INTERVIEW: David Friend2015.06.11
David Friend is the co-founder of the ARP Instruments company, and served as an advisor for this revival of the ARP ODYSSEY. We asked him to tell us about when the ARP Odyssey first went on sale, and about this revival. Part of the interview can also be viewed in video.
Which parts of the original ARP Odyssey did you develop?
David: I came up with the idea for the Odyssey because we wanted a stage instrument that had no patch cords and because patch cords were really hard to use on stage. So, I came up with the layout for the panel. I actually remember drawing it on a piece of paper and it came out that the only things we really changed later were things like the pitch-bending touchpads and things of that sort. But, we used a lot of the same circuitry that we had developed for the ARP 2600 and the ARP 2500.
What do you think was the key to its success?
David: I think the key to it was it really was the first synthesizer that was designed purely for the stage as opposed to some combination of educational purposes and performance purposes. So, we really designed it for the performing musician. So, it was easy to learn, it was easy to set up, and you could make a lot of sounds with it very quickly without having to make a lot of changes to the controls.
Which musicians used the original ARP Odyssey?
David: Sure. Well, it was probably our most successful instrument. So, we had people like Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin who is one of the early users, Steely Dan, Herbie Hancock who I know has done a lot of work with Korg. There were hundreds and we used to use a lot of bands who’re using the Odyssey in our advertising and I used to listen on my way to driving to work in the morning. I used to listen to the Odyssey coming over the radio almost every day. So, it was a very popular instrument and very important in its day.
How do you think the ARP Odyssey influenced or changed the history of synthesizers?
David: When ARP was first started in 1970, almost all synthesizers were being sold to universities for avant-garde composers to use. A few big name rock bands like The Who and The Beatles bought ARP 2500 synthesizers. And that’s where we got the idea that if we could just make the smaller and less expensive and more portable, that we could actually sell these through retail music stores. The Odyssey was really the culmination of that taking the 2500 making it smaller into the 2600 and then to the Odyssey to the point where we said let’s kind of forget about the educational part of this and let’s go just for the performing musician.
How did the collaboration between yourself and KORG start?
David: Well, I got a call from Korg one day, completely out of the blue, saying they were interested in coming out with a replica of the original ARP Odyssey. I had noticed that the prices of the old original Odysseys on eBay have been going up and up and up. So, it was obvious that people wanted to use these old analog synthesizers again. So, I was delighted when Korg called and said they wanted to make a replica of the original Odyssey and be very faithful to all the circuit design and all the different nuances that went into the design. I have to say when I opened the box and looked at the one that you sent me from the factory, it was like going back in time.
What kind of role did you play in the new ARP ODYSSEY?
David: Well, I had a number of discussions with the Product Manager and the product management team because there were at least three different versions of the Odyssey that came out in the first couple of years and there were subtle differences and they wanted my advice as to what to do. For example, the very first Odyssey had a knob instead of this pitch-bending thing. This was my idea these three touchpads. I think that was the first time anybody had used anything like that on an electronic musical instrument and we switched over to that probably 2 years or so into the production of the Odyssey and I thought it was a big improvement over the pitch-bending knob. So, I encouraged Korg to go with this instead of the knob.
Were there any parts that you were adamant about including?
David: Well, the big deal with any synthesizer is the filters and so we were talking about different versions of filters that were used in the ARP Odyssey and Korg did an amazing thing of saying, well, let’s put all three of them in. So really I thought that was a terrific idea. I am sure it added a little bit of cost to the design. But there’re people out there who loved the original ladder filter and then there’re people who liked the 2-pole filter that came out a few years later because it had a different kind of sound that was somewhat brighter sound, and some people liked the kind of fatter sound from the original 4-pole filter (correction: the 4-pole ladder came after the 2-pole filter). It’s funny. I mean you think that you could combine that somehow, but really it doesn’t. They have a very distinct sound, so this switch that Korg added to allow you to pick which filter you want, I think it’s a great improvement over the original.
What was your impression when you received the finished product?
David: Well, the first thing I noticed it came with a carrying case and that was always a problem for us. At ARP, we always add third-party companies making carrying cases, our carrying case was terrible. In fact, it was wood, the vinyl fabric wood and it weighed twice as much as the synthesizer did. So, I was really impressed with the fact that that you guys had decided to ship it in a carrying case to start with. That’s a really nice touch and I think something that performing musicians will really appreciate as it’s so much easier. But when I opened the box, even the texture of the paint on the panel, and the exact matching of the colors, was just so good. It was like really looked like exactly like the original. So, I mean the impression it made was terrific. The only thing is when I looked at the back, there were some MIDI connector on yours and MIDI hadn’t even been invented when the original Odyssey came out. So that was like, wow, what a great idea.
Would you like to tell us where the ARP logo came from?
David: Well, the original ARP logo, the one that we see back here (pointing to the treble clef ARP logo), my wife actually designed that. She is a graphic artist. I think we designed that in 1970 just after we started the company. Somewhere around the line some consultant decided that this (the logo used on Rev.3 and onwards) was a more modern looking logo. So somewhere in the mid-1970s, we started using this logo on the instruments themselves, but we kept the treble clef ARP logo for corporate kinds of purposes.
Going back to its development, did you have any input apart from the sound in terms of the way it was manufactured?
David: No. It’s just we had a lot of trouble with the cases back in the original days, but plastic fabrication has gotten a lot better. I see you guys have taken the same idea of the bend plastic case and it’s pretty rugged. Actually, once we finally got it manufactured correctly, it turned out to be a really good innovative case design. So, I was just warning your engineers about all the trouble which we had back in the original one.
Korg Engineer: We had tons of trouble getting that right.
Korg Engineer: That’s actually made by an American company called KYDEX.
David: Oh, really? Yeah.
Korg Engineer: I believe they supplied the material for the casing.
David: For the original?
Korg Engineer: Yeah.
David: Yeah, it looks like the exact same material. Yeah, I am amazed they’re still making it after all these years.
How do you feel about young musicians having access to a synth that was around 40 years ago?
David: Well, I’m actually surprised that the younger musicians have discovered the original analog synthesizers because just at the time we were selling ARP back in I guess it was 1979 everything was going digital and it looked like the analog synthesizers were just going to disappear. But just like the sort of the classic Fender and Gibson guitars from the early days, there was a certain sound that was not exactly the same as what you could make with the digital synthesizers. So, I think it’s interesting that that original sound that we created back at the beginning with the original Odyssey that people found it on their own because ARP has been out of business since 1980 or thereabouts. So, it’s just these old synthesizers were just moving around on eBay and being bought and sold through music stores and just like people like vinyl records still. So people just found that in some way or another, the original sound was better than what you can get with these much more modern digital instruments.
Are there any musicians or types of musicians that you’d like to see using the new ARP ODYSSEY?
David: Well, it’s not a polyphonic instrument. It never was. So, it’s a melodic instrument. So, I certainly would like to see it get back into the studio being used for movie soundtracks and things of that sort. Being a jazz fan, of course I think it’s a really good instrument for jazz musicians. So, I think those are – I know most of the people who buy and rock musicians. But because it is such a melodic kind of instrument, I’d love to see it get used more in jazz and in film scoring and that sort of thing.
Could you finally give a message to synth fans out there?
David: Sure. Back in 1970 when I help start the ARP company with Al Pearlman, there was really no such thing as a stage synthesizer and it was great during the 70s to see the stream that we had that we could actually change the sounds of music as you heard it on your radio when you went to work in the morning. Here we are at 40 years later and these original classic instruments like the Odyssey are still being used and that really to me as an inventor feels great to see these things that we worked on back then, that at one time was just a pencil sketch on my piece of paper, not only still being used but actually growing in popularity again. It makes me feel like Stradivarius.