Strictly Genteel - Synth Programming

The Lead Synth/2nd Synth part on Strictly Genteel may be played by one or two people. It was strongly influenced by Tommy Mars' performance on the October 31,1981 Frank Zappa concert held at the Palladium in NYC.  That show was broadcast on MTV and eventually released on DVD as The Torture Never Stops in 2008.

Tommy mostly uses two synths:
The ElectroComp EML-101 - a monophonic synth for melodies
Yamaha CS-80 - a 200+ pound polyphonic synth for most chordal playing as well as some melodic harmonies.  

Both synths are currently out of production, however, as of 2016, great software emulations of both keyboards exist.  

Very close, if not perfect reproductions of Tommy’s signature sounds can be obtained on several inexpensive soft synths. They may be accessed with a MIDI controller keyboard connected to a laptop computer.   They will not break your back or your bank account!

For the ElectroComp patch, I tried a number of soft synths and was able to get a very similar sound to Tommy’s famous monophonic french horn patch on most of them.  I ended up going with Spectrasonics’ Omnisphere 2 because it seemed to sound the best and had amazing effects.  I programmed it from scratch and am including the patch diagrams here.

Luckily for me, this was really a very simple patch. Although I used Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2, the same patch may be achieved on many other synths. It just uses one oscillator.

I chose an ARP 2600 Saw because I liked the way it sounded. I used a 24 db low pass filter (which Omnisphere calls LPF Warm 24db.) The Resonance is turned all the way down (to the left) and I'm using about 1/4th of the Cutoff turned up.

Also, notice the AMP Envelope setting in the lower right.

The next diagram shows the settings of the Filter Envelope in the lower right. These are general, ballpark settings, and your mileage may vary. This is a close approximation of what works and is the exact setting of what I used.

This setting, on Omnisphere, is called Harmonia and affects pitch of the oscillator. Most analog synths have a way to add oscillators and detune them slightly. That is what is being done here. I adjusted the Detune setting so that the added oscillators are slightly sharp and slightly flat. I also panned the slightly detuned oscillators right and left in the Pan column.

Here are the effects that I used on the patch: reverb and chorus echo. These effects are pretty common and are available in many Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and also in many soft synths. However, the Omnisphere effects sound HUGE! They really made the patch sound big, fat and punchy. I hope Tommy is proud!

For the Yamaha CS-80, Arturia (as of 2016) makes a great soft synth version which should cost between $100-$200. The original version of this synth went for $6,000 and up, back in the 1970s and weighed over 200 pounds! I'm personally not a great fan of this keyboard, however, it makes one really great sound if you are trying to sound like Tommy Mars when he played with Frank Zappa.

There is a patch on the Arturia CS-80V called: Pro5_Brass. It is very close to Tommy's sound. This particular patch plays a perfect fifth when a key is pressed, so, we have to do away with that. On the diagram below, find the "Feet 2" setting, and it must be set to 8" (just like Feet 1 is.) After this one minor change, you're good to go!