Kraftwerk – their legendary synths, sequencers and sounds (2024)

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Kraftwerk: Their Synths, Sequencers and Sounds · Source: PkH1965, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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Few bands have had a bigger impact on electronic music than Kraftwerk. Even almost 50 years later, “Autobahn”, “Trans Europa Express” and “Computerwelt” are considered musical milestones and continue to inspire musicians across the world. Which synthesizers and other gear did Kraftwerk use, and which alternatives are there today? We’ve compiled a list.

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Moog Minimoog

Analog synthesizers dominated the band’s early records. Did the Moog Minimoog become the most famous synth of all times because it was used by Kraftwerk? We can only guess, but it probably didn’t hurt. The Minimoog was a fixed staple in the band’s arsenal throughout their career and is even pictured on the back of the album “Ralf und Florian” – the first one on which Kraftwerk used synths.

Because the Minimoog is such an icon, there are now quite a few hardware and software emulations available. Moog used to make its own replica, butdiscontinued it four years ago. A much cheaper option is the Behringer Model D or its polyphonic cousin Poly D.

Over the years, Kraftwerk replaced the Minimoog with a variety of other hardware and software synths, especially on stage. The band has used the Creamware Minimax ASB and the Studio Electronics SE-1, which came out in the early 1990s. The updated version SE-1X is being sold again, and Studio Electronics has just announced the SE-3X, which adds a 3-voice paraphonic mode and additional filters, among other things. And of course, there’s the Roland SE-02, which was developed in cooperation with Studio Electronics and also draws inspiration from the Minimoog.

In terms of Software, there are also many great emulations available, with the Moog Model D iOS app, Arturia Mini V2, Softube Model 72, Native Instruments Monark and GForce Minimonsta being among the most popular.

ARP Odyssey

The second era-defining mono synth of the 1970s, the ARP Odyssey, was used by Kraftwerk on the album “Autobahn”. Like the Minimoog, it helped to create a new generation of compact instruments, which brought synthesizers within reach of a much wider spectrum of musicians. And just like for the Minimoog, you now have several options if you want an Odyssey in your studio.

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First and foremost, there’s the official reissue developed by Korg, which was and is available in a variety of sizes and colors. In addition to the slim-keyed version, Korg produced a limited full-size edition, which is now sold out. In addition, the Korg ARP Odyssey is available as a desktop module and even as an iOS app. And needless to say, Behringer has made its own version, too.

EMS Synthi-A

Another analog synth of the 70s that has been used by Kraftwerk is the EMS Synthi-A. With its pin matrix, the Synthi is an ultra-compact modular system in a convenient carrying case, which allows you to patch up its components as you wish. As of today, there’s no modern clone of the Synthi-A readily available, but chances are that Behringer will have something along those lines, soon.

Sequential Circuits Prophet-5

Moving on to polyphonic synths, the legendary Prophet-5 was used by Kraftwerk during the “Computer World” tour in 1981. After a long list of other synths named Prophet, which included the Prophet 08, Prophet 12, Prophet-6, Prophet REV2 and Prophet X, its inventor Dave Smith was finally able to bring back the Prophet in its original form last year. The new Prophet-5 and Prophet-10 are both available as desktop and keyboard versions.

Electronic drums

When it came to drums, Kraftwerk were incredibly inventive right from the start. The band used a variety of modified rhythm generators for home organs, like the Farfisa Rhythm Unit 10. The band also constructed its own electronic drum set, which was played with metal sticks which closed the electrical circuit. This was used to trigger the sounds of a Maestro Rhythm King – another analog accompaniment machine from the home organ era.

While you cannot buy these one-off instruments anywhere, luckily there’s now a big selection of analog and digital drum machines again. For example, the analog MFB 501 Pro has roots that go way back to the 1970s. But it, too, goes with the times: The latest version even lets you load samples.

There’s also a big selection of drum pads and electronic drums. Even Simmons is back! We know that Kraftwerk used the Simmons SDS-V drum pads at one point. But the new electronic drums sold by Simmons only share a name with those classics.

Sequencers

While the first Kraftwerk records were played by hand, the band began to use sequencers on “Trans Europa Express” after some initial reluctance. Their famous Synthanorma Sequencer was custom-made by Synthesizerstudio Bonn Matten & Wiechers and pioneered quantized control voltages (Intervallomat). Later, Kraftwerk used various sequencers by Doepfer, including Regelwerk, Schaltwerk and the MAQ 16/3.

After a period during which the days of hardware sequencers appeared to be numbered, the selection is now larger than ever, largely due to the unprecedented popularity of modular synths. For example, the Doepfer Dark Time offers a workflow that’s very similar to what an early sequencer looked like.

Vocoders

What comes to your mind first when you hear the name “Kraftwerk”? There’s a good chance that you instantly hear the band’s characteristic robot voices in your head. Over the years, Kraftwerk used a variety of vocoders, including the EMS Vocoder, Roland SVC-350 and Roland VP-330.

Just like analog synthesizers, the vocoder has recently seen a new surge in popularity – partly due to the fact that Korg built one into the inexpensive Microkorg, which in itself has become a modern classic. There are many interesting options now, including the Arturia MicroFreak with the microphone accessory and the Behringer VC340, a clone of the aforementioned VP-330. And if you have the cash, there’s also the spectacular reissue of the Moog Vocoder.

Or you could invest in a special vocal effects unit for mangling your voice. The Roland VT-4 Voice Transformer or the TC Helicon VoiceLive series are popular options. These units give you many other effects in addition to the vocoder. And if you can’t be bothered to record your own, there’s always samples, like the Robot Voices sample library.

Toys, calculators, odds and ends

Nobody was talking about circuit bending at the time, but Kraftwerk were masters at it. For its entire career, the band has been known for using all sorts of devices that weren’t designed to be musical instruments. One noteworthy example is the voice in “Computerwelt”, which came from a Texas Instruments electronic translator. And “Musikant mit Taschenrechner in der Hand” isn’t just a rhyme, as the Casio FX-501b calculator was actually used as an instrument.

Kraftwerk’s Kling-Klang-Studio was also home to all sorts of musical “toys” like the “Bee Gees Rhythm Machine” by Mattel and the Dübreq Stylophone. The unique stylus synth went on to become a cultural icon and is now available again.

Kraftwerk’s long cooperation with Dieter Doepfer, which resulted in the MAQ 16/3, among other things, also gave life to MOGLI, another spectacular creation. The unique controller glove, which was based on the Nintendo Powerglove gesture controller from 1989, was years ahead of current products like the Neova MIDI ring or Genki Instruments Wave. Controlling MIDI devices with gestures? What some start-ups are still pitching as a revolutionary idea was already being done by Kraftwerk decades ago.

Have you been recreating Kraftwerk’s sounds in your projects? How have Kraftwerk inspired you in your music? Let us know in the comments below!

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2 responses to “Kraftwerk – their legendary synths, sequencers and sounds”

    Kraftwerk – their legendary synths, sequencers and sounds (10) Fahrn Fahrn Fahrn Auf Der...Analogue Flange says:

    21 August 2021 um 7:22 pm

    On Autobahn, Kraftwerk used a lot of phasing and flanging effects to get motion on those lovely warm synth sweeps. It’s still a nice effect today, and pretty easy to do. The pianos also use the same effect on Autobahn and give real motion to the melodies. They use quite a long, slow, unsynced, analogue phasing or flange effect, with mid-range sounds it’s still a nice, ear-pleasing mod.

    Reply

    Kraftwerk – their legendary synths, sequencers and sounds (11) Melanie Jean Mayfield says:

    -1

    29 January 2022 um 3:01 am

    SYNTHp*rn + ROBOTp*rn = KRAFTWERK

    Reply

    Leave a Reply

Kraftwerk – their legendary synths, sequencers and sounds (2024)

FAQs

What synths do Kraftwerk use? ›

A much cheaper option is the Behringer Model D or its polyphonic cousin Poly D. Over the years, Kraftwerk replaced the Minimoog with a variety of other hardware and software synths, especially on stage. The band has used the Creamware Minimax ASB and the Studio Electronics SE-1, which came out in the early 1990s.

Did Kraftwerk make their own synths? ›

However, Kraftwerk didn't just buy the synthesizers and gear used on their five most important albums and live shows off the shelf – they built and commissioned some of it themselves too.

What keyboard did Kraftwerk use? ›

Keyboard-wise, the band started with an old Hammond Organ, with Kraftwerk synths – initially a Minimoog and EMS Synthi AKS – not arriving until '73, the year when the actual 'Kling Klang' name was born.

What instruments did Kraftwerk use on computer world? ›

On an August night in 1981, the German band Kraftwerk played at the Ritz, on East Eleventh Street in Manhattan, in support of its latest album, “Computer World.” The only instruments onstage were actually machines: reel-to-reel tape recorders, synthesizers, keyboards, and a calculator.

What synth does Lady Gaga use? ›

Gaga mainly use a custom AX-Synth by Roland.

What synth did Led Zeppelin use? ›

John Paul Jones used his VCS3 on many important Led Zeppelin tracks, as well. The VCS3 was a semi-modular analog synthesizer; that is, it had patchable routing using a small matrix panel. The player would insert metal pins in this panel and connect sections of the synthesizer together.

What synth did they use on the autobahn? ›

In early 1974, like their German contemporaries, Kraftwerk purchased a Minimoog synthesizer, which they used alongside customized version of the Farfisa Rhythm Unit 10 and Vox Percussion King drum machines on the album.

Does Kraftwerk use robots? ›

Have Kraftwerk ever staged a whole concert replaced by robots or dummies? No. They did however started to have four dummies on stage during the performance of The Robots in 1981 but the four members also were on stage playing the instruments.

Who was the first rock group to use a synthesizer? ›

An early use in rock music came with the 1967 Monkees album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. In the same year, the Doors used a Moog synthesizer on their song "Strange Days".

Did Kraftwerk use the 808? ›

Kraftwerk, the inevitable grand masters of electronic music, even owned a prototype of the 808 before its official release in 1980 and used it in their studio.

What keyboard did Van Halen use? ›

The song was recorded in Eddie's home studio using largely one synth, the Oberheim OB-Xa. First released in 1980 as a follow-up to the OB-X, the OB-Xa was the pinnacle of Tom Oberheim's big polysynths. Thanks to the analogue nature of the circuitry, it was capable of absolutely massive sounds.

What style is Kraftwerk? ›

Electronic synth-pop electropop art

What Daw does Kraftwerk use? ›

"We use Reaktor live and in the studio, for voice processing and effects, as a sequencer and sampler, and for all kinds of experimental stuff. Reaktor is the most versatile software instrument there is."

Why is Kraftwerk so good? ›

With a unique vision of a completely electronic style of music, German synth-mavericks Kraftwerk changed the face of pop music forever. There aren't many groups who can truly claim to have radically shifted the parameters of pop music, but if anyone deserves that accolade, it's Kraftwerk.

Did Kraftwerk invent techno? ›

Kraftwerk's pioneering approach, using synthesisers and sequenced drum arrangements to evoke robotic or industrial rhythms, became the blueprint for Detroit musicians such as Juan Atkins, who coined the term “techno”.

What instruments are used in Kraftwerk? ›

The band released two free-form experimental rock albums, Kraftwerk (1970) and Kraftwerk 2 (1972). The albums were mostly exploratory musical improvisations played on a variety of traditional instruments including guitar, bass, drums, organ, flute, and violin.

What synths were used in Clockwork Orange? ›

The arrangement features the sounds of a Moog format modular synthesizer, multitracked like the original, and the Roland Juno-6. “This is one of the most iconic electronic film themes of all time,” notes Ampleford.

What synth does Hans Zimmer use? ›

“So, my favourite soft synth is Zebra,” Zimmer said, “and I'll tell you why. The underlying quality of the sound is not going to let me down. The code in each module is really well written.

What synths were used on Blue Monday? ›

New Order wrote "Blue Monday" in their rehearsal room in Cheetham Hill, Manchester. The synth bassline was performed on a Moog Source and sequenced on a sequencer built by the singer, Bernard Sumner. A Oberheim DMX drum machine was used for rhythm.

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