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German Instrument Maker MFB – Into the Future Without Manfred



Plans are becoming clearer for the German instrument manufacturer MFB following the sad death in June of founding engineer Manfred Fricke. Mark Jenkins reports.

Now Fricke’s son Jean-Marcel has promised to carry on the company and maintain production of their most recent synthesizer and drum machine products.

MFB was founded in 1979 in what was then West Berlin. When up-market and costly sampled sound drum machines like the LinnDrum started to appear in 1982, Manfred Fricke responded with relatively low-cost instruments, cased in what looked like plastic project boxes, using standard issue switches and pushbuttons.

The end result sounded very similar, allowing thousands of musicians to up their game – and at the time, allowing MFB to outsell instruments by Roland and other manufacturers, particularly in the German market.

In the UK, the MFB instruments were handled by Syco Systems alongside their upmarket Fairlight, Linn, and Emulator lines. The success of these early drum machines such as the MFB-501 allowed the company to start developing small synthesizers, though their launch was delayed by a foray into video equipment design, including a very affordable video mixer.

When they appeared, their synths included the Synth Lite, a tiny desktop dual-oscillator analog MIDI synth that could add something of the MiniMoog to almost any keyboard instrument. All the early and discontinued MFB instruments now have great collector’s value.

Later instruments, including a programmable version of the Synth Lite, started to suffer against competing products – or at least they had competitive price issues on that international market, given the unexpected rise in the value of the Euro. But MFB had more ideas in store with a range of Eurorack modules, including a VCA with an innovative visual display and a power unit with MIDI built in.

Like a lot of MFB products such as an oscilloscope module, these didn’t seem to stay in the catalogue for very long, but the company moved on to more ambitious projects. There were sequencers and mini synths such as the Nanozwerg, drum voice modules, stand-alone filters, and more.

Manfred Fricke persevered with even more substantial projects such as the 3-octave keyboard synth Dominion 1, the Tanzbar drum machine (currently in a Mk. 2 version), and the polyphonic Synth Pro. This is despite his havig undergone treatment for cancer in the last yew years.

The Synth Pro is a triple oscillator, genuine analog 8-voice desktop design, which at around 1000Euro competes well with instruments from much larger manufacturers. MFB’s latest release is the MFB-501 Pro, going back to the “project case” look for compact drum machines and offering sounds that are now well-established classics.

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