Know Sound Design: The Paisley Farfisa

Re-creating Prince's Oberheim organ sound
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From his innovative approach to the Linn LM-1 to his extensive collection of analog synths, Prince’s production style was a huge influence for me. In fact, every preset collection I’ve ever created for manufacturers included a reworking of the organ sound from “Let’s Go Crazy”—originally a modified version of the Oberheim OB-8 Farfisa preset.

To honor this amazing artist, I’ve deconstructed that Oberheim patch using Reason’s Subtractor soft synth. It’s fairly straightforward, but to nail the sound there are a few details worth considering.

Step 1: The core sound of the patch is based on two sawtooth oscillators, set two octaves apart. Once that is set up, a crucial detail lies in the mix of the oscillators. Rather than a simple 50/50 balance, it is more accurate to do a 40/60 blend with 60 percent going to the upper sawtooth.

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Step 2: The filter and amplifier envelope settings are straightforward, with the cutoff of the lowpass filter wide open and the amp envelope set up like a simple organ gate: Instant attack, full sustain level and very quick release.

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Step 3: Prince’s approach to LFO vibrato was one of the hallmarks of his early records. Like many funk artists, he would use the mod wheel to accent specific chords with his trademark wobble. While this routing was standard on early polyphonic synths, there are far more options today, and Subtractor’s default mod-wheel routing is to the filter. So start with a triangle wave LFO applied to oscillator pitch, then set the mod wheel to control LFO depth. With this adjustment—and intelligent use of the mod wheel—this organ sound can also be used to play tracks from 1999 such as “Lady Cab Driver” and “Automatic” (which, based on their release dates, more likely used the Oberheim OB-Xa).

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Step 4: To get this extremely bright patch to sit better in a mix, add a small amount of room (not hall) reverb with a short decay to the sound. Adjust the wet/dry balance to taste when mixing.

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