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Herbie Hancock’s Electronic Instrument Glossary is pleased to provide fans, musicians, and students around the world with an excellent resource: the complete Electronic Instrument Glossary which appeared in the liner notes of the Complete Columbia Albums Box Set (2013). In this extensively resourced feature, you can discover the exact models of the instruments which Herbie played on many of his iconic, classic albums.


Synthesizers are electronic instruments used to both replicate and affect acoustic sounds, and create an audio landscape which does not exist outside the realm of electronics. Generally in the shape of a keyboard, the synthesizer is the easiest electronic instrument to transition to from a piano; it became the cornerstone of Herbie’s electronic experimentation and expansion.

Synthesis – A combination of two or more entities that together form something new.

Analog Synthesizer – A synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog computer techniques to generate sound electronically. Analog technology translates audio information into electronic pulses and sends the pulses to another device which translates them back into the original sound. The only drawback to this technology is that an analog signal has a limit to how much data it can transfer at one time.

Digital Synthesizer – A synthesizer that uses digital signal processing techniques to make musical sounds. Digital technology translates audio information into binary code, a series of “1”s and “0”s, and sends this information to the other end where a device translates that code back into the original sound. Digital technology allows for the ability to send much more information in the same space when compared to analog.

Monophonic – One note or single musical line occurring at a time. On a monophonic synthesizer only one key on the instrument may be played at a time.

Polyphonic – Musical texture is formed by the interweaving of several musical lines at once. On a polyphonic synthesizer several keys may be played at the same time.

Sampler – A sampler is an electronic musical instrument which is similar to a synthesizer but instead of generating sounds it uses sounds that are loaded or recorded by the user. Once a sample is stored, the user can play back that sound using a keyboard, sequencer, or some other form of trigger. Being able to combine a sampled sound with the features offered by a synthesizer offers the musician full creative control.

Sequencer – An application or a device designed to play back musical notation. Early sequencers were known as “step sequencers” and would play back a pattern of notes in a rigid way without capturing the rhythms and expressiveness of the player. The modern sequencer is able to play back music exactly the way the musician plays it and capture the actual performance as is. A modern sequencer could also be used as a controller for multiple synthesizers so the musician does not need a separate keyboard controller for each one. Another term for a modern sequencer is “digital audio workstation.”

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) – A protocol that enables electronic musical instruments to communicate, control, and synchronize with each other. MIDI does not transmit audio signals but rather the event messages such as pitch, intensity, volume, and tempo. This system allows instruments such as synthesizers, drum machines, computers, and samplers to exchange system data.

ROM (Read Only Memory) – A type of storage media used in computers and other electronic devices. The data in ROM cannot be modified easily and is used to hold information that does not need to be changed or updated. Some synthesizers did not have great memory capabilities built into them early on, and a ROM cartridge was a great way to include more sounds and could be inserted into the synthesizer just like a game cartridge would be inserted into the early video game systems.

alphaSyntauri – A digital, polyphonic synthesizer released in 1980. It was the first electronic instrument to be based off a home computer and also resembled one. Herbie used this instrument on the 1983 album Future Shock for the tune “Rough.”

ARP 2600 – This analog, monophonic, patch-cable synthesizer was first released in the early 1970s and had the look of an old telephone patch board. This instrument was used on the 1973 album Sextant for the tune “Rain Dance.”

ARP Keyboard Model 3604 – Just as you would use your keyboard to operate your home computer, the ARP keyboard serves as the controller for the ARP 2600.

ARP Odyssey – ARP released this analog, duo-phonic, compact studio version of the 2600 which featured the synthesizer and keyboard together as one piece of equipment. Herbie played this instrument on his album Head Hunters in 1973.

ARP PE-IV String Ensemble – A polyphonic synthesizer designed as a multi-orchestral machine to reproduce the experience of listening to a full string orchestra. Hancock played this on his album Dedication in 1974.

ARP Soloist – ARP’s monophonic analog synthesizer featuring 30 preset sounds and designed to sit on top and accompany an organ. This instrument can be heard on several of Herbie’s albums including Head Hunters and Thrust.

E-MU 4060 Digital Keyboard – Released in 1976, this polyphonic keyboard controller included the ability to sample sounds and also featured a built-in sequencer. It could serve as a controller because of its ability to act as a trigger for other synthesizers if connected to them. Herbie used this instrument on his 1984 album Sound-System.

E-MU Polyphonic Keyboard – A digital polyphonic synthesizer with built-in sequencer and sampling capabilities first developed by E-MU Systems in the early 1970s. This instrument was used by Herbie on his 1978 album Sunlight, among many others.

Fairlight CMI – This digital sampling synthesizer, released in 1979, was the first digital sampler of its kind and offered complete synthesis and editing of sampled sounds. Herbie used this on the tune “Rockit” for the album Future Shock in 1983.

Fairlight Series II – Fairlight’s second version of the CMI included MIDI and other new technology as it was developed in the early 1980s.

Fairlight Series III – Fairlight’s third and final version of the CMI featured increased memory and double the polyphony of its earlier versions.

Kurzweil K-250 – First released in 1984, this sampler synthesizer was able to produce sound derived from sampled sounds without the need of a disk drive. It featured both acoustic and ROM sounds built in with twelve-voice polyphony. Herbie used this instrument on his album Perfect Machine in 1988.

Maestro Universal Synthesizer System – This analog synthesizer was made for use with the guitar. It serves the instrument as an effects pedal would. It also works with the Maestro Sample and Hold Unit which then can sustain the desired effect until the next sound is triggered. Wah Wah Watson used these instruments on the 1975 album Man-Child.

Memorymoog – This polyphonic synthesizer was first made in 1982 and offered greater preset storage capacity and better sound than its competitors. This instrument was used by Herbie on the tune “Future Shock” for the album of the same name.

Micromoog – A monophonic analog synthesizer first made in the mid-1970s offered musicians a smaller more affordable synthesizer than what was otherwise available. It can be heard on the 1978 album Directstep.

Minimoog – First released in 1970, this monophonic analog synthesizer offered musicians a synthesizer they could easily take on tour for live performance because of its size and durability. This instrument was also known for its ability to produce rich bass sounds and was often used as the ‘Minimoog Bass.’ You can hear it in the famous bass line that opens “Chameleon” (Head Hunters).

Moog Source – A monophonic analog synthesizer that was the first synthesizer to offer patch memory storage. Herbie used this instrument on his 1982 album Lite Me Up.

Multimoog – A monophonic analog synthesizer first made in 1978 and designed to be an updated version of the Micromoog and cheaper than the Minimoog. This instrument was used by Webster Lewis on the album Directstep.

Oberheim Eight Voice – This analog polyphonic synthesizer was first released in the late 1970s and featured eight monophonic synthesizers wired together into one unit. Herbie used this instrument on his 1980 album Monster.

Oberheim Matrix 12 – Released in 1984, this polyphonic analog synthesizer is known for producing one of the best sounds available. It has an ability to produce an almost limitless variety of sounds. This was used on Herbie’s 1988 album Perfect Machine.

Polymoog – This fully polyphonic analog synthesizer was released in 1975 and featured eight preset sounds, and had the ability to edit those sounds in a variety of ways. Herbie used this instrument on his 1978 album Sunlight.

Prophet 5 – First made in 1978, this was one of the first fully programmable polyphonic analog synthesizers. It featured patch memory storage, which allowed it to save every knob setting for storing and recalling preferred sounds. Herbie used this on his 1981 album Magic Windows, among many others.

Prophet Pro-One – Produced in the early 1980s, this monophonic analog synthesizer was a more compact and cheaper version of the Prohpet 5. Michael Beinhorn used this instrument on the album Future Shock in 1983.

Rhodes Chroma – A rare polyphonic analog synthesizer released in 1982 which featured the ability to connect to a personal computer before MIDI had been invented. This was first used by Herbie on the album Future Shock in 1983 and several more albums after it.

Roland Jupiter 8 – Roland’s first professional analog polyphonic synthesizer made in the early 1980s. It featured eight-voice polyphony and easy programming. Herbie used this on his 1982 album Lite Me Up.

Roland MKS-80 Super Jupiter – Made in 1984, this synthesizer is a refined Jupiter 8 in a standalone module. It had no keyboard connected to it, and any instrument run through this synthesizer was done so using external cables. It was used by Herbie on his 1988 album Perfect Machine.

Sennheiser Vocoder VSM201 – This synthesizer was designed specifically to be used with the voice via a microphone. It has the look of a standard PA unit with the ability to use controls normally found on a keyboard synthesizer with the human voice to alter the sound. Herbie first used the Vocoder for his vocals on his 1978 Sunlight album.

Synclavier Digital – First made in 1979, this digital polyphonic sampling synthesizer was known as the top of the line and could cost as much as $200,000. It featured a full-size weighted keyboard with sixty-four note polyphony. Herbie first used this instrument on his 1982 album Lite Me Up.

Yamaha CE-20 – A digital synthesizer released in 1982 that featured fourteen preset monophonic sounds and six preset polyphonic sounds. This was used by Herbie on the tune “Earth Beat” for his 1983 album Future Shock.

Yamaha CP-30 – This electronic piano/synthesizer offers a 76-key keyboard and offers over 250 preset sounds to work with. You can hear this instrument being used on Hancock’s 1978 album Sunlight.

Yamaha CS-40 – Released in the late 1970s, this analog synthesizer could be played as a two-note duo-phonic instrument or be used in ‘unison’ mode which allowed for monophonic use. Webster Lewis used this instrument on the 1979 album Kimiko Kasai With Herbie Hancock: Butterfly.

Yamaha CS-80 – A polyphonic analog synthesizer released in 1977 that featured eight-voice polyphony and a basic memory system to remember the musician’s settings for each sound. Herbie used this instrument on his 1978 album Directstep.

Yamaha DX-7 – First made in 1983, this was the first commercially successful polyphonic digital synthesizer and was known for having greater clarity and quality of sound than the analog versions that came before it. This instrument was first used by Herbie on his 1984 album Sound-System.

Yamaha DZ7llFD – This updated version of the DX-7 held 64 voices in internal memory and another 64 voices in a RAM/ROM cartridge that could be accessed. In dual mode, one could layer these voices in different combinations and create a variety of sounds not available on the standard DX-7. This was used by Herbie on his 1988 album Perfect Machine.

Yamaha DX-1 Digital – This polyphonic digital synthesizer was the equivalent of two DX-7s put together and was the biggest and most expensive synthesizer in the DX line. Herbie used this on his 1984 album Herbie Hancock And Foday Musa Suso: Village Life.

Yamaha GS-1 – Yamaha’s first digital polyphonic synthesizer, released in 1981, included features such as velocity sensitivity and three band equalizer. This was used by Herbie on the tune “Earth Beat” for his 1983 album Future Shock.

Yamaha TX-816 – A digital synthesizer that takes its form as a rack unit simulates having eight DX-7s in one. This allows a musician to store and carry as many sounds as they like without needing several instruments to create them. It also features eight audio outputs and is compatible with all other DX synthesizers. Herbie used this on his 1988 album Perfect Machine.

Electric Pianos

An electric piano produces sound mechanically, which is then turned into electronic signals using a pickup. Due to the mechanical aspect, the electric piano is an electro-mechanical instrument, unlike a synthesizer which is an electric instrument. The original sound is produced by pressing a key, which activates a hammer and then strikes a string, metal reed, or tuning fork, depending on the model. That sound is then amplified. The Wurlitzer and Rhodes electric pianos are the most popular examples. Herbie was first introduced to the instrument by Miles Davis and continued to use it on many of his own albums, often as his primary soloing instrument. He used it on some 17 albums in this boxed set during the years 1973-1981.

Yamaha Electric Grand Piano – First produced in the 1970s, the sound of these pianos is produced using hammer and strings in much the same manner as a piano with the addition of pickups under the strings (like the technology used to amplify a guitar). Herbie used this instrument on his 1976 album V.S.O.P.

Fender Rhodes Electric Piano – This electro-mechanical piano uses a hammer striking a tuning fork to create its unique sound. Fender released several models of the Rhodes piano, which ranged from having 61-73 keys. This instrument was used by Herbie on the 1973 album Sextant.

Rhodes 88 Suitcase Piano – An 88-key Fender Rhodes Electric Piano with updates, including plastic hammers to reduce its weight, built-in 100W stereo amplifier and ¼” outputs, allowing this instrument to be plugged directly into a mixing console. Herbie played the Suitcase Piano on his 1980 album Monster.

Hohner D6 Clavinet – Released in the 1970s, this amplified clavichord produced its sound using hammer striking strings. The clavichord is a stringed keyboard instrument used as early in history as the Middle Ages. Herbie used this instrument on his 1973 album Sextant.

Drum Machines/Drum Pads

An electronic musical instrument designed to imitate the sound of drums and other percussion instruments. Most drum machines are sequencers that combine some features of a synthesizer to fully control the desired percussion sounds. A drum machine can look like anything from an electronic drum set used with sticks to a small square unit with pads or knobs to be controlled by hand. Herbie and his band mates used this instrument on various albums to create more rhythmic texture in the music without another drummer.

Linn LM-1 – This was the first drum machine to use digital samples of real drums and also had the ability to be programmed. This was used by Herbie on his 1980 album Monster.

Linn Drum – This drum machine released in the early 1980s featured 15 drum sounds sampled from real drums and a sequencer. It was the successor to the LM-1. Herbie used this instrument on his 1981 album Magic Windows.

Oberheim DMX – A programmable, digital drum machine released in 1981 that featured 24 individual drum sounds and eight-sound polyphony. Michael Beinhorn used this instrument on the 1983 album Future Shock.

Roland CR-78 – A drum machine released in 1978 featuring analog sounds with digital controls and 34 preset rhythms. This instrument was used by Herbie on his 1980 album Monster.

Synare Drum – The name Synare stands for synthetic snare. This drum pad allowed the user to drum rhythms onto it and then adjust the sound and tempo of those rhythms using knobs. Michael Beinhorn plays this instrument on the tune “Rockit” for the 1983 album Future Shock.

Yamaha RX11 Digital Drum Machine – Released in the early 1980s, this programmable drum machine featured 29 real drum samples and 12 audio outputs. Herbie used this instrument on his 1984 album Herbie Hancock And Foday Musa Suso: Village Life.


The following are instruments and electronic devices that do not fit into the other categories and were used by Herbie and his band mates.

Clavitar – Released in 1978, this keytar combines the keyboard and guitar into one unique instrument. The instrument is played like a keyboard but shaped like a guitar and straps around the neck allowing the keyboard player to roam freely on stage. Herbie plays the Clavitar on his 1980 album Monster.

Phase Shifter – This is an effects unit that can alter sound using certain techniques to change the sound waves. While these effects units were originally large boxes with knobs and buttons, today they are most often small pedals used by guitar players. Herbie used the Country Man Phase Shifter on his 1976 album V.S.O.P.

Lyricon – This is an electronic wind instrument resembling the look of a soprano saxophone or an alto clarinet. The instrument has sensors on the mouth piece which are able to recognize lip pressure and wind pressure, as well as buttons to transpose the instrument to a different key and control the octave range. Bennie Maupin plays the Lyricon on the 1976 album Secrets.

Maestro Echoplex – A tape delay effect first released in the early 1960s. This device allows a guitar or keyboard player to record themselves and play back that recording in real time, and then play another line on top of the recorded line. This allows one player to create layers of music and ideas. Herbie used this device on his 1973 album Sextant.

Mellotron – This electro-mechanical polyphonic keyboard, released in the 1960s, is in a class all its own. This instrument uses the technology of a sampler and a piano and looks like an organ. A key pressed causes this instrument to read a piece of magnetic audio tape and play back a preset sample lasting eight seconds. This instrument is played by Herbie on the tune “Hidden Shadows” for the 1973 album Sextant.

Shure Reverberation Mixer – This is a mixer you would see with any standard PA system. It allows for multiple instruments or microphones to be plugged into the unit, and the ability to control reverb, volume and more in the sound produced. Herbie used this mixer on his 1974 album Dedication.

Steiner EVI – An electronic valve trumpet using a similar concept to the Lyricon in that the mouth piece could measure the amount of air pressure being used, and a button near the thumb controlled the octave. This instrument was played by Herbie on his 1980 album Monster.

Voice Bag – The voice bag or talk box is a device that makes a synthesizer talk. The musician sends a note from their instrument into the voice bag. The voice bag then sends that same note through a plastic tube into the musician’s mouth. Using their mouth, throat, and larynx, the musician shapes that sound to make the sound talk. This instrument was used by Wah Wah Watson on the 1975 album Man-Child.

WLM Organ – These electric organs were first produced in the early 1970s in Finland. The sound produced by these organs is similar to a Hammond, but is cleaner. Herbie plays this organ on his 1980 album Monster.

– 2013 Sony Box Set Liner Notes