TUTORIAL: Classic analog lead with Diva and Synth1

Welcome to the third installment of The G’s guide to Synthwave Patch Creation! (New readers, please check out our previous tutorials: Juno-style polysynth for TAL U-No-Lx and resonant bass for Diva and PG-8X.)  This week we have the illustrious Jonathan Nicol on board with a fantastic lead patch. Jonathan is the genius behind Oblivion Sound Labs, who currently offer an excellent Juno 60-style chorus VST and a great synthwave-inspired Diva soundbank–absolutely free. He’s also my go-to guy whenever I get stuck and need some advice on patch creation. So without further ado, over to Jonathan! -G

Memorable synthesizer solos are a feature of many great synthwave tracks. In this tutorial I will show you how to create an classic analog style lead in Diva, an excellent virtual analog synth from U-He that models several well known hardware synthesizers from the late 1970s and 1980s. I will also show you how to program a similar lead in Synth1, which is a great alternative if you don’t own Diva.

1. Patch initialization 

After launching Diva navigate to the Patches tab and in the directory tree open the folder named “8 Templates”. This folder contains initialization presets for each of the different synths that Diva models. In the upper pane click the preset named “INIT Jupe-8” to configure Diva to emulate Roland’s Jupiter 8 synthesizer. Switch back to the Main tab and here’s what you should see:


2. Oscillators 

In the Dual VCO section change VCO 2 to a square wave and set its tuning to 4 feet, so that it plays an octave above VCO 1. We can make the square wave less “woody” sounding by increasing its pulse width to 75. We can also add some movement to the sound by modulating its pulse width with a low frequency oscillator (LFO). Change the rate of LFO 2 to -2.20, then increase the pulse width modulation slider (next to the PW slider) to 20. If you play your patch now you will notice that its character changes over time, thanks to the pulse width modulation. At the moment the square wave is too prominent, though, so turn the MIX knob to 15 so that it is more subtle.


3. Filter 

Lets concentrate on the filter section. Set the filter CUTOFF to 72 and resonance (RES) to 12. The cutoff determines how “dark” or “bright” our sound will be, and a touch or resonance adds some “shine”. We can further shape the filter using an envelope (more on that in the next step) and LFO. Underneath the filter cutoff slider are two knobs for modulating the cutoff, the first assigned to Envelope 2 and the second assigned to LFO 2. Turn the first knob to 68 and the second to 8. Next increase the KYBD slider to 35. This sets the keyboard tracking amount, so that the filter becomes more prominent as you play higher notes on your keyboard. Lastly, turn the FM knob to -9 to add a little crunch to our sound.


4. Envelopes 

At this point our patch sounds more like a pluck than a lead, but we can address that by adjusting Diva’s ADSR (Attack Decay Sustain Release) envelopes. By default ENV 1 shapes the sound’s volume and ENV 2 shapes the filter’s cutoff frequency. Set The Attack of ENV 1 to 14, its Decay and Sustain to 100 and its Release to 23. Turn the VEL (velocity) slider for ENV 1 to 35 so that the patch is a little quieter when you press a key gently. Now lets turn our attention to ENV 2. Set its Attack to 9, Decay to 100, Sustain to 0 and Release to 27. The interplay between the envelope and filter cutoff is where the magic happens in most synth patches, and although our envelope is very basic you can still hear that our new settings dramatically affect our sound, especially when playing sustained notes.


5. Polyphony and Tuning 

At the moment our patch is polyphonic, so if you press multiple keys simultaneously the notes will overlap which sounds sloppy during fast solos. To fix that, set the Mode to mono in the Tuning section. The patch sounds a lot cleaner, but now the transition between notes is too abrupt. Let’s add some glide (portamento) to ease the transition between notes. Set Glide 1 to 16.50, and play some notes. Sounds cool, right? We can make our patch even more expressive by adding some vibrato. Change the Vibrato knob to 45% and the Rate knob of LFO 1 to 2.60. You won’t hear a change immediately, but if you turn the mod wheel on your midi controller you can achieve a nice vibrato effect which can add a lot of character to your performance. You may also want to turn the main volume knob down a little too, so that the patch doesn’t clip in your DAW.


6. Unison 

Let’s fatten our sound up by adding unison, so that each time you play a note two synthesizer voices are triggered instead of just one. Near the bottom of the Main tab is a knob labelled Stack. Set it to 2 to double the number of voices. That makes our sound more complex, but because both voices are tuned identically they will clash with each other. To remedy that, hop across to the Trimmers tab and hold down Shift while turning the the Stack Tune knob for voice 2 so that you can adjust its value in very small increments, and set it to 0.07. This puts our voices very slightly out of tune with each other to create a nice phasing effect. Switch back to the Main tab and in the Amplifier/Pan section set Pan Mod to 60% and choose StackIndex for the modulation source. Now each voice is positioned differently within the stereo field which gives the patch some stereo width.



7. Effects 

We have baked our cake, now lets add some icing! Diva has some great onboard effects and we will use its delay and reverb modules to add space and richness to our patch. Select Delay for the first effect slot, and turn the Side Vol knob to 17%, Left delay time to 4.0, Feedback to 20% and LP to 50%. When you hit a note on your midi keyboard you should hear distinct echoes following the main sound, which adds a rhythmic vibe to our instrument. Select Plate for the second effect slot to add a reverb after the delay. Set Dry to 100, Wet to 43, Damp to 85, Decay to 38 and Size to 90. Effects are very much a matter of preference, so feel free to experiment with the effect settings or use different effects entirely.


Remaking the patch in Synth1 

Even if you don’t own Diva it is straightforward to program a similar patch in most synthesisers. The screenshot below shows settings for a nearly identical lead in Synth1, a very impressive freeware synthesiser by Ichiro Toda. Synth1 doesn’t have an onboard reverb effect, but you can add your reverb of preference to your effects chain.



That wraps up the tutorial. Have fun ripping some blistering synth solos with your new lead patch!



TUTORIAL: Resonant Bass with Diva and PG8X

Welcome to another synthesis-for-synthwave tutorial! This week I’ll be making a Jupiter 8-style resonant bass patch using u-He’s incomparable Diva, and then remaking it with the excellent (and free) PG-8X, which emulates a Roland JX-8P. As always, my goal is to make synthesis accessible, though we’ll be adding some extra wrinkles in this time in order to emulate the “warmth” of vintage gear. For those who missed it, here is last week’s tutorial, where we made a Juno-style poly synth using TAL U-No-Lx. And if you want to hear how I use the patches I make, check out my latest release. -G 

Resonant Bass with Diva

Before we begin, create a simple bass loop with 16th notes playing on the 1 and 3 (at 100 velocity):

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 3.48.41 PM

1. Load INIT-Jupe-8

Diva can model a number of different classic synths, as well as create hybrids by mixing and matching their parts. For this patch, we’ll be using the Jupiter 8 template. Basically this means Diva is modeling two voltage controlled oscillators, a voltage controlled filter and analog envelopes.

TUT Diva Start

2. Oscillator

Our bass patch is very aggressive, so we’ll stick to sawtooth waves. But we also want to take advantage of the Jupiter-8’s dual oscillator design. So to begin, drop VCO 1 down an octave (from 8 to 16). Then detune VCO 2 by 0.10. You can go either direction. I went to +0.10, but -0.10 will work as well.


What this does is create “fatness,” which is to say, a subjective sense of width. Try messing around with the detune settings. The more detuned the oscillators, the fatter the sound. But at a low setting, like 0.10, the oscillators still sound like they are playing the same note. Increase it too much, and they won’t.

3. Filter

Our sound is still quite harsh and grating, so let’s pull down the filter cutoff to 40%. Since we are making a resonant bass patch, we want to increase resonance to 50%. Next increase Keyboard tracking to 50% and ENV2 setting to 70%. (These determine how much of the sound is determined by how you play the keyboard and what your filter envelope settings are.) Now you can hear some squelch!

TUT Diva Filter

4. Envelopes (ADSR)

The aren’t labeled as such, but the top envelope modules the filter and the bottom envelope determines the amplitude. Use these settings:

Filter: A 0%; D 50%, S 80%, R 40%

Amplitude: A0%, D 50%, S 100%, R 30%

On the filter envelope, also raise the velocity sensitivity bar to 50%. That means the harder you hit the keys, the more the envelope will modulate the filter.


5. Effects and “Trimmers” 

Now that we’ve got our basic sound, it’s time to give it some character. Thankfully, Diva offers plenty of tools for doing just that. To begin, let’s play around with the effects section. Like the Juno and JP synths, Diva features chorus as a standard effect. But it doesn’t really sound like a Roland chorus, and it doesn’t sound all that great on our patch. The tempo-synced delay, on the other hand, basically acts as a doubler–giving us an even fatter sound.

Next, navigate over to the “Trimmers” window. Now this may be my favorite set of features–controls that let you adjust the tuning and variance of individual voices, as well as mimic age and “oscillator drift” (i.e. the ability of VCOs to stay in tune, which compounds over time). These imperfections are what make vintage gear sound warm and characterful. And we can model them! To start, let’s raise the voice detune amount to 40% and voice drift to 70%. The effect is subtle but if you listen carefully, you can hear the voices coming just a touch apart from one another.

TUT Diva Trimmers

6. Final Touches

I like the squelch this sound gives, but for synthwave, it works even better if we increase the release a touch on the filter envelope, up to 40%. So let’s do that and call it a day!

TUT Diva Final touches

…and there you go! A classic resonant bass, perfect for acid-style filter sweeps. Just try raising the cutoff and see what happens. Or the filter envelope release…sounds nice, eh?


Remaking the Patch with PG-8X

Our resonant bass patch sounds lovely in Diva, but you can make a version of this with any subtractive synth that has two oscillators. To demonstrate, I’ve chosen the excellent PG-8X, which is a free software emulation of the Roland JX-8P. Now, remember that the JX- synths were somewhat different from the Jupiters–actually, you could say they were a cross between the Jupiters and Junos. They had two oscillators, like the Jupiter 6/8, but they were DCOs and DCFs like the Juno 6/60/106.* And of course they did have that sweet Roland chorus. Even still, we should be able to get close to our Diva patch with PG8X.

*Note: a digitally-controlled oscillator is an analog oscillator where waves are reset by an electronic rather than an electrical pulse. It is still an analog synth.

1. Oscillator

First, in the mixer section, bring up the volume for OSC2. Then drop OSC1 down an octave (to 16) and detune OSC2 by 10% (0.10) using “Fine Tune.”

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 9.43.59 PM

2. Filter

Bring the cutoff down to 40% and resonance to 50%. Now raise the envelope modulation (ENV) to and KEY FOLLOW to 40% each.

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 9.46.29 PM

3. Envelopes (ADSR)

Envelope-1, which modulates the filter cutoff, should be as follows: A 0%, D 40%, S 80% and R 30%.

Envelope-1, which shapes the amplitude, should be as follows: A 0%, D 80%, S 80%, A 40%

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 9.48.51 PM

4. Effects and LFO

PG-8X does not have a delay, but we can introduce some fatness with chorus—and actually, the chorus sounds a lot better (and a lot more Roland) than the one on Diva. Let’s opt for CHORUS 1, which is a bit cleaner than CHORUS 2.

PG-8X also doesn’t have Diva’s options for emulating age and imperfections. But we can  capture that feel another way–by adding a touch of tuning wobble via the LFO. We want to effect to be subtle, but unfortunately PG-8X’s LFO is not very subtle. So we’ll need to be careful here. In the Oscillator section, set the LFO on OSC2 to 3. On the LFO section, set DELAY TIME to 50% and RATE to 5. That means the wobble won’t kick in right away, and when it does, the oscillation will be long and shallow. Our bass arp is made of 16th notes, so we’ll just end up with a touch of tuning wobble–exactly what we want!

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 9.14.04 AM


Comparing our Patches

If you have both synths, copy/paste our loop so that the Diva patch plays for 2 bars, then the PG-8X patch plays for 2 bars. You’ll immediately notice how much quieter PG-8X is, so you’ll need to adjust relative volume, either on faders or in Diva to properly compare. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see that the two sounds share a basic structure, but each have their own character. Our Diva patch is fatter, more resonant and definitely a lot more aggressive. Our PG-8X patch, though, has that pleasing Roland-in-the-80s character.

I like them both, but would use them in different scenarios. If there’s a lot of other stuff going on in a track, then I’d lean toward the PG-8X, as it will sit more comfortably in the mix. But if I’m doing a track with only a few elements, and which relies on the bass to drive things forward (e.g. your typical outrun track), then our Diva patch can carry a lot more weight. Both sound great with a bit of modulation, either using the filter or filter envelope. Try messing around with both–there are lots of possibilities!

Cosmopolis on Vinyl!

Cosmopolis is out today! Head on over to the bandcamp and you’ll see an added bonus: it’s available on vinyl as well as cassette and digital! Doing an LP has always been a dream of fine, so a huge thanks to Enzo and the TimeSlave Recordings crew for making it happen.

There are only 100 copies of the vinyl and 20 cassettes, so get ’em while they’re hot!

TUTORIAL: Classic Juno poly with TAL U-No-Lx

Welcome to my new tutorial series, in which I’ll walk you through some simple but handy techniques for making synthwave. I’m starting with sound design, using one of the most widely-used VSTs in the scene: TAL U-No-Lx. This tutorial is aimed primarily at those who are just learning (or want to learn) how to design their own patches or who are new to TAL U-No-Lx. But it may also be useful to more seasoned sound designers who, like me, can sometimes get set in their ways. 😛 

TAL U-No-Lx is a really handy and inexpensive Juno-60 emulation. It doesn’t sound exactly like the real thing, but it does sound quite good and also replicates the Juno’s intuitive workflow. So not only can you make great sounding patches with it, but it’s also an excellent learning tool for sound design.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make a classic Juno-style polysynth patch with U-No-Lx, the kind that works for chords, leads and even bass.


1. Startup Patch

When you open U-No-Lx, this is what you’ll see:

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.44.45 AM.png

Like the Junos, U-No-Lx features one digitally-controlled oscillator (DCO), but allows you to layer two waveforms (one saw and one square), then adjust the shape of the square wave via pulse width modulation (PWM). There is also a sub-oscillator. What you see/hear right now is basically a saw wave with no modulation, but with the sub oscillator turned up to 100%.

2. Adding a second waveform

Let’s put the sub oscillator to the side for now and concentrate on adding a square wave to the equation. Click on square and then play around with the PWM settings. What you are doing is adjusting the width of the square. I like the way it sounds at about 80%. So let’s do that, and also bring the sub oscillator back in, but keep it subtle for now—at 30%.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.50.05 AM

3. Adjust the filter settings.

Feels like we’re getting somewhere, right? Even so, our sound is still a bit harsh and reedy. So let’s start to address that by adjusting the filter settings. Bring the cutoff and resonance down to 30% each, then raise the ENV to 60%. Now you can hear the envelope modulating the filter. It’s subtle but it’s there. Let’s also bring the MOD slider up to 30%. This will add modulation of the filter cutoff via the low frequency oscillator (LFO).

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 9.53.58 AM

4. Adjust the envelope (ADSR)

U-No-Lx defaults to gate for the envelope, but if we really want to make this sound shine, we need to set it to ENV. After doing that, we can adjust the ADSR. Since U-No-Lx has a single envelope, it’s going to modulate both amplitude and filter. So let’s set attack to 20%, decay and sustain to 50% and release to 40%.

(After doing so, I also raised the MOD slider to 40%.)

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.00.06 AM

5. Adding chorus

Chorus is the Juno’s secret sauce, and U-No-Lx does a good job reproducing Roland’s ultra-lush chorus. I prefer chorus 2 for this patch. So let’s add that:

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.02.05 AM

(Hint: you can also double chorus 1 and 2.)

7. Final adjustments

Now that we have our basic patch, we can adjust the settings to our needs and preferences. I’d like a hint more of release. I’m putting it just north of 50%. And I want to lower the LFO rate while also adding a hint of predelay (which determines how quickly the LFO kicks in). I’m bringing LFO RATE down to 40% and DELAY TIME up to 10%. I’m also going to add some more sub to give the sound more body—to 50%. Finally, I’m going to lower the filter cutoff to 20% and raise resonance to 40%, which brings out the modulation a bit more.

Screen Shot 2017-09-18 at 10.07.33 AM

And there you go! A classic Juno polysynth patch that sounds great as bass, chords or lead. (Though you might want to reduce the release a touch when using it for bass).


Cosmopolis: Cover and Side One Teaser!

Cosmopolis cover idea VINYL VHS (small)

Just eleven more days until Cosmopolis is out! I’ve been working on this album for more than a year now, so it hardly feels real. But I’m really proud of it, and am very excited for all of you to hear it.

In the meantime, I thought I’d tell you a little more about the project. I make music for the road. My first release for TimeSlave Recordings, Postcards from LA, is a love letter to the Pacific Coast Highway. But I’m also a science fiction junkie, so I started playing with the idea of retrofuturistic road music. Eventually the idea coalesced into a trip to Cosmopolis, a city not unlike Los Angeles, but up among the stars. Here’s a first peak:

Cosmopolis: Out September 22, 2017

I’m very excited to announce my new album with TimeSlave Recordings, Cosmopolis!

Like Postcards from LA, Cosmopolis is road music–the soundtrack to an epic journey. But whereas Postcards takes you up the California coast, Cosmopolis takes you beyond our world, to an imagined city among the stars.

It’s also quite a bit moodier than Postcards. I wouldn’t call it a dark record, per se. But it does have a wider emotional range.

I’ll be posting teasers on here and SoundCloud. Keep posted…

3 Releases with The G (002)

After being in a pretty gruesome mood for several weeks, musically speaking, I’m back to more upbeat stuff. Here are a few on heavy rotation, new and old:

Absinth3, Unstable

Ethan Gray, aka Absinth3, is only 17-years old. Let that sink in as you listen and realize that he’s also lightyears ahead of almost everyone in the synthwave scene. I’ve always liked his music, but I’m straight up floored by how good the songs and production are on this one. It’s dreamy, smooth and full of heart.

Kid Neon, Darker Days

The debut album from my label-mate, Kid Neon. It’s upbeat, energetic and a bit raw, which only adds to the charm. Pretty sure I’m picking up an influence from early ’90s techno and rave music, which is welcome in a scene that’s gotten awfully tropey. “Faraway Land” and “Transcending Redux” are the standout tracks in my opinion.

Boney M, Nightflight to Venus

One of the campiest, and by extension, best examples of Eurodisco. “Rasputin” and “Daddy Cool” were in heavy rotation at this Bulgarian tavern in Lower Manhattan I used to frequent back in the early ’00s. So naturally they are amazing.

3 Releases with The G

Welcome to a new post series, where I recommend (or a guest recommends) 3 music releases I am (or they are) currently listening to! Whenever possible, I’ll include a bandcamp link (so you can both listen and, if you so choose, support the artists). If not, I’ll grab one from Spotify. Here’s what’s on my tape player right now:

Makeup and Vanity Set, Wilderness

This is an album I keep going back to. It’s dark and brooding, but avoids the cliches of dark synth. The album is both retrofuturistic and deeply emotional, exploring themes of death, loss and renewal. “Hand in Hand,” a collaboration with Jasmin Kaset, is probably my all-time favorite vocal synthwave track. But the whole thing is just gorgeous.

Computronic, Even the Score

Computronic is a mastering client of mine, and I had a blast working on this album. It’s synthwave by way of Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode. The vocal tracks are all standouts, and feature four equally excellent yet distinct vocalists: Vicky Harrison, Becca Star Bird, Vandal Moon and Historiaster. It’s also a concept album, the soundtrack to a film that’s one part John Hughes and another part Ready Player One. An outstanding debut.

Syntax, The Space Tapes

Syntax has been one of my favorite synth artists for a while now. I love the late-70s science fiction aesthetic he’s cultivated, both in his music and the artwork he commissions, which makes his albums stand out in a scene that can sometimes tend towards conformity. The Space Tapes, like all his music, reminds me of how it feels to look up at the stars and imagine what’s out there.