Hi, Doctor Nick! - A Doctor's Guide to Buying Your First Bits of Analog Gear

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Nick Hook is here to help. More specifically, he's here to answer our readers' questions. Regardless of where he is in the world, regardless of the topic, regardless of what projects he's working on, our resident advice columnist takes time out every week to field inquiries from people in search of his knowledge about music, DJing, production, travel, gear, and more. Got a question? Send it to doctornick@xlr8r.com. As we've said, the good doctor is here to help.

Aiiiiiite. First off, I almost completely forgot to write this column, but our favorite superheroine Jubilee reminded me that we are working together to keep music journalism thriving.

Life in New York has still been super nuts with RBMA in town and all. Extreme love to all the folks in Term One. It's a very talented bunch. I hosted Boiler Room yesterday and I don't wanna set anyone apart, but I loved everyone's set. Dam-Funk killed it as always and I was fortunate to hear four songs he did with _____ Dogg.

The Brian Eno lecture was amazing and incredibly inspiring. He focused a lot on surrender and control, which obviously relates to how we live and a lot of the things we do on an everyday basis, especially in terms of collaboration. I got shook when I was walking to my seat and some dude was like, "Yo, I love your column." I think it still kinda terrifies me that people read this, but it's amazing. So yeah. Thank you.

Okay. I could ramble forever, but let me get down to my real job… being a doctor.

Hi Doctor Nick,
From my understanding, you're an analog enthusiast. I've been working almost entirely on my computer (save for a MIDI controller) for a few years now and I'm thinking about taking the plunge into analog. Not sure if I want a synth, a drum machine, a sampler, or an outside effects processor, but I definitely want something to add that warmth to my sound. Any recommendations on what I should pick up for a first piece of outboard gear? I've got maybe 1500 to spend.

You're right. I love analog gear. That said, I'd like to preface all of this with the fact that I also really love plug-ins, digital items, and digital synthesizers. Still, owning pieces of analog gear is like having a relationship and there is something magical about the process of manipulating analog gear, wrestling with it, and using your hands and ears versus your eyes and a mouse.

Sooooooo... let me think. This is hard. Very hard, because there are many ways you can go with it. I'm going to give a lot of options here.

The right analog gear is like investing in the stock market, except it's not gonna tank when some dude hacks the internet or the economy collapses. However, I do try to buy at market value or below, and always make sure to get it in working condition ASAP. Broken gear is the worst shit ever and it only frustrates you. This goes for most of the classics, older stuff that's proven to last and continue to be somewhat desirable to people. The cool part is that if you do it right, you can a) keep it forever if you love it, b) in a couple of weeks decide you don't like it (and know that for a fact) and sell it for the same price, or c) keep it for long enough that the value goes up and then you can sell it and make a few bucks, all while sampling the fuck out of it.

I haven't been one to sell my stuff, but I have synths that I bought for 200 bucks that I see at stores going for $3K now. It's pretty insane. Also, keep up on Craigslist. There's always a broke hipster somewhere who needs to pay rent.

A great resource to study is Vintage Synth Explorer. I've spent mad hours on this. One day you might come up on something at a garage sale and roll out like a bandit.

I'm not sure of the best way to do this, but here are some things I highly recommend. Also, I gotta check prices—all this stuff has really gone up. Another thing—I gotta be careful cuz I don't wanna blow up the prices. It's kinda like when you find that ill hole-in-the-wall restaurant but then you tell all your friends and they raise the prices. That's not fun. Whatever though, I do this for the people.

Keep in mind, this is all analog stuff. Trying to keep in mind your price range, I would recommend picking up a few cheap things to understand how they mix and match and keep your eyes out for deals. There's a ton of new digital stuff that is exciting to me as well (Ableton Push, Maschine, Novation MiniNova, and so on). It's an exciting time for gear right now.


Juno 106
It costs like 600 bucks. I love this synth. It's polyphonic and very versatile. Even though it's not the most expensive synth in my collection, I think i would keep it over a lot of others cuz it does do a lot and can work in many situations. There's an awesome house square wave and good pads, which could work for new wave. It generally always works, stays in tune, and the MIDI implements well. I wish you could route audio through the filter cuz that's important to me, but hey, you can't have it all.

Guitar Pedals
Keep your eye out. Obviously the older the better with these, but you route your synth/hi-hat/kick/whatever through the right pedal and you are on to something. I love The RAT, the Ibanez Tube Screamer, Boss and Roland stuff, and flangers.

Ensoniq DP4
This one is pretty cheap. It has four ins and outs, and was allegedly used for many French house sounds. It's tite.


The Ekdahl Moisturizer
This is a weirdo exposed spring reverb + preamp + filter + LFO. It's very weird and awesome. The filter is fantastic—you can even flick the springs and pretend like you are on some King Tubby steeze. It's really wonderful.

Korg MS-20
The new MS-20 is awesome. I can't confirm or deny that I have one, but they killed it with this. You have to get over the fact that it has tiny keys, but it does have USB for MIDI and a MIDI in, so you can use your controller to play it.

Universal Audio LA-610
This was my first "pro" piece of outboard gear that I bought. It's a preamp/compressor. It's versatile cuz you can use it on anything and have a good signal coming in off your gear. If you have a vocalist come through, it has a tube so you get some nice real saturation. I still use it on every recording I make.

Korg Poly 800
Bok Bok blew mine out by plugging an alarm-clock plug into it, but this is analog, only digitally controlled. It's really good, unique, and sounds like the early '80s. There are good pads and chords, too.

Sequential Circuits Six-Trak
You can still get them cheap, and it's an awesome entry into analog. It's a little annoying to program, but sounds great.

Drum Machines
Keep your eyes open. Drum machines are fun cuz you can get weird cheap ones or randomly come up on a dope one. Mix and match them with your pedals and put them through a pedal and you are on to something. I love keeping my eyes out for stuff like this weird, forgotten, $20 device. Remember, when the 303 and all the original drum machines came out, everyone hated them cuz it wasn't like a "real" drummer. Then some amazing cats from Chicago and Detroit started manipulating them and started some stuff we now all know and love.

Other Random Items
Look out for rackmount stuff. It's not analog, but all the '80s sounds have been on my mind lately. The Korg M1, all the Yamaha stuff you can get moderately cheap. An Oberheim Matrix 6.

Ahhhhh! I could go on forever. Maybe that's it for now. Add your comment below...

Okay. I'm tired and this Brian Eno lecture just came on. I'm gonna watch and sleep.

Thanks y'allllll.

Hi, Doctor Nick! appears every Thursday on XLR8R. Do you have a question for Doctor Nick? Please submit your inquires to doctornick@xlr8r.com. Nick Hook can help you.