Tom Oberheim stayed up “36 hours straight” to play the first synthesizer he ever bought 

The legendary synth designer speaks about his favourite synths – and the one he was “never enamoured” with.

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Oberheim OB-X8

Tom Oberheim

American synth designer Tom Oberheim has revealed his favourite synthesizers of all time – beyond the ones with the Oberheim branding on, of course.

In a recent interview with MusicTech, he talks about his first encounter with the ARP 2600 after being hired by Alan Robert Pearlman as an ARP Instruments dealer in Los Angeles.

“I got my ARP 2600, and I was up playing it for 36 hours straight,” Oberheim says. “And I thought, ‘This is amazing! Where have these things been? Why has it taken so long?’ I still remember the sounds I made. I don’t really play an instrument but I found lots of things to do with that 2600, and it stayed with me.”

Interestingly, despite making some of the most coveted synths ever, Oberheim says he’s “never had a studio.” But that never quite stopped him from keeping an eye on other synthesizers and having a secret lust for them.

“It’s hard to ignore the Roland Jupiter-8,” he says. “At the time it came out, we were making either the OB-Xa or the OB-8. I saw the machine and just didn’t think I had the resources to go as far as [Roland did with the Jupiter-8. That’s a great machine.”

Tom Oberheim and the TEO-5
Tom Oberheim and the TEO-5. Image: Oberheim

Oberheim also discusses the one synth that he never really fell in love with – one that was so complex to use that he couldn’t get on board. Any guesses?

“I was never enamoured with the Yamaha DX7,” Oberheim says. “It was just too mysterious. You know, maybe five people on planet Earth could programme it – and they’re getting old now, like me!”

Oberheim has made some stellar instruments, from the OB-X to the DMX and now the TEO-5. But, when asked if there’s a synth he wishes he made but didn’t he instead reflects on a decision his late friend and colleague Dave Smith made; one that Oberheim wished he did, too.

“One thing that I wish I had done sooner is what Dave did in the early 2000s. He realised that analogue was coming back. He got back into the business. At first, it was with the Evolver but when he did the Prophet ’08, it just exploded. I wasn’t going to start another company at the time but now things have changed. Now I’m in alliance with Focusrite and I’m back in the business.”

Oberheim is back in the business with the new TEO-5. You can read more about its creation in the MusicTech interview.

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