Yamaha SY-1

It’s not pretty, but it sounds great! Released in 1974, this was Yamaha’s very first synthesizer. It’s an analog preset synthesizer with 28 presets and some programmability to shape the sound. It was meant as a solo instrument to accompinate piano or organ. Some of the presets are better than others, but all are useful with a little imagination and modification to the sound. Modifications include control of filter with cutoff and resonance, a simple envelope with attack and sustain, portamento, vibrato (LFO) with speed and depth and transpose. There’s also a pulse width feature which seems to discard whatever waveform the preset is made of and turn it into a variable pulse wave. Lastly there’s an interesting thing called ‘attack bend’, which adds either a short halftone pitch attack to the sound or a filter attack.

The keyboard has a great aftertouch feature with volume, LFO (vibrato) and filter (wah wah). You can also set the level of sensitivity to the aftertouch response. The aftertouch feature really adds to a beautiful and organic musical expression.

To me the SY-1 actually sounds like a monophonic, preset version of the great Yamaha CS-80. Of course it’s much simpler and being only a single-voice synthesizer is has a lot less width in sound. But the sound and aftertouch is very identical in character to the CS-80.

Unfortunately it’s a much underrated synthesizer, probably due to the limitations of presets. But don’t discard it as a mere preset synthesizer; it’s truly a great and expressive musical instrument with a lot of life and character to the sound. And it’s all analog!


Audio demo samples:

Winter A multitrack with all SY-1 sounds except the chords.

Song 2 Another multitrack with all SY-1 sounds.


Soft Very nice soft synth sound.

Bladerunner Not so thick with only one oscillator, but still very expressional.

Dirty. A little more dirty sounding.