Here are some in depth studio essentials from the talented Jean-Philip Grobler, who makes music under the moniker of St. Lucia, complete with coinciding studio photos and a little interview to top it off.
In the Recommends Series, I ask music-makers what their studio essentials are. This can be anything, from cables to software to things that generally inspire them to create.
Without further ado…
1. Minimoog Model D
A few years ago I snagged one of the reissues right when Moog released them. I’d been wanting to own one since pretty soon after I starting my synth journey, but of course I couldn’t afford a proper vintage one. Just the look of the Minimoog feels like owning a beautiful, classic piece of furniture. It’s in so many photos of the makings of classic records that I love, and I always felt like if I just had one I’d be able to get to those sounds. Well, let me tell you, it does not disappoint. It rumbles, squelches and does all sorts of beautiful, indescribable things to my body and eardrums. Over the years I’ve become a huge believer that simpler but higher quality is better, and in many ways the Minimoog is the embodiment of that. Only the essentials are present, and yet you can make almost any sound imaginable. I just know that with the turn of a couple knobs and the push of a couple switches I’ll be able to get the sound i hear in my head, and it will be what all those dudes from back in the day were using and so all will be good in the world.
2. Space Echo
I’ve been asked a few times what my absolute studio essential would be, and while of course I would be hard pressed to part with most, if any, of my instruments, the effect that I would pretty much never part with for any price would be my Space Echo. It’s the piece of gear that’s been with me the longest. It was the first thing I bought after moving to NYC in 2006, at Ludlow Guitars, and I remember walking back to the studio I was working at at the the time feeling like I was about to make OK Computer. I’m surprised it hasn’t blown up yet because it’s been on almost every single instrument I’ve recorded since then. In fact, my use of it has only increased over time. Almost every single instrument I record has a track of Space Echo that I also record back into Logic Pro. Whether it’s a slap delay on a snare drum, a longer, hand-modulated delay on a piano, or the spring on a woodblock, I can’t get these sounds anywhere else. Nothing comes even close.
3. Juno 106
What can be written about this lil’ guy that hasn’t already been written? It’s like the everyman vintage poly-synth. It immediately feels relatable, and almost toy-like. But it can of course also sound completely un-toylike, and rather grown up. I love synthesizers, and in general, pieces of gear that have minimal amounts of knobs, sliders and or buttons, and where it’s super easy to make the sound you want, and the Juno is that. It was the first ‘analog’ poly-synth I ever played with, and so it’s feel is totally natural to me. I found mine at a synth shop we stumbled upon in Oakland, CA, and the guy who sold it to me offered to put wood sides on it, which is something I’d always dreamed of, and so we did it. She’s a little dream machine. If you wanna learn about synthesis, get one of these and a Korg MS-20 and you’re off to the races.
4. Prophet 10
The first polyphonic synth I ever owned was a Dave Smith Prophet ’08, which I bought in (drumrolll) ’08. Pretty much within the first few days of getting it, I wrote our song ‘Closer Than This’, and it’s been on the road with us since St. Lucia started, and has been the poly-synth sound on the first two St. Lucia records. But my nagging gripe with the ’08 was that it always felt overly complicated. Like I couldn’t just make the sound that was in my head in two seconds. But in 30 minutes, yes! It might be what started my quest for simplicity. Then, after getting my Minimoog Model D and falling in love with it and realizing what an easy and beautiful journey sound creation can be, I started to long for the kind of complex, thick analog poly tones that my Juno couldn’t give me, because the oscillators don’t rub together. I’d also messed with a Prophet 6 a few times and I had a similar experience of finding it a little less than intuitive to make sounds because of the built-in FX (great for live but not for studio IMO). Cue last year when I found out that Dave Smith did a remake of his classic Prophet 5 (and 10), and I was sold. For a while I was toying with getting a vintage one, but pretty quickly after watching some Youtube vids I was convinced. Man, what a revelation this beast has been. The closest thing I compare it to is my Minimoog. I feel like they share a similar architecture, and there’s this feeling that great hands have been on this thing. The knobs are big and heavy, and maybe that’s the thing that makes you think that everything sounds so good coz when you turn the filter knob it’s heavy and the sound it also heeeeeeavy. It’s just so good. I wrote 5 new songs the week after I got it.
5. Dimension D
You just cannot beat this chorus. There are of course different choruses, or width effects, but this immediately sounds classic and just works in a track. This is on almost as many tracks as my Space Echo but not everything needs width.
6. Yamaha CP70
I got this guy during the making of our 3rd LP, Hyperion. During that record I started really getting into classic keyboard sounds, but not of the synthesizer kind. I bought a Wurly 200-A and this CP-70 during the making of that record. I also love having a real upright piano, and I’ve learned over time where the sounds of all the classic electric pianos fit in. Of course, the CP-70 (or 80) is famous for being all of Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’, and for being almost all the ‘piano' sounds U2 ever used, but I’ve found it especially useful when I have a busy and/or funky piano part in mind. It takes up less space than a real piano in a mix and it fits right in. The frequency curve perfectly pokes out of a mix. So now, I almost always use my CP-70 for busy piano parts, or melodic lines, and my upright piano for long-held chords. BTW. you can still pick these guys up for a very reasonable amount of money when comparing it to a real piano, and they’re built like a tank, so once tuned they almost never need to be tuned.
7. Roland SH-101
Such a great tool for adding randomness and little bleeps and bloops to a track. I mainly use it for its’ arpeggiator function. You’ll hear the sound all over our tracks, the arp that goes fast faster faster slower slower slower with the filter opening and closing. But it has so many wonderful uses, making synth wind with noise and a bit of noise mod, strange sounding synth leads, and also really zingy acid-bass sounds. Another great and relatively inexpensive vintage synth that’s extremely versatile and easy to learn.
8. Eventide H-3000
Who am I to argue with Brian Eno when he says that this thing is the greatest multi-FX box ever made? It truly is. I’m a sucker for early digital FX. There’s just something cool and somewhat imperfect (yet so perfect) about it. And so many utterly usable FX on this thing. From the crystal echoes, to the stereo delays, to all of the dynamic presets above 800. I use 844 Fuzz/ EQ/Compress on pretty much every bass synth or bass guitar, that I record (thanks to Rob Kirwan for the tip). You just cannot go wrong with this thing, and it immediately sounds and feels classic.
9. Solina String Ensemble
I’m an absolute sucker for those classic disco synth string sounds from the 70’s, or from the Air records, and this is the thing that mainly did it. Of course, Crumar also made the orchestrator which I would say I love equally on a sound level, but the Solina just looks an