want to make swishy and swooshy noises.
I want to make beepy and boopy noises.
I want to make Mellotron noises.
I want to make percussion noises.
I want to make strange keyboard noises.

This will preferably not involve me monkeying around too much on a computer keyboard; I would like to interact directly with a real instrument.

I have absolutely no knowledge of electronic instruments, so talk to me like I'm a small child.

dzd's picture
dzd

Any pedal with a reverse delay will get you some great swishy and swooshy noises, a lot of it comes down to trem usage and or palm muting...if using string instrument
some come with loopers as well depending on your price point, or any rotary/flange combo is always nice as well. A lot of them can get really pricey, but there's always a knockoff with the same circuit around somewhere Wink

beeps and boops just tickle your robot in the right spot Smile

sounds like you need just a decent electric piano(can only personally vouch for yamaha's acoustic/electric uprights, have had two) and a grab bag of assorted pedals(me too) Smile if you don't want to do it the DAW play with plug-ins for hours until you're sick of hearing anything before you play anything way Wink

Hey - I'm no expert on gear, and I have zero knowledge on hardware synths and all that really cool stuff. But here's my gear list from my profile.
DAW: Reason
Equipment: Akai LPK25 midi controller, Arturia MiniLab mk2 midi controller, Yamaha S03

I dunno if you're trying to spend money on a DAW or not - if not, there are cheap and even free options out there. Though, I'm not sure what they are other than one called Reaper that's pretty popular. I might be mistaken, but I think there is a free version of that one - not sure how limited it is, though.
I'm sure there are plenty folks here that can rec you some great software.
That's where all my sounds come from, my DAW. Most DAWs have their own library of beeps and boops, swish and swoosh, etc. What a DAW's included libraries don't have, you can search the net and find PLENTY of free stuff.
And you can mess around with settings in your DAW to make strange noises.
I use my little midi controller to play the sounds. The Akai one is tiny and dare I say, cute. Fits in a backpack easily. It even has sustain, just no pitch bend. There are many options under $100 that have both...if you even want those features.
The Arturia midi controller is just a nicer one that I got one Christmas. I highly recommend it, too, as it comes with a suite of awesome sounds to play with.
Now that I think of it, you could just get Audacity, which is just like a sound recorder, and do some old school tracking, but just digitally. And Audacity is free. Just doesn't have any actual sounds that come with it.
Anyway, I have a bigger keyboard - the Yamaha S03 - because that's my main instrument, the keys. I use this when I wanna make something that requires more keys and feel than my midi controllers.
Bah, I'm rambling. I love when people want to get into electronic stuff, and I tend to gush. But I realize I don't really have THAT much insight, because I've stuck with the same gear for years and am not up on trends or what's best.
Go cheap, have fun, try stuff.

dzd's picture
dzd

Have one of those little Akai 25 key things too, they're fun little controllers and cheap Im pretty sure mine was under $50, but as far as feeling like a real instrument.....no ....it is cute though Biggrin Just a pain to get setup and plugging in multiple sounds/noises, might be a good starter if not used much midi stuff, you'll at least know if you want to continue that route or just go back to turning real knobs Smile

IA's picture
DonatedIA

Meh, I was hoping for something not VST or DAW related.
Like, a real instrument I can play around with.
Like some kind of keyboard I can mess with.
Thanx for the advice so far, tho. Smile

IA's picture
DonatedIA

VST and DAW give you the most options for saving presets and fiddling with the sounds. There's absolutely no upside to having some sound making unit like moog that you gotta plug into PA to even get a sound out of it.

But I can understand wanting something for completely illogical reasons... cos you just want it... right?

So, then you gotta buy that mellotron. Gotta buy that moog. Gotta buy that drum machine. And none of them are cheap. I guess, the question becomes... how many thousands of dollars is your budget?

Perhaps something like the Pocket Operator line by Teenage Engineering could be cool for you if you're not looking for VST stuff. They are little calculator-sized machines that each have different kinds of sounds.
https://teenage.engineering/products/po
They've been on my radar for a while, but I'm too cheap to buy one haha
I also know @Elesimo messes with the Op-Z, another fun machine by this same company. Most of what Elesimo makes seems to be on the Op-Z, and its really cool. Lots of great sounds.
Also, just go grab any old cheap used keyboard and run it through some fx and stuff - I'm not knowledgeable on the hardware stuff, but I know there's much that can be done. All those "real knobs" like @dzd is talking about have eluded me personally, but there's SO much fun to be had in that world.
But yeah, last year I bought a used little Casio off Ebay. It was one that I had when I was a little kid. I can plug it up to my audio interface, which then lets me hear the keyboard's sounds in Reason, or even just Audacity (again, not a DAW). You can then find ways to mess with the keyboard's original sounds by turning digital knobs instead of real ones.
Another route is just buy a cheap 4 track mixer, a cheap drum machine, and a cheap Casio, and go at it. That's how I got started way back when.

To get synth sounds, sampling (only way you'll get mellotron sounds) and percussion in hardware, you're really looking at something workstation like. I'm not a hardware person, but you might be able to track down something second hand. New, they tend to be expensive. Other downside is they also tend to be a pig to work with - lots of fiddling with menus on small screens.

One option might be something like the Teenage Engineering OP-1 - you can drop samples on it and then do all kinds of weird stuff. Take a look at Youtube videos from 'Red Means Recording' - again might be too fiddly. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcaEIjiwaCmQC8ono49T1IQXfUwNJcPUO

DAW + VSTs, unfortunately is the most flexible option. You don't need lots of VSTs if you pick a DAW with a decent variety of stock plugins - cover analogue synth and sampling and you'll have everything you want. Something like Reaper or Cakewalk (see @headfirstonly's HFO TV demo) would be a start and you can pick up free vsts for most things that will do a good job.

If you throw away the idea of Mellotron sounds then there's probably lots of synth+sequencer combinations that could fit the bill.

Maybe someone else knows of something suitable. As I say, hardware is not really my area,

dzd's picture
dzd

Or you could buy me one of these, and I'll let ya know how that might work for ya Wink

https://www.amazon.com/Roland-GR-55-Guitar-Synth-Pickup/dp/B008905X1Y

I'm pretty anti-DAW myself, and if it wasn't just so damn convenient, I would never touch a computer other than to digitize final product and upload.... hence the keyboard, some pedals(lots can be had cheap, they're going out of style), @IA I do miss old Casio's....they're probably super cheap now though.......

and any old stereo will work for a PA and just mic it if you need to. It'll at least sound unique Wink

https://www.amazon.com/Alesis-Recital-Full-Size-Semi-Weighted-Exclusive/dp/B01DZXE9NC

That's the one I've had my eye on for a minute, but haven't played one.....surely there's people here that know more about such things....I'm not worried about any of its onboard built-in voices....has outputs is enough for me.

The bad news: if you want to maximise the bang (or bleep) that you get for your bucks, you'll need to go down the software route. If you're not already running a DAW, get one that handles VST plugins. The good news: they are easy to use; Reaper is cheap as chips and Cakewalk is entirely free.
http://www.cakewalk.com/

Once your DAW is installed, download as many free synth VSTs as you like to get your bleepy noises hit. Go nuts.

DEXED is an emulation of the Yamaha DX7 that is so faithful it will even load image files of the hardware's original ROM cartridges. It might look intimidating, but it's way easier to use (and program) than the original DX7 was:
https://asb2m10.github.io/dexed/

Install the Spitfire Audio app and get ALL of the free LABS virtual instruments VSTs, which are weird and strange and EXACTLY the sort of thing you will love.
https://www.spitfireaudio.com/info/library-manager/

For a perfectly serviceable free emulation of the Mellotron, there's Redtron:
https://sites.google.com/site/artifakelabs/

For the "percussive noises" there are a lot of free VST drum machines, but I'd stump up €45 for Aly James's *impeccable* emulation of the Linn 9000 drum machine (complete with five variations on Prince's set up for the original machine, courtesy of The Revolution's Doctor Fink). Aly also provides links to download free ROMs that will let it emulate a handful of other classic drum machines (which I downloaded this afternoon, and will be playing with tonight).

If you want to splash out, Arturia's V collection of classic synth emulations, including the Fairlight and Synclavier (and I would *love* to hear what you come up with after being let loose on those) is an essential part of my collection and you would be in synth heaven with it (and their Mellotron emulation is *lush*):
https://www.arturia.com/products/analog-classics/v-collection/overview

I'm doing a Fifty/Ninety oriented show on Twitch on Sunday night and if you have ANY questions about the above I'll attempt to answer them (with demos) during a show. And hey - just tune in and say "Hi!"
https://www.twitch.tv/headfirstonly

Hmm...
As I said, I am an ignorant child when it comes to most of your recommendations. It's mostly Greek to me. I'm running on a ten year old copy of Audacity; that's about the limit of my knowledge. I even had to Google what a "MIDI controller" is.
As I said, speak to me as if I were a small child. Smile
I'll check out all your provided links, though, especially @headfirstonly's; he seems to get what I m looking for.

I'm gonna break it down in a way you'll understand: harmonica, kazoo, comb and wax paper, jugs of various sizes, maybe a ukulele for percussion, or a washboard. That should get you started

Yeah, @fresh spotless youth, that's pretty much what I'm working with now. Smile

After a bit of research I'm thinking now I need a basic MIDI keyboard to monkey around with and then play with the sounds using VST plugins.

I was going to also suggest a cheap DAW + MIDI keyboard (with knobs and pads), since it's all you need to make all the songs in your head (plus microphone, if you want vocals). Depending on the gear you can do a lot of production without touching the computer, but that's usually requires a bit more money (eg,using Ableton and the Push).

Like @splittybooms said, I use a Teenage Engineering OP-Z for a lot of my songs, and it's a fantastic machine. It's the size of TV remote control, and can do everything you want, since it's a sequencer, sampler, drum machine, with multiple effects. I like pairing it with other stuff, like the Empress ZOIA and the Korg kaoss pad, and that gives me enough flexibility to write thousands of songs.

The downsides of the OP-Z are the price ($600 in the US, but you can find used ones cheaper) and the build quality (especially for something that expensive). I have two, and one of them arrived bent (a common problem), and in the other one the encoders are starting to pop (another common problem). Also, the reason I have 2 is that it's not reliable enough to play live with only 1, so I always take the second one as a backup.

The OP-1 is another option to write full songs in a small piece of gear. It's more expensive and hard to find, but has better build quality. IMHO the OP-Z and OP-1 are very different beasts... the OP-1 is more intuitive and "analog", while the OP-Z is more rational — sort of left/right side of the brain. But both have been used by people to write full albums, and they're fun to play and the portability is a huge plus.

VSTs and a keyboard like an arturia keystep (what I use) will get you lots of results.

If you want knobs there are synths like the Korg Minilogue and Minilogue XD. Not to mention the rabbit hole of modular synths like I have sitting here. Behringer is making some cheaper synths, a lot of them are mono synths meaning you can play a one-note line, not chords. But I use arpeggios! Almost like having chords!

If you want to run your melodica into a pedal that will give you synth sounds there's this:
https://www.ehx.com/products/synth9

and another one that produces Mellotron sounds from whatever you feed into it (I have this one):
https://www.ehx.com/products/mel9

But if you can face VST soft synths, that will really open up a world of sound.

Any kids instruments, some of these from a music store or make your own!
swishy and swooshy noises - a slide whistle. Shaker or rain stick: can make your own by putting rice, corn, etc, in a can, partially full water jug.
beepy and boopy noises - Jaw harp, thumb piano, field recordings of horns, water dripping, etc.
percussion noises - Shaker, wood blocks, cardboard boxes, or pretty much hitting anything wooden. Watery fruit like watermelon, canteloupe, or any gourd vegetable. Hand claps on different body parts, especially the mouth/cheeks.
strange keyboard noises - kids (or grown-up) accordion, (you already have the melodica *ROFL*)

Had lots of fun with several of the Korg Volca's, the Volca Keys is a surprisingly versatile little synth, pair it with a cheap midi controller and you have a nice little rig.
The Teenage Engineering Pocket Operators are fun little things, but maybe a bit limited in the long run.
The Behringer clones of old analog synth classics are really good value, I've been borrowing the Mini Moog clone Model D and the Pro 1 clone of a friend and they sound amazingly close to the originals.
You would need a keyboard with a midi out if you go down that route. But lots of blips bloops and swooshes could be harvested on that road.
The Electro Harmonix Synth 9 and Mel 9 pedals @standup mentioned are also cool pedals that could take your melodica into a new sonic landscape.

There are also a lot of cool apps for the iOS/iPad, quite user-friendly. Enough mellotron, optigan, noisy stuff, drum machines and such to keep you entertained and creative for a good while and you'd get Garage Band too for your DAW needs.

IA's picture
DonatedIA

@Fuzzy Yea, @headfirstonly's recommendations are really the best way to do things. That's why I recommended them in my post. Biggrin

Old cheap keyboards & kids toys are one way to go. One that, knowing you, you've probably already explored, @Fuzzy. But VSTs are an easy (& cheap) way to go, especially if you get your hands on a cheap (price, not quality) MIDI controller. There's tons of free VSTs & VSTi's (https://www.kvraudio.com/ has a great selection). I would recommend the Elottronix XL VST. It's a Frippertonics emmulator (one I've used a lot) & that I could see you going to town with.

See You In The Shadows…

dzd's picture
dzd

@Fuzzy my main issue with the midi controllers, are most the cheaper end ones have terrible key action, for actually trying to play chords even single notes, if you're familiar with a piano they will feel awkward, but work great for the "controller" aspect...hit a button and noise will be noise on that note, but then the higher end models some even with 88keys feel better than my old upright does Smile Hence my personal lean towards a good digital keyboard with no mini capabilities, just an audio output/headphone jack..(because they are cheap) and just using the guitar pedals I already have laying around, and don't have to learn any new fancy computer skills....most DAWS seem to go out of their way to be complicated(I guess that makes them better if it takes you months to figure one out?) So have fun!....don't have a GAS induced stroke or something Wink

That Akai LPK25 is a great one to play with, I'd send ya mine, but shipping right now probably cost more than you could pick one up for hahah.

https://www.amazon.com/Akai-Professional-Performance-beleuchteten-anschlagdynamischen/dp/B01J7XQGZI

That would be a good bundle to get you started, but shop around you can find them cheaper than that Wink

Thanx for all your posts, folks!
You've really helped me to figure out what I should be looking for!

playing around with pedals and everything in real time, with the tape rolling, can give you more spontaneity; playing around with software effects inside of a VST host (renoise, ableton, reaper, cubase, protools, etc.) can give you more control over the finished product. with the VST effects and host-provided automation options, you can fine tune a recording. real time -- pedals, tangible knobs, etc. -- is probably more fun; agreed... but there are some definitely cool effects in software. dblue glitch 1.3 is a must-have 'first time/free effects VST plug-in'...

dzd's picture
dzd

@Purple Catfish Bro very true!...it's not like you can say wait, hold on let me go to my laptop to dial down that fuzz just a touch and add thie delay for the chorus...then I'll get back to playing Wink and get the same feel hahah, good luck ever trying that in front of a crowd, or even friends without audible sighs(if you're even ever interested in such things)

Yeah I'm in awe at how @Candle pulls his stuff off real-time basically as if he's using a pedal.......well he kinda is with his new toy Smile , but still......
Why I've wanted one of those Roland things forever, the newest iteration GK-3 was first one that really tracked well on a guitar, will just have to wait for it to be feasible for me to buy Smile and will be more intuitive for me....won't feel like I'm trying to dock a spaceship like I do every time I look at a DAW with all its options and choices and stupid mouse pointers and nothing tangible to touch hahaha plug in this vstwhutzit to whosit? I'm not plugging in anything!!!! hahah

To be fair, @dzd, my "real time tweaking" is due to Jeskola Buzz's Peer Machine structure. So, it's neither MIDI nor VST driven. It's native to Buzz. And if you're unfamiliar with the way Trackers work, you'll find learning Jeskola Buzz like trying to learn Klingon. So I don't think it'll be much help for @Fuzzy.

See You In The Shadows…

dzd's picture
dzd

@Candle Yeah I was completely unfamiliar with it until fawm this year and heard your stuff with it, assumed it was all midi at first.....some light reading up on the matter was enough to scare me away and have been playing with analog synths for man....20-25 some odd years now, longer than I've played guitar........doesn't mean I'm in any less awe hah... You're midi board is just another goodie that must fit really well in that wacky nth math equation you have going on there Smile

I chat about gear and setting yourself up for making cool stuff on Fifty/Ninety on Sunday nights on Twitch. I've also set up a playlist of old shows on TouTube here:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIFt2zuOrBSGoNTSObZJhBaBs4QpvKl05

The first show covers the absolute basics of getting going with a DAW; show #2 was about microphones; tomorrow night's show will be about compressors. Swing by and say hello!
https://www.twitch.tv/headfirstonly

IA's picture
DonatedIA

Oh thanks a lot Chris! Now I need to get analog lab 4. I just wonder if there are limitations on it when working with Reaper. Shouldn't be but... it looked very Ableton-focused idk. And wow that free Starcadian bank! Ommalord!

yep Fuzzy Fun with VSTs i think you will get a lot out of them. i highly recommend Cakewalk as a DAW and it is fun "shopping" for free VSTs!

@headfirstonly, thanks for doing a show on compressors!

See You In The Shadows…

@IA Hee hee, just doing my bit to stimulate the economy! There are a whole bunch of sound banks for it, ranging from free to €99; even the free ones are really good.

@Candle You're welcome. @marthienel also said she'd like to see a show about compressors so that's what's coming up on Sunday.

dzd's picture
dzd

and if people don't know........all these plug-ins were just modeled off of real world analog stuff, no fx was ever written as a digital code,.........This is as top of the line as far as compressors go, not to be so contrary to popular belief here.......but a digitized version sounds well......plastic and digitized

https://robertkeeley.com/product/keeley-compressor-pro-namm-2015/

The Casio 8 bit samplers like the sk1 or sk 5 would be cool, but they are not cheap any more. You could do a lot with one of those, I bet.

Well... The top of the line in compressors are rack mount units that cost over 10x what the Keeley pedal does...

https://vintageking.com/tube-tech-cl1b?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIwqP-udDX6gIViq_ICh0jYwubEAYYASABEgLhQ_D_BwE

dzd's picture
dzd

@standup top of the price line at least Wink debates for other times/places haha

Korg Microkorg Can be found on Craigslist at reasonable prices.

IA's picture
DonatedIA

Yea, would be a pretty hard sell to convince me to spend 300, let alone 3000 on a unit that... let's face it... compresses. Same as the freebie thing on Reaper. Review says that it's great for vocals, as optos tend to be. Still, a lot of things have character. Do you need to sell your kidney to get a slightly different tone on a vox track?

Maybe the answer is yes? I don't know. It just SOUNDS crazy. Lol

The people with $3600 compressors are hopefully running commercial recording studios as a business, and they want to be able to offer their clients the best of the best.

Critter & Guitari make some really unique synths that supply all of my beepy boopy needs. I have the pocket piano, found used for about $100.

Promo - https://youtu.be/AU-U8ADzVe0

dzd's picture
dzd

@jeustan thanks for that! I've seen some of there stuff, especially the visual aspect of it never knew what it was, pretty cool stuff! Those little pocket pianos are nifty!

@standup yeah they better haha but I know a lot of tone freaks that just think they have to have the absolute best of everything, just to play to themselves and whoever they happen to be annoying at the time Wink Personally I'm all for cheap knockoff clones of anything Wink

@IA never know until you try it! wanna buy a kidney? no refunds as-is and in moderate working condition Biggrin

@TomS, you're right about the old Casio sampling keyboards. I have the RadioShack SK1 clone (the Concertmate 500). My mom bought it when it first came out in the late 80's. I still love that thing. And given how collectors have scooped them up & modded them, I think I'll hold onto it for quite a while.

See You In The Shadows…

dzd's picture
dzd

@Candle Yeah they're not cheap anymore....This thread made me want a new keyboard.....even those old casio's that took the ROM and RAM packs you could play/record with are now "vintage" and collectible it seems lol
I remember those RadioShake ones! had some pretty nice beeps and boops Wink

I got an SK-1 for I think $65 a couple of years ago, and have done a few FAWM/5090 songs that featured it. It will probably show up again this year.

Yeah, wish I'd gotten one when they were $25, but oh well.

dzd's picture
dzd

Most I saw hover around the $100 mark now(if they worked).....well instrument prices have all taken a fairly sizable increase the last few months

'Jeskola Buzz'... _that_ is cool

@Purple Catfish Bro, I've been using Buzz since 2005. I used Mod Tracker, Impulse Tracker & Scream Tracker before Buzz. It's had its ups & downs as far as development goes, but there's a dedicated community of Machine Devs who keep coming up with new & amazing things that simply push Buzz's possibilities beyond imagination. It can be a bit finicky, but then - that's part of the charm. I wouldn't trade it for a traditional DAW. I find them way too limiting.

As for the SK1 & its clone the Concertmate 500, I think I'll have to dust it off & use it in a track. Maybe use its sampling feature just for the #3ll of it Biggrin

See You In The Shadows…

A diddly bow and a bottle neck gives plenty of sweeping, glissando noises. Hitting guitar strings with a spoon also lends itself to some awesome effects. A simple whistle made from PVC pipe of two different diameters (one sliding inside the other like a trombone) can also give some weird noises.

Years and years ago I recorded a piece and drove a tech-head slightly irked when I refused to tell him what the "ace synth is you used". It was a treble recorder into a cheap guitar echo unit using an even cheaper microphone... Wink

Yeah, @Dragondreams, sometimes imagination and a DIY attitude is all you need.

sph's picture
Donatedsph

+1 for DIY stuff. I remember Egberto Gismonti playing his encore with PVC whistle like the one described by @Dragondreams.
Last year I used an old bicycle wheel for percussion

@sph - have you ever tried resting the spindle of the bicycle wheel on an old guitar pickup and plucking the spokes? Plug the pickup into any kind of delay effect and it opens up all sorts of sonic vistas. Smile

Here's a question; I want to play drums on a keyboard but have no idea how that might come about. How does that work? At present I do not have a keyboard but may buy one in the near future.
As I have said, my knowledge of electronic instruments is meagre.
Please educate me.

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