Pt 1: Vintage Synth Repair: An OB•12 and The Hero's Journey
Updated: May 15, 2022
Part 1 of 3
Many years ago I sold some keyboards to woo a woman I loved and who (thankfully) eventually married me. That doesn't mean, however, that I completely forgot about some of the things that I had sold.
This is the story of my convoluted path to replacing one of them....
In 2004, I shed a lot of keyboards and equipment, including a Roland JD800, Korg Mono/Poly and Polysix, Ensoniq Fizmo, Viscount/Oberheim OB•12, Quasimidi Raven, Roland TR8, and various mixers and miscellaneous rack modules. The Korg and Roland equipment I had purchased new many years before. I had been lugging them around on multiple moves for almost 20 years.
It was a needed, and welcome purge. But there were two keyboards in that group that I soon regretted selling: The Fizmo and the OB•12. I ended up buying another Fizmo a few years later. (In fact, I sold that one last year, though this time with no regrets.) The OB12 however ... that one became really hard to find.
For those unfamiliar with it: The Oberheim OB•12 is a Virtual Analog synthesizer that was in production between 2000 and 2005. It was a weird, one-off project designed and realized by the Italian musical instrument manufacturer Viscount. (Viscount used the Oberheim brand name under license from Gibson, which bought Oberheim rights after the original company went out of business in 1987.) As a VA it was fair to middling, and the factory patches were not impressive. The software OS was never really "finished" either. (The latest version is something like v1.52 and there are a few well documented bugs in it.) Unsurprisingly, the OB•12 didn't do that well and by 2005-2006 were being blown out for a fraction of list price.
But, it appealed to me because of some of its quirks. (If you stop trying to make it sound like a Juno or Jupiter, you can get some really interesting and unique textures out of the keyboard.) I think it was some time in 2001 when I purchased a used OB•12 in like-new condition. I was able to pick it up fairly cheap as I recall; the owner just wanted to get rid of it.
Fast forward to 2004: I had just moved cross country with this load of gear that felt more like deadweight, VSTs were the "way of the future," and, as I mentioned, I wanted the cash for more important things. So I sold the OB•12 in the first of my now periodic "Great Equipment Purges."
Unfortunately, during the year or two it took me to figure out that I wanted it back, the price of used OB•12s - even for a unit in bad shape - had more than doubled. Good units sold quickly, but the price was always significantly higher than what I wanted to pay. I couldn't rationalize spending that much to acquire it again, so I just kept an eye out and waited...
Then one day in February of 2020, I ran across an interesting OB•12 listing on eBay. The price ($800) was right, it looked pristine, the seller seemed legit. I had seen how quickly good units sold, so right then and there - standing on a ski slope watching my kids take lessons - I decided to go for it. Armed with the magic of a cellphone and PayPal: Boom. Done.
It arrived in a hard case a week later. I opened it up and it looked BRAND NEW. It was absolutely flawless physically. (I'm not overly concerned about that type of thing, but I was not going to complain!) Excited, I plugged it in.
The LEDs flashed once......and that was it. The screen was blank. It made no noise. It wasn't recognized by my midi interface. It was dead as a doornail.
For the first time in 20 years of buying and selling equipment on eBay, I had been scammed!