Some musicians have a hard time saying no to new (or vintage) gear, and their arsenals end up looking a lot like Rick Wakeman’s keyboard corner in Yes.
Of course, getting superb and subsonic synth sounds in 2010 doesn’t have to make you go bankrupt or make your studio look like a still life from Hoarders. Korg’s Monotron, a tiny analog ribbon controller, is miniaturization done right. Images and YouTube videos don’t quite capture the deceptively diminutive dimensions of this music box. Trust us: The Monotron is small enough to lose, but expansive enough to lose yourself in.
Like Schroeder’s pico piano in Peanuts, the Monotron requires nimbleness and ultra-skinny fingers to play standalone. The single-octave keyboard is a flat beveled plane about 4 inches across, with printed lines between the keys and white rectangles to make sharps and flats visually pop out. A stylus would make things much easier, but Korg doesn’t include one in the box.
That’s actually fine, because the Monotron’s core strength comes from its innards — specifically its analog filter, nearly identical to the one in the much bulkier, knobbier Korg MS-20 (check out this video comparison). At the turn of its plastic dials, the Monotron oscillates from smooth to screeching, and pulsing to droning, rising through a built-in speaker as a sawtooth wave (named for its sharp, up-and-down modulation).
On the back of the Monotron are jacks for headphones and better yet, an 1/8-inch stereo cable. During our tests, we routed in a Line 6 DL-4 stompbox to create heady loops with the Monotron, and plugged in a Vox tube amp as a preamp to turn a Fender Telecaster into a fuzz axe. An evening of wacky jamming ensued.
Since the Monotron came out, videos have also surfaced showing users routing in iPhones, iPads, the Korg Kaossilator and other external audio sources, revealing the broad analog capacity of the little synth. Some DIY tinkerers have even revealed some (relatively) easy soldering mods for the Monotron. We haven’t attempted surgery yet, but it looks fun. Replacing the quick-draining AAA batteries for an external power adapter?
Uhh, yes, please.