David Friend On The History Of The ARP Odyssey

At the 2015 NAMM Show, Korg formally introduced their new version of the ARP Odyssey analog synthesizer during a two-hour event.

The highlight of the event was ARP President & co-founder David Friend, who shared his story of the history of ARP and the creation of the ARP Odyssey. 

In the video, Friend explains how he went from helping create the Yale electronic music studio, to working with Alan R. Pearlman at ARP, to creating the ARP 2500, the ARP 2600 and then the ARP Odyssey.

After his time with ARP, Friend went on to become a serial entrepreneur, most recently the Carbonite cloud backup company. In 2014, Korg announced that Friend was working with them as an advisor on the re-release of the ARP Odyssey.

25 thoughts on “David Friend On The History Of The ARP Odyssey

  1. David, a real Friend would have insisted on a full size version with full size keys.

    Korg, would it have been that much more expensive to make the Odyssey 14% larger with full size keys?

    1. I totally get it. But look, we’re all a little tired of reading the same arguments over and over. This will be my last dip in this pool.

      Korg has made the decision to make these re-released affordable analog classics smaller than the original. This is the second time they’ve done it.

      It protects that vintage synth market. One of the reasons people value the MS-20 and the Odyssey is that the old ones are priced high in the secondhand market due to years of scarcity and mythic status. Since they’re priced high and coveted by collectors and musicians, it makes a modern re-release an attractive thing they can price with a big profit margin.

      However, an identical 100%-size re-release (that cost even 20% more) would still be cheaper than a vintage one. But undercut the vintage market with a cheap full-sized 1:1 clone and you’ll drive the price and value of the old ones, thus the entire brand downwards. If those old ones get too affordable, the re-release would seem overpriced.

      So what you get is something with a form factor that’s noticeably smaller. It does everything the old one does – slightly more. Sounds 99.9% identical. But you’ll never pass one off as original, and there’s enough people who see the old one – full size – as superior.

      Scoffing at Mini keys keeps the old ones in high regard and allows Korg to charge $1,000 for the reissue.

      Thought experiment: If the Odyssey had never been invented – and Korg brought this out at NAMM with mini keys – what would be the price? Would it be $500, like the Novation Bass Station II? (After all, the BSII has patch memory, a sub oscillator, more filter types in multiple poles, 2 independent LFOs, full size keys, etc.)

      Incredible video, BTW.

      1. If Ford brings out a clone of an E-type Jag will it have a negative effect on the vintage E-type Jag market ? No, if anything it would enhance the prestige of owning the original thing, it adds to the mythology. I don’t see anything wrong with the slim-keys, but I find it a little naive that people are justifying slim-keys, on this lower-value copy of a classic, as it will devalue the vintage ARP Odyssey – this Korg thing may be a good clone with the right linage, but it isn’t the real thing that people would buy if they had the budget – I am not condoning that, but it is how people are, they always want the real thing and they will pay for that regardless of it being a wise move or not. The people buying the Korg ARP Odyssey aren’t the people buying classic ARP Odyssey – in the same way, the people buying ARIA TR-08’s, or analogue 808 clones, aren’t the same people who buying vintage 808’s. But I imagine some of those will buy the Korg version as it is the Odyssey they don’t have. If Korg did a mm perfect clone of a ARP Odyssey it would have no negative effect on the vintage market price, and further to that, Korg has no interest to protect the value of that vintage market – it literally isn’t their business, why would a synth maker want to add value to products that would harm their own sales. I imagine Korgs reason for including this keyboard was that they could make the synth lighter and smaller with modern electrics, and therefore looked around the warehouse then found a stack of these keyboards and said, that will do – that’s kinda how big business works.

        1. You say that a 100% perfect 1:1 reissue sold for $1,000 would not affect the vintage market, and that the vintage market does not matter. That’s about as good a guess as mine.

          But I’m saying that if the new one was identical but cheap, it WOULD impact the vintage market in a big way. And one of the reasons Korg can charge $1000 (for something that should logically cost $500) is that the vintage ones cost $2,000+.

          It’s a matter of keeping the value of the Odyssey high in the minds of gear consumers. If Korg brought a perfect version to your local store for $1k, why would you pay 3x that price for a scratched up one with dying componants?

          Mini Keys on the new one help keep the old ones “superior” and expensive, thus justify the price of the smaller new one.

          1. But I ain’t guessing regarding this, every market in the world functions as I described. Fake products don’t detract from the real thing. A perfectly reproduced classic Rolex model isn’t a classic Rolex, nor holds the same value – but fake products enhance prestige for the real thing. Only a fool would bestow more value on the fake Rolex as it keeps perfect time and doesn’t have scratches and wear. I have a CS-50 sitting here, it has a product production number on the base, it has that history and heritage. Imagine if Yamaha did a perfect CS-50 copy tomorrow, God knows why they would, as midi would be nice and the size is stupidly large and heavy, and it is unstable and a nightmare to maintain. But the value of my CS-50 would only be enhanced by these unthinkable clones. And people would still pay big for an original CS-50 because it is the real thing with real value. Investors, fans and collectors will always know what the money is, if that be gold, stamps, motorbikes or synths. With this warped logic here, it would assume that even this ARP Odyssey reissue with slim keys will have a direct impact in reducing the value of a classic Odyssey, yet a quick search shows me a MkII on sale for £3,200 on ebay, with an average classic price of around £2,000 selling along side 2015 models at £785 – that is more than double the value already what you were talking about here. I guess if you can’t see value in real verses fake then I ain’t going to change that here, but their is a reason why all those fake Chinese Van Gogh paintings are’t devaluing the original work of Van Gogh – and that is because they are big fakes – go figure.

            1. Paintings, watches, and cars are valued by entirely different criteria. There are fakes in those categories, people attempting to counterfeit to fool collectors. But they don’t affect the value of the “brand.”

              Synthesizers are not faked. There is no such thing as a fake Odyssey. Korg’s Arp Odyssey is an Odyssey. It’s basically the Odyssey mk. IV.

              Argue about the scale, fine. Even the original Odysseys differ slightly in size.

              Synths are cloned. Re-released. People want them for what the circuits sound like and the UI. If it looks, feels, and sounds the same, it’s bascailly the same.

              The Odyssey is not a one-of-a-kind work of art. It was a mass produced factory made electronic device that underwent various changes, and they’re all Odysseys. The Korg version is too, both legally and otherwise.

              But if it was 100% identical to a mk 3, some people would not buy an old one for big money. After all, you could have a perfect new shiny one for less. The vintage market would take a hit and drop. Then so would the price of the new one.

              A perfect, shiny new 100% perfect clone of the Odyssey sold cheaply would tempt many potential buyers of the vintage model.

              Why is the MS-20 Mini so cheap, but the limited edition full size kit (you have to build) so expensive? Are full size plastic keys and quarter-inch jacks THAT much more costly? No. It’s a brand-protecting decision to not undercut the expensive, scarce mythology of the original instrument.

        2. Well, you just need to look and see if the Minimoog Voyager and especially the short term issue of the Old School Minimoog Voyager have undermined the market for original Minimoogs. I think it has not.

  2. I get the rationale. However, professional instruments should not have mini keys. If you tell the synth world that you’re going to faithfully recreate the Odyssey, then faithfully recreate it .

    Frankly, who cares about driving the price point of 30-40 year old gear. This mini key version looks like a toy.

    The real reason that Korg does this is because Korg can make a cheapass mini version in China and reap more $$$. That’s it. The Korg guy on the NAMM videos said that it’s 86% of the original size because the smaller footprint takes up less space in your studio. What a joke. What a load. It takes up what, a few less inches? It’s all about making it cheap and making more $$$ for Korg.

    How much more would it have cost Korg to make it 14% larger and still sell it for $999? Or sell it for a bit more? I think I can speak for many synth enthusiasts who would have much preferred a full size version. This is driven by $$$, pure and simple. Any notion that Korg did a mini version because they wanted to make this cheaper and more affordable to more people is altruistic BS. This is about making it cheap and making more $$$.

    Companies like Moog and Dave Smith make professional instruments. Korg could have and should have done this with the Odyssey. And you people who want to use the “just get a MIDI cable and use a separate controller” argument are missing the point.

    Do I still want a Korg Odyssey, yeah. But I would have much preferred to have a 100% scale version. Perhaps Korg will make this option available down the road (and hopefully not only in kit form). After all of the waiting for the “faithful recreation,” seeing a miniscule mini key thing was a letdown.

    1. Have you tried this ‘miniscule’ keyboard out yet?

      I tried it out and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to play your ass off on this thing, if you’ve got the keyboard chops.

      1. I get both sides of this argument. It’s both big enough to play and small enough to feel like a toy. Anyone who really hates the smaller keys can play it through the controller keyboard of their choice. In fact tweaking an Odyssey (or whatever) that is tilted and closer to shoulder height with one hand while playing it through another keyboard at elbow level with the other may be ergonomically preferable.

  3. As a person who does the majority of their work in studio, I couldn’t give 2 toots about the mini-keys. Very excited to try one of these out and loving the re-issues. Keep em coming.

  4. I’d always heard that they gave the synths to the endorsees. It’s interesting to hear him say that artists paid for them.

  5. professional speech. i really like it. but unprofessional video. why didn’t anybody tell the cameraman that this was going to air uncut? he did a good job in framing differently from time to time. but having to watch all the footage in between that was meant to be cut out – terrible. sorry, korg – 0 points.

  6. I find it interesting/strange that Korg continually comes out with these mini key synths, in spite of the fact that anybody that’s a player likes a good full-size keyboard.

    Is that a Japanese cultural thing?

    Or is it have to do with the fact that the MicroKorg has been such a huge success for them? The MicroKorg was a hit because it was $400 when all the other synths were $1,000 – not because it had the minikeys!

    Anyways, if this is a hit, don’t you think they’ll have a full-size version in a year, like they did with the MS-20?

  7. like everyone, i was horrified and infuriated by the discovery of it being small keys.

    but now since ive calmed down and looked at it again, i think i actually prefer it. i mean…lets face it this is not going to be my “master keyboard” in the studio. and now you have more keys to play more of a range than the original. and the original really did look “square” and clumsy and take up a lot of space, this one now looks more like a standard rectangular synth.

    and all your arguments about “protecting” the old synth market is far fetched if you ask me i mean Korg made the MS20 full-sized in the Kit form didnt they. so they cared less about the old synth market there.

    im more interested if Korg is going to do the same thing as the MS20 and make the Kit version of Oddysey full-size…

  8. This idea that it was done to protect the vintage market is such a nonsense for 2 reasons.

    Reason 1- MS20 kit. They’ve already released 1100 full size recreations into the wild which could devalue the 2nd hand market. But they’re easily distinguishable from the original with a midi, USB and walk wart socket round the back. So that’s total nonsense. Even in 20 years if it’s bruised and battered you’ll be able to identify the new one.

    If they had done it full size using the MKIII orange print, apart from the same midi, USB and wall wart socket, the case is totally different. It’s got a MKII plastic base and no key overhang with MKIII graphics. The MKIII had orange leather sides.

    Reason 2 – profit. Korg made this synth primarily to make money, and they worked out they’ll sell more for $999 with mini keys that they’ll sell for $1500 full size. And we know this is true because the MS20 kit did not sell out quickly.

    It is what it is. Buy it or don’t.

  9. Sombody should fire the camera man! I enjoyed Mr. Friend’s story, but dear lord, it was hard to watch with the constant ‘fidgeting’ of the camera.

    BTW: Initially disappointed by the ‘mini’ size as well, it’s really grown on me and I’ll definitely be buying one.

    1. It’s doubtful that the “camera operator” was a paid professional. If they were then they’re in the wrong business or need more practice.

      1. The video is on Synthtopia’s personal YouTube channel which suggests it is a video they made themselves. They are not company representatives or movie makers.

        I don’t see this talk hosted elsewhere. Perhaps some here would prefer it if the video was removed so they wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear Mr. Friend’s talk. I personally thought it was a lovely talk and am glad they took the trouble to make and post it. But I also understand that many people will have their head explode if everything in their lives isn’t exactly perfect, so I can sympathize with those who want to remove such videos.

  10. Very interesting to hear some of the back story of ARP.. I went to the factory, met several of the people at ARP, Alan Pearlman, David Friend, Roger Powell. I got to know a couple of the engineers, Barry Ober (responsible for the cherry switches on ARP 2500, Dennis Colin.

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