Synth of the Month:
EMS VCS3






One of The Radiophonic Workshop’s most beloved sythesisers was the VCS3, which was created in 1969 by Peter Zinovieff's EMS company.

The electronics were designed largely by David Cockerell, and its distinctive appearance was the work of electronic composer Tristram Cary. It was one of the first portable commercially available synthesizers, in the sense that it was housed entirely in a small wooden case, unlike synths from American manufacturers such as Moog Music, ARP and Buchla, which had large cabinets and could take up entire rooms.

The VCS3 cost just under £330 in 1969. Some people found it unsatisfactory as a melodic instrument due to its inherent tuning instability. This arose from the instrument's reliance on the then-current method of exponential conversion of voltage to oscillator frequency—an approach that other companies also implemented with fewer tuning issues. However, the VCS3 was renowned as an extremely powerful generator of electronic effects and processor of external sounds for its cost.

The VCS3 found popularity among artists seeking to create exotic synthesised sounds. As a result, remaining examples sell for far more than their original asking prices.

The first album recorded using only the VCS3 was The Unusual Classical Synthesizer on Westminster Gold.

The VCS3 was popular among progressive rock bands, and was used on recordings by The Alan Parsons Project, Jean-Michel Jarre, Todd Rundgren, Hawkwind, Brian Eno, King Crimson, The Who, Gong, and Pink Floyd, and many others.

The VCS3-generated bass sound at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" forms the foundation of the song, with its other parts heard in response.

The Who famously used a VCS3 on "Won't Get Fooled Again" from Who's Next, where Pete Townshend used it as an external sound processor by running the signal of a Lowrey organ through the VCS3's filter and low frequency oscillators.

It was also notably used by John Paul Jones in the song "Four Sticks" on the untitled fourth album by Led Zeppelin.