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Synth and Software’s Top 10 Synth Soloists

Jerry Kovarsky

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Which synth players are unsurpassed at playing leads and solos?

During the online discussion after last month’s “Synth and Software’s Top 10 Synthesists,” I challenged editor Geary Yelton to go deeper than just a basic Top 10. I envisioned multiple Top 10 lists of synthesists based on different criteria. I wanted not just some overall popularity or influence contest, but multiple views of players excelling at different aspects of making music with synthesizers. Geary called me on my suggestion, and so here I am with but one view based on an area I’ve explored for many years now: lead synth soloing.

Back in December 2011 I started a column in the magazine Keyboard (remember them?) called “The Art of Synth Soloing.” To date I’ve written 99 columns on the subject, and it still continues in Electronic Musician. Soloing is an aspect of playing synthesizers near and dear to my heart.

Let me define the criteria I used to develop this list:

  • Players must have taken many synth solos over their careers, not just a few known recorded solos. 
  • Their solos must be actual solos. You may be surprised how many people’s favorite synth solo is really just part of a composition, always played verbatim. I think of those as using a synth to play melodic lines that are clearly part of an arrangement, not a solo. Think of players like Tony Banks of Genesis—a synth player for sure, but not much of a soloist by my criteria, which was by his choice. 
  • The player should interact with the synth, using controllers and varying the sound some. There are some great players with solos played on a synth that could have easily been played on piano or organ. Nothing in the performance required it to be played a synth other than basic timbre. Pitch bends, filter sweeps, vibrato, varied use of portamento, and other types of timbral change should be a clear part of their performance capabilities.

With all that in mind, let’s get started.

Top 10 Synth Soloists Jan Hammer

Jan Hammer

Jan is an obvious choice. Armed with a Minimoog, he defined the art of using pitch bend to emulate guitaristic performance and inspired almost every other player on my list. Besides his flawless pitch-bend technique and strong sync and mellower square-wave timbres, his unique note choices and always interesting rhythmic groupings stood out from his peers. He continued to explore timbre, effects, amplification, and controllers to first define the role of a lead synth player as an equal foil to a guitar player, and he stood toe to toe with many of the best.

Synth and Software’s Top 10 Synth Soloists – NEXT

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