It was my first vintage synth purchase in maybe 20 years. I had recently gotten back into hardware, thanks to the MS-20 re-release, and was being increasingly lured in by the tantalizingly low prices on Yahoo Auctions. I had yet to really learn the language of auction lots in Japan but I took a chance and was surprised when I won the bidding for this Technics synth for around $100.
Something of a rarity even in Japan, the SY-1010 was sold in Technics showrooms in Japan in the late ‘70s. I imagine it must have been similar to the RadioShack Moog, the Realistic ConcertMate MG-1. Sell a cut-down synth to home audio enthusiasts at cut-rate prices. I used to have an MG-1 back in the 1990s. It was quirky and unusual, and I'm sure those fond memories influenced my purchase.
I wasn't expecting this SY-1010 to be perfect. I thought it could be a kind of project synth, a way to get my hands dirty and learn more about synth repair. I had recently learned to solder, and had assembled a SparkFun SparkPunk synth kit, and changed the battery in a Yamaha DX7. I was ready.
And sing it does. As I mentioned before, the SY-1010 is simple but it has an almost melancholy character that is difficult to dismiss. There's a single sawtooth oscillator with course and fine tuning knobs, and noise. This is piped through a low pass filter, which can go from smooth to gurgly (but gives up before hitting self oscillation). There's a single, decent ADSR which can be applied to the oscillator and filter, and a sine wave LFO that can vary the oscillator, filter and VCA for tremolo effects. There's also an A440 tuning switch, which is helpful because mine can take a while to get into tune. Lastly, I should mention the VCA’s initial gain knob, which acts like a gate for the envelope, but because it's a rotary you can combine different amounts of ADSR and gate. It's great for expressive drones.
All of this translates into a synth that is great for, well, I'm not really sure. I don't think you can describe it as great at all. Actually to me it sounds a little… sad. Not sad as in terrible but emotionally sad. Perhaps it's because it's always a little out of tune, or because the keys don't always react exactly like they're supposed to, but when I need a certain lugubrious tone in a song I always reach for the SY-1010.
This is something I love about buying old gear. It's how some people must feel when they adopt a senior dog. It might need a lot of extra care, and it might not be around for very much longer, but while it's here it has a lot of love left to give.
Finally, here are two videos I made showing the drone potential of the SY-1010.