The Iconic Sounds Of Synthesis: Van Halen’s Jump

We’re kicking off a new series: The Iconic Sounds Of Synthesis.

We plan on highlighting some of the most influential synth sounds in the history of electronic music, and the hardware and software behind the sounds.

And what could be more iconic than the synth riff that kicks off Van Halen’s Jump?

The 1984 track signaled a new direction for Van Halen, with Eddie Van Halen leaving behind massive guitar riffs for a moment to make room for some equally massive synth riffs.

The iconic sound of Jump was played on an Oberheim keyboard. According to Wikipedia:

The Oberheim OB-Xa synthesizer was used in the video of “Jump”, and can be seen in video footage from their follow-up tour. However, it is a common misconception that it was used on the recording itself. The recording features its predecessor Oberheim OB-X, played through a Marshall amplifier stack. Even though it features a somewhat thicker sound than the OB-Xa, due to its discrete circuitry used instead of Curtis chips, it had a bad reputation of being unstable on the road.

In a similar scenario, Jean Michel Jarre used the OB-X on the recording of “Magnetic Fields”, but replaced it with the newer, more stable OB-Xa while touring China and performing the same track live.

Unfortunately for Van Halen, Jump, hasn’t always sounded so iconic. Here’s a video of a Jump train wreck from 2007:

Because of the Jump sound’s iconic status, people have attempted to recreate the sound on all sorts of synths.  If you’ve got a synth that has multiple oscillators per voice, you can start with a detuned sawtooth waves and adjust the envelopes to get close.

Here are a few examples of what others have done:

Jump On The Alesis Micron

Jump On The Korg X50, With Cheesy MIDI Sax

Jump on a Roland Jupiter 8:

Jump On A Fantom-X6:

Jump On A Nord Stage 2:


Jump On The Roland SH-201

Jump on an OB-X:

Careful programming can get you close, but the original OBX’s sound is in a league of its own.

Jump on a Roland OB-Xz:

Here’s a sound design tutorial for the Jump intro, 1984, featuring the Oberheim OB-Xz:

Here’s a couple more videos that look at how to play the Jump synthesizer parts. Now you can rock out at Guitar Center with the best of them!

How To Play Van Halen’s Jump

20 thoughts on “The Iconic Sounds Of Synthesis: Van Halen’s Jump

  1. I’m looking forward to more of this particular category of post. It’s great to learn about the gear that was used, but I’d like to also know more about how the sounds were generated. Perhaps even enough for hobbyists to recreate the sound at home if possible.

  2. I'm looking forward to more of this particular category of post. It's great to learn about the gear that was used, but I'd like to also know more about how the sounds were generated. Perhaps even enough for hobbyists to recreate the sound at home if possible.

  3. I’m in a Van Halen Tribute band here in Calgary, and am wondering if there is a sample of the keyboard part only for jump, any where on the web; we need it to play along with live. I can add a click track later, but don’t have any access to the keys at the moment.
    ANY help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. The OBXa recreation is not that close. The attack is way too slow, release is too long, too much filter envelope and the oscillators may need to be a little more detuned.

    1. its not that close because while in the video you see an obx-a i have an interview from 84 key magazine with van halen that the studio recording was in fact an obx (not -a) run through a marshall stack and di/miked for the brass sound

  5. I’ve always like this guy’s take on Jump using a Roland Jupiter 8.

    Probably one of the first few songs I learnt when getting into synths (this and the Escape from New York theme), there are plenty of VSTs that have presets for the “jump” sound including Superwave P8 on Windows. I tried making the sound on an XW-P1 with a weird sort of success. Seeing this post makes me want to try again!

  6. I need to know how to create the sound from Won’t Get Fooled again by The Who… I would like to create this sound on one of my synth apps on my iPad…or use my Korg Krome if anyone knows how to do this…let me know!

  7. The OBxa example needs more fast attack and more detuned. Another trick to improve that sound is to add a bit chorus to sound more fat and delay to create motion.
    A good start to reach that sound is detune sawtooth waves.
    I’ve make a accurate sound on an Yamaha EX5R and Yamaha QS300. Some recent Roland synths are also good to start to recreate that sound.

  8. I used to play this a lot on my Casio CZ-5000…had to raise the pitch just a tad to match the actual recording, was impossible to play the bassline (obviously); still, was cool to be able to play it note-for-note. Will now be trying it out on my Roland Juno-Di, posting videos a.s.a.p.

  9. Im a beginner pianist and I just found a 61 key keyboard in my apartments trash (works fine) and learned Jump by Van Halen and the Sawtooth Sythesizer mode sounds extremely close to the synth Eddie uses throughout Jump. I’m using a Casio CTK-720. Not the best thing but with my experience most keyboards of the same brand have the same sounds.

  10. I can say from experience that the new set of Roland Juno keyboards has an excellent sound for this song, called – get this – “Jump Brass.” My Juno Stage recreates the sound almost perfectly. My old Alesis Qs7 also had a very convincing version, except that the aftertouch was too responsive and changed the tone too easily. The Stage has no aftertouch, so it’s not an issue.

    That said, I’m looking at upgrading to either the Roland Jupiter 50 or the Korg Krome. Anyone know if either of these has a decent preset for this (and other classic synths; I’m in a cover band) or whether I’d have to create one on my own?

  11. I have tweaked the Jump preset on the Alesis Micron and MiniAK (have to use both, one for each hand). On the left hand I added some overdrive, chorus and reverb. I also had to adjust the sustain because they had it just hold forever but if you listen to the original it fades out slowly. On the right hand I doubled the voice count and added quick portamento to give the attack that random quack that is very subtle. When EQed right it sounds pretty good. Next I will try my new (to me) Roland Juno G which also has a preset. At least now I can play both hands on the same keyboard. We shall see if I can get the crunch on the low end while still having the lead sound good.

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