Vintage: Yamaha SY-1

Vintage: Yamaha SY-1

The Yamaha SY-1 was Yamaha’s first analog synthesizer. It was produced from 1974 to 1979. The SY-1 has 37 keys which are touch sensitive and can only be played monophonic. It has 28 builtin presets that are selected using the colored switches. The presets can not be combined but can be edited using the low pass filter and analog VCA envelope to the left of the keyboard. Other control switches include portamento, vibrato, and transposition. The keyboard is touch sensitive which can be used to modulate the VCO, VCA or VCF for vibrato, wah-wah or volume effects.

I bought a second hand Yamaha SY-1 back in 1982. Even though the architecture is very basic it could still produce some very raw and expressive analog sounds. The touch sensitive keys made this a very expressive instrument. I loved playing the SY-1 and regret I sold it.


There are no builtin speaker, instead it was designed to be used with either an organ or amplifier system – from the user manual:

You can use your SY-1 Synthesizer connected either to an electronic organ, such as the Yamaha Electone, or with almost any amplifier system. There are two output pin jacks and one phone type output jack to facilitate inter-connections. These jacks, located on the rear panel…

The SY-1 also had a connector that allowed the volume to be controlled by the connected organ. An optional foot pedal could be connected to control timbre (the VCF) or volume and could produce interesting effects like wah-wah.

The SY-1 lacks MIDI, CV and Gate connections (MIDI was not invented when the SY-1 was produced) so it couldn’t be integrated with other instruments, only the above mentioned connections for.

The controls

To the left of the keys are 5 rotaries:

  • Tune
  • Touch Sensitivity Control
  • Portamento Control
  • Vibrato Speed
  • Vibrato Depth

Below the rotaries are 7 sliders that control:

  • Attack Bend Controls
  • Pulse Width Control
  • Filter Controls: Cutoff Frequency and Resonance (low-pass filter)

The switches above the keyboard are from left to right:

  • Two white switches for controlling Attack Bend: Pitch and Tone
  • Five white switches for enabling Portamento, Pulse Width, Vibrato, Envelope, Filter
  • The 14 colored switches are used for choosing one of the 28 builtin preset sounds.
  • The black switch to right of the colored switches togles between two preset “banks”
  • Four white keys are for Transposition: 1 octave down/Normal/1 octave up/2 octave up
  • Three white switches for selecting if touch control should control Vibrato Depth, Wah-Wah or Volume

To the far right is the volume control.

Related gear

Yamaha also produced the CSY-1 organ, which had the SY-1 synthesizer builtin. The CSY-1 organ also had a builtin Leslie rotary speaker, which made the SY-1 sound even better.

The SY-1 was introduced in 1974 – only one year later the Yamaha SY-2 arrived. Instead of the wood panels this used a Tolex covering and also had a removable cover, which made it well suited for taking it on tour.
The SY-2 introduced new sliders for high-pass filter and also added new sliders for Decay and Release thereby giving it full ADSR envelope control.