ARP synthesizers are loved by countless musicians for their innovative sound. The classic models, produced from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, had an enormous impact on the subsequent history of synthesizers and the overall history of music. Today, ARP continues to be remembered as one of the great synthesizer brands. Below we present some of the most important ARP synthesizers as well as their history

The birth of ARP

ARP 2500(1970)

ARP Instruments Inc. (subsequently referred to as ARP) was founded in 1969 and based in the state of Massachusetts in the U.S. The name came from the initials of one of the founders, Alan Robert Pearlman. Co-founders included Lewis G. Pollock and David Friend.

It was an age when gigantic modular systems dominated the synthesizer world. However, the tuning of these instruments was usually unstable and each manufacturer struggled with this problem. ARP decided that the development of a highly stable oscillator was important so they dedicated research and product development towards achieving this goal.

The model they first developed was the ARP 2500, a large modular synthesizer. The design on this model used a large number of matrix switches, placed above and below the knobs and switches of the panel, replacing the patch cord design that was used on other manufacturers' products of the time. This unique design strategy eliminated the complex tangles of patch cords that obscured the panel. Thanks to ARP's research, tuning was now extremely stable and the ARP 2500 became a hit product as a research tool for universities. It even appeared in the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) as a device used to communicate with an alien spacecraft.

ARP makes a great leap: the ARP 2600

ARP 2600 (1971)

The following year, 1971, marked the appearance of what was to become one of ARP's most iconic instruments: the ARP 2600. The ARP 2600 was a mid-sized synth that was more compact than the ARP 2500, more portable, and more streamlined to program. It had a three-VCO architecture in which each module was connected internally, or “normalled”, while allowing extremely complex sounds to be created by using patch cables to “break” these normalled connections. Its wide possibilities for sound design earned it a place first in the educational market, and then in recordings by numerous musicians as well as in film music production. (The most well-known example is that the voice of R2-D2 in the film "Star Wars" was created using an ARP 2600!) Another major feature rarely seen in other synths was that the ARP 2600 was equipped with built-in speakers and a spring reverb. This gave the 2600 a unique sound and also a highly personal playing experience, which appealed to artists such as Stevie Wonder and Joe Zawinul.

After it went on sale in 1971, the ARP 2600 continued to evolve over the course of its lifetime in both specification and appearance. The first production run of the 2600 in 1971 featured a distinctive metal body with blue panels, nicknamed the Blue Marvin. The same year, there was a model change that was popularly known as the 2600C Gray Meanie due to its metal body and gray panel. Subsequently another model change occurred, resulting in the 2600P, the now widely familiar suitcase-type unit in which the sound engine and keyboard section are in separate pieces. Minor improvements continued, and models later than 1975 are called the 2601. In the latter half of the 1970s, the keyboard also changed from the previous 3604 to the duophonic-capable 3620. In 1977, a new version adopted the black panel with orange silk-screening that was to become ARP's signature color.

ARP becomes established: ARP Odyssey

Then in 1972 came the appearance of the ARP Odyssey, another iconic instrument from ARP.

The ARP Odyssey is a duophonic unit with two VCOs, most notable for its sharp sound and the versatile sound-creating possibilities that were not easily available on other small synthesizers of the time. With functions and modulation options such as oscillator sync, sample & hold, pulse width modulation, high-pass filter, and two types of envelope generator, it featured a rich array of sound-generating potential not provided by other companies.

ARP Odyssey Rev1 (1972 - 1974)

The ARP Odyssey's signal path had a major impact on synthesizer manufacturers that followed. It became the standard for subsequent eras, influencing even the polyphonic and digital synthesizers that were to come later.

ARP Odyssey Rev2 (1975 - 1976)

Like the 2600, the ARP Odyssey also experienced three different revisions over the course of its production lifetime. The white model 2000 produced during 1972—1974 is known as the Rev1, the black model 2810 produced during 1975—1976 is the Rev2, and models 2820—2823 with their black panel and orange printing produced during 1978—1981 are called Rev3. The main difference between these models was their design and their connection jacks, but also in the filter circuit that has such a great impact on the sound; this meant that different models of the ARP Odyssey would produce sounds of differing nuances.

The ARP Odyssey was acclaimed for its tight sound and sound-creating versatility, and was used by many musicians including Herbie Hancock, George Duke, John Lord, Kraftwerk, and YMO. It is responsible for many songs that remain historical classics, and giving birth to new types of music.

ARP Odyssey Rev3 (1978 - 1981)

The ARP Odyssey was acclaimed for its tight sound and sound-creating versatility, and was used by many musicians including Herbie Hancock, George Duke, John Lord, Kraftwerk, and YMO. It is responsible for many songs that remain historical classics, and giving birth to new types of music.

ARP expands

The favorable reception of the ARP 2600 and ARP Odyssey gave rise to a further expansion of the ARP synthesizer lineup.

A preset synth, the ARP Pro Soloist (1972) and its successor model the ARP Pro/DGX (1977) were treasured by organists who used this synth as a "third keyboard". They appreciated its easy sound switching and the way in which aftertouch could modify the sound.

ARP Pro Soloist (1972)

The ARP String Ensemble (1974) was a revolutionary model featuring fully polyphonic oscillators and a chorus unit, allowing chords to be played with a spacious sound, and was used by a very large number of musicians.

The ARP Omni (1975) and its successor the ARP Omni 2 (1977) were simple polyphonic synths that became some of ARP's best-selling models. At the time, there was a great demand for polyphony, but full-fledged polyphonic synths with an oscillator and filter for each voice were extremely large and expensive. The Omni was the answer to this problem.

ARP Omni 2 (1975)

The ARP Axxe (1975) was a scaled-down version of the Odyssey. In spite of its simple structure, it was capable of a wide range of sound creation, and its ease-of-use earned it great support. The ARP Sequencer (1976) was a 16-step analog sequencer distinctive for using the trademark ARP sliders rather than knobs for its CV settings.

ARP Axxe (1975)

The ARP Avatar (1977) guitar synthesizer used the sound engine of the Odyssey, making it possible to play the synthesizer from a guitar or bass.

The ARP Quadra (1978) was a large model that combined four sections in a single unit: bass synth, poly synth, lead synth, and string ensemble. Each of the four sections could be played separately or layered, allowing the creation of an extremely rich sound. It also provided a simple memory function and an arpeggiator.

ARP Quadra (1978)

The ARP Solus (1980), a two-VCO model mid-way between the Odyssey and the Axxe, was popular for a body that was built into its own case for convenient portability. The distinctive ARP filter and ring modulator were also provided, giving it a broad range of sonic potential in spite of its compact size.

ARP Solus (1980)

In 1981 the company developed the Chroma, later to go on sale under the Rhodes brand. This model was a full-fledged polyphonic synth with up to 16 voices (eight voices if two oscillators were used for each voice). There were 50 memories and sound data could be saved on a cassette tape. Another major feature was its 64-note piano-touch keyboard that allowed the musician's playing velocity to affect the dynamics. Although it is a relatively rare synth, it had a major influence on subsequent synthesizers, and Herbie Hancock was one of its notable users.

ARP is reborn: MADE BY KORG

Since the beginning, ARP has greatly influenced synthesizer development and been involved in the birth of numerous musical styles. However, in spite of its success in producing numerous classic models, the legendary company regrettably closed its doors in 1981.

However, in 2015, Japanese synthesizer manufacturer Korg revived the ARP brand. With the cooperation of David Friend as an advisor, KORG brought back ARP's iconic synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey. And now in 2020, KORG has celebrated the release of ARP’s other iconic flagship synthesizer, the long-awaited ARP 2600, reissued in loving detail.

The ARP synthesizer was the main force driving the music of 1970—1980. Because of its versatile sonic range and wonderful tone, the new ARP ODYSSEY can be used to create retro, current, and new sounds. ARP synthesizers span the ages, supporting the music-making of today and tomorrow.

About the Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Alan R. Pearlman was nicknamed “ARP” as a kid growing up in New York City, so it seemed the perfect name for a company he co-founded when he was later designing electronic musical instruments.  After leaving NASA, Pearlman Established ARP as an outlet for the creation of instruments known for their sound quality. Pearlman created the ARP 2500 in 1970 and then the classic ARP Odyssey and ARP 2600.  One of Pearlman’s key skills was that he was able to build oscillators that stayed in tune and even developed a cordless patching technique using a matrix of switches. Arp Instruments built a legacy as a great leader in the growth and development of the electronic musical market.

Founded in 2019, the Alan R. Pearlman Foundation was created by Dina Pearlman, Alan Pearlman’s daughter, to honor the legacy of her father. The mission of the ARP Foundation is to celebrate Pearlman by making his inventions publicly accessible, and inspiring future generations to imagine and create.