KORG Developer



How did the modern revival of the ARP Odyssey occur? Three members of the Korg development team tell us the story behind this revival, and talk about what went into its development: Tadahiko Sakamaki of the planning section (photo left), Tatsuya Takahashi of planning and development (photo right), and Junichi Ikeuchi of the development section (photo center).

Photography: Takashi Yashima 
This article was published in the April 2014 Spring issue of Keyboard Magazine, issued on March 10, 2015 by Rittor Music.

Tell us about the circumstances of developing the ARP Odyssey.

Sakamaki: From a desire to make analog synthesizers more approachable, I had been involved in the development of products such as the monotron and the MS-20. The Dave Smith Instruments company has been coming out with new products. Of the major synthesizers of 1970s, only ARP products are missing. Since I myself am fond of the vintage Odyssey, that’s what I wanted to try.

Why did you make this reproduction 86% of the original’s size?

Sakamaki: Out of respect for the original instrument, our goal was to coexist with it rather than make a complete copy. Although it is compact, we have taken care to ensure good playability by using the same slim keyboard that’s on instruments such as the MS-20 mini. The concept was to take the original’s sound seriously while also making an instrument that would be easy to use in the present day. However we didn’t want it to be so easy to use that we lose the vintage feel, so we always kept in mind the importance of maintaining a balance.

Since the ARP Instruments Corporation no longer exists, how did you get in contact with David Friend, the developer of the original Odyssey?

Sakamaki: We have respectful feelings toward ARP and consider them comrades-in-arms in the field of synth manufacturing, so we didn't want to reproduce their classic instrument without asking anyone.

Takahashi: In addition, we wanted the cooperation of someone who knew the product of that time. Due to the passage of years and how they were maintained, the original units that still exist have differences in the sound, and we didn't know whether those units were really still producing the original sound. Also, things like the intentions and philosophy of the product were difficult to determine without directly asking the developer. It was very important that we were able to get David’s advice.

What were the difficult aspects of development?

Ikeuchi: The most difficult thing was to find replacements for components of the time. Broadly speaking, the parts used in an analog circuit can be grouped into switches, potentiometers, and electronic components, but for the switches, there were no Japanese companies that were making parts of the same type today.
We were able to find a company in China, but then immediately before production we were told that “the mold is too old, so we can't do mass production.” So we had to search again. Finding the right switches was a lot of work. For the potentiometers, the functioning of the original sliders was poor, so we are using semi-customized parts as far as their size and method of operation. Similarly, electronic components are not something that can simply be swapped with a replacement. In the past, electronic components were large, which made it easy to sort them. Today, however, chip components are tiny parts that are made to be mounted by a machine, so it’s not possible to sort the individual parts. This meant that we went to a lot of trouble to find present-day electronic components that could be used to create an instrument of the past.

How did you reproduce the oscillators?

Ikeuchi: Some of the components change their resistance value depending on the temperature, but in comparison with the past, there are far fewer models, so finding the right component was difficult. In order to improve the temperature stability, we did things like adding a special device that changed the environmental temperature while we made repeated adjustments. David requested that we make the oscillators more stable than the original, so we spent a lot of time adjusting them.

Sakamaki: The first thing David told us was about oscillator stability under changing temperatures. He gave us a specific temperature range that we “absolutely had to stay within,” demonstrating his attention to detail.

Takahashi: The ARP Odyssey’s oscillator sync is usable because the pitch is stable. And in order for a sound that you create to be reproducible on stage, the pitch has to be stable.

I was amazed that the design captures the atmosphere of the original so well.

Ikeuchi: The original panel design had no screws visible, and that was something that we absolutely could not compromise on (laughs). The panel is supported by studs that are not visible from the front, so the first thing we did was to look for a subcontractor who had that technology. Then we had to find a material that had the distinctively rough feel of the bottom panel, and ended up ordering it from the same manufacturer as for the original unit. We were very grateful that after 40 years, this material still existed.

Sakamaki: The bottom panel is made by curving a resin panel. Using a metal mold would have made the shape more stable, and would also lend itself to mass production, but this would have imposed limits to the thickness of the panel that could be handled. However, a thin bottom panel would have produced a completely different feeling. We also paid careful attention to the font of the characters on the panel. We use a font called “Helvetica,” but on investigation, we found that the original used an old form of Helvetica, so that's what we looked for and used.

Why did you make the case a standard included item?

Sakamaki: Most of the controllers of the ARP Odyssey are sliders, and they are unavoidably easy to bend. We felt that it would be inconsiderate to simply say “well, that’s just the way it is,” and decided that we should provide a case that protected the instrument. The case also contributes to the vintage appearance.

The revived ARP Odyssey provides the filters of all three models of original, allowing the user to switch between them. Why was it designed this way?

Takahashi: Users at the time had different models or “revisions” (Rev.). We wanted the revived instrument to satisfy a wide range of people, so we included the differing functionality of each model.

Sakamaki: Each model has its own personality, with completely different sound. Rev.1 leaves a bit of the highs, so it’s nice for creating leads and other sounds that are used in a high register. Rev.2 has a ladder filter that produces a synthesizer-like sound. Rev.3 has a sharp cutoff, making it good for bass sounds.

Ikeuchi: In particular, the Rev.1 filter circuit is special. The explanation is a bit technical, but the Rev.1 uses a modification of something called a “state variable filter”; it’s a circuit that you would not expect to work correctly. The result is that opening the filter makes a spike appear in the waveform. Then when you raise the resonance, the level rises, and internal distortion occurs. And it’s just the right amount of distortion. That’s why there are apparently some aficionados who insist that “it absolutely has to be the Rev.1.”

Why did you add Drive?

Sakamaki: This arose by chance. One day I was playing around with a prototype ARP Odyssey, and was thinking that the sound was completely different, when Ikeuchi-san told me “Increasing the loudness made it sound better, so I made it louder” (laughs). Of course, this made the sound completely different than the original, so we changed it back, but it really was a good sound, so we decided to provide it as a Drive function. The original Odyssey has a very clean sound, but it also sounds good when distorted. Most of today’s analog synthesizers distort the sound, so I thought it would be a better match for the contemporary music scene.

You also made feedback possible; was this in order to create distorted sounds?

Ikeuchi: Yes. There had been no headphone amp output, which was simply inconvenient, so we added one, and then made it possible to use the existing external input to produce feedback. Since this is something that we want users to take advantage of, we've also included two patch cables.

What other functions are unique to the revival model?

Sakamaki: We added MIDI and USB, and changed the original unit’s unbalanced XLR output to a balanced XLR output. We also made it possible to connect a patch cable from GATE OUT to TRIG IN to enable legato performance. Also, the original units differed in that when you switched the octave, Rev.1 would apply portamento but Rev.2 and 3 would not apply portamento; we've allowed the user to switch between these two modes.

How would you like users to use the ARP Odyssey?

Takahashi: I want them to use the instrument for today’s new music. The reason that we today are creating an analog synth is not simply to reproduce the past, but to find out what kind of music will be created by the people of today who use this instrument.

Ikeuchi: When the original unit went on sale, it was an era when new instruments were giving birth to new music. In the same way, I think that this ARP Odyssey brings new sounds to the people of today, and still has the potential of creating complex sounds that have not yet been heard. Please use it to create new music in today's music scene.

What are your thoughts about the completed product?

Takahashi: I’m thinking that now that we've created the ultimate, what are we going to do now? I’m very satisfied.

Sakamaki: I intend to buy one for myself (laughs). I think the original design was very good, and that this revival model has succeeded in carrying on the goodness of the original. My heart has been completely captivated by the vintage feel of this instrument.

Ikeuchi: When I entered the musical instrument industry, the top synth was ARP’s Odyssey. At the time, it was the era of the Rev.3, and I was utterly enthralled by it. That synthesizer was the starting point for me as a designer, and now I’ve been able to create the very same sound as the original. I am extremely happy that I was able to be involved in the development of this revival model of the ARP Odyssey.