The Buchla Electric Music Box – Recreating A Classic

At the 2013 NAMM Show, Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments’ Jeffrey Vallier gave us an overview of the new Electric Music Box.

The Electric Music Box is a close recreation of one of Don Buchla’s classic synthesizers. 

Vallier is the Director of Engineering at Buchla, so his discussion is short on marketing and focuses, instead, on the goals for the project, some of the challenges of recreating a 40 year-old synthesizer and Buchla’s plans for releasing the new synth.

Here’s some footage of Alessandro Cortini performing with his Electric Music Box at NAMM:

Note that Cortini’s Electric Music Box is an example of the original Buchla has tried to match:

Buchla expects to release the new Electric Music Box mid-year, priced at $4,000.

12 thoughts on “The Buchla Electric Music Box – Recreating A Classic

  1. He explains that it’s still under development – but yes, it would be nice to hear the synth and understand the architecture of the synth.

    1. Well, they’ve said a couple of times that the functional/synth part of it is an exact recreation of the original music easel, with all parts either 100% the same or updated in a way to have no material impact on the sound.

      So, for starters, you could look at the amazing manual for the original product which was written by Allen Strange: (this scan’s a little small, but if you go to Muffwigglers I think there’s a link to a larger scan).

      You can also look at a number of videos on Youtube – there are tons of sound examples available.

      I think the stuff that’s up in the air is the programmer that connects to iPad/Bluetooth, etc., but that should basically provide access to the synth engine in the way that the old programming cards (that had to be soldiered).

      But in any event, from the specs and sound examples for the original you should be able to determine if this is your cup of tea or not.

  2. the music easel is a crazy crazy synth… one of my all time dream machines – maybe its worth 4K, but i would rather Buchla have made one for 1K because you know its entirely possible considering cost of parts these days

    they just dont make stuff thats very affordable, they never have – and i suppose they never will

    maybe it will inspire some other indie DIY people.. its not your standard synth design at all, but its highly usable and awesome for what it is – id love to see another all-analog experimental “all-in-one” box like this that is much more affordable

      1. plenty of synths are sold for much less than 1K, and they are made by companies who also have, yes, employees

        so i dont really see the validity in your argument..

        but i do understand kneejerk reactions, and contrarian attitudes – so carry on, noble warrior!

        1. So, it’s probably a little more complicated than that. Some factors that may influence the price:

          * Vactorals – I’m not a super tech guy, but from what I understand the vactorals used in Buchla products are considerably more expensive to produce than, say, a chip that would likely be used in a much cheaper synth.
          * Feature set – do a 1:1 comparison between the Easel and other synths that are a lot cheaper. It’s not as easy as comparing number of OSC’s and Filters, etc. – look at what’s in each component. If you price out a similarly configured Eurorack system you’d likely get to a similar price. Sure, the Minibrute and the MS-20 mini are great synths at very affordable prices, but they are really different machines.
          * Build quality and quantity – Korg is a huge manufacturer that build at quantity and can deliver at a lower price as a result. (Even given that, I would bet that going with a mini form factor on the new MS-20 was a price-based decision.) Buchla is a niche manufacturer, so you’re paying a much higher per-unit cost just for that, and to get a complex, niche product out at quality is not cheap.

          Could they have done this for $3K or even $2K and still been profitable? I don’t know – maybe, but probably not likely unless they got the unit volume way up. Given how esoteric this synth is I’m not even sure they could have gotten the unit volumes up that much even if they had brought the price down, and that approach would have been far riskier for them.

          There probably is some part of the purchase price that simply goes to the Buchla name; since they sell 200e systems for tens of thousands of dollars there certainly are some people out there willing to pay insane amounts of money just for the unique Buchla sound. But even at $4K this is still BY FAR the most affordable Buchla every available. And given that it might be the only I’ll ever be able to afford, I applaud them for doing it.

        2. Abdul Alhazred

          Tell me about those synthesizers that are remotely comparable to the Buchla Electric Music Box that sell for less than $1,000.

          There are mass-produced plastic synths and cheap virtual analogs and a few decent mono synths – but none of them really are comparable to this synth.

          It’s easy to throw out numbers and say Buchla should be able to sell this for $1,000, but in the real world, this is a niche product and company’s need to be able to build niche products without losing money.

          1. – “Abdul Alhazred is a fictional character created by American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. He is the so-called “Mad Arab” credited with authoring the fictional book Kitab al-Azif (the Necronomicon), and as such is an integral part of Cthulhu Mythos lore…”

  3. Anyone who drops $4k on a synthesizer is either a dilettante or highly motivated for specific reasons. The specs are almost irrelevant, because its a Buchla. Its one of the cellos of the synth world, so the usual questions and debates don’t fit the profile. If you have to ask what it does, you’re not a candidate. You either bond with it or you don’t, because its sure not something you’d hand off to a nephew as if it was a Boss pedal.

    I don’t need one, because I prefer piano to boolean algorithms, but its almost morally wrong to have one that’s not used as a centerpiece in a rig. I got several kinds of laugh out of a long shot of a Moog IIIC with some added cabinets, under which it said “SYNTHESIZERS. They used to be for people who knew what they were doing.” With a Buchla, that’s not an unfair angle on things.

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