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 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 Instruments, Inc. (subsequently referred to as ARP) was founded in 1969. The name came from the initials of one of the founders, Alan Robert Pearlman. Co-founders included Lewis G. Pollock and David Friend, who was the chief engineer and later designed the ARP Odyssey.
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 next well-known model was the ARP 2600, which appeared in 1971. More compact than the 2500, this mid-range model was designed with the sound generator and the keyboard as separate units. It was a three-VCO unit in which the main modules were internally wired, but patch cords could also be connected to create complex sounds. Some additional characteristics, rarely seen on other models, were a built-in speaker and spring reverb. The special features and sounds caused the ARP 2600 to be used in many recordings and by musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Joe Zawinul.
And then, the classic ARP Odyssey
Then in 1972 the ARP Odyssey was released, establishing ARP's position as the world's leading synth brand.
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.
The ARP Odyssey's signal path, designed by David Friend and other ARP engineers, 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.
After it went on sale in 1972, the ARP Odyssey continued to undergo improvements. Broadly speaking, there were three versions divided by their date of production. 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.
The spread of ARP synthesizers
The favorable reception of the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 synthesizers, reborn for today
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.
Now in 2015, ARP is reborn. Korg, a Japanese synthesizer manufacturer, welcomes ARP Co- founder David Friend as an advisor in the resurrection of a classic ARP synthesizer–the ARP Odyssey.
The ARP Odyssey 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.