Ken MacBeth Interview

Today, we’re talking with Ken “Mad Man” Macbeth, or otherwise as known as “The King of Curry”.

One of the things I like the most about our particular digital village is that irregardless of who (or where) we may be, nearly everyone you come across is similarly passionate about their craft and just as open and friendly; of which Ken is no exception. If you ever have the opportunity to catch him online, you’d quickly find that he’s easy and also a lot of fun to talk to.

Ken, I first met you quite a few years ago back on Myspace. Do you still work daily or have you been able to peruse synths full time since then?

Designing synthesizers is now my full time job. I left the industry some 13 years ago and macbethstudiosystems has now been manufacturing products for over 12 years now!

If so, how was the transition for you? And how is your synth business doing with the current economy?

That’s an interesting question. I’ve certainly enjoyed the transition as there is far more diversity and creativity since I stopped working in the industrial electronic engineering world. No longer do I feel bracketed in just one area of service engineering. I’ve always had an art’s background so when I mention creativity- synthesizer design, for me, is a great extension. So yes, the current economy- for me, things are good. I have plenty of clients, and repeat clients for East to West so I really haven’t felt the pinch as yet. I can think of other synthesizer/modular designers who might just say the same thing.

Don’t forget- the music/entertainments business is a burgeoning one- all kinds of media/media related businesses worldwide are dreaming new ways to entertain people and sound, as well as vision are far a far more widespread commercial need/availability. More people are recording for themselves too in this digital age- so it’s wide spread. Regarding synthesizers from analogue to VA’s and to software- more and more people are getting into this- from professionals to people who just like spending time recording or making sounds.

I note that you (and many others in the synth biz) place a high degree of importance on quality. Do you find that this affects your lead time or the expansion of your business?

Interesting question. I’ll put it this way – I think that if I’m to design a high quality sonically excellent product, the whole thing must be there, and that is down to the parts and manufacture too! I have an appetite for creativity- so I don’t feel that it affects lead times or expansion. Certainly expansion is the nature of what I do product wise.

Do you feel that the fact that you place so much an emphasis on quality and that each synth is hand assembled, that it’s more than just a synth? Perhaps as a work of art or an “authentic” item?

Certainly the energy that I put into the final product reflects an artistic drive- it really is amazing coming up with ideas and putting them into practice- then I let the others take over- so all of my designs these are assembled by a trusted assembly company that reach the standards I’d have myself. It’s great when they come back….then you see and hear the ‘art’!

I recall you saying that most of your interest in electronics came from various DIY kits that were available to you back in the 70’s I believe. Do you have any formal training as an electrical engineer? If so, from where? If not, how did it evolve from these DIY kits?

I’m formally qualified in Electronic Engineering, but my love and knowledge of the synths stuff comes from the hobbyist/DIY stuff that I’ve done most of my life, I started young, about 15 when I first started burning myself!

I also read a post on a forum that stated that you once said that you prefer through hole soldering for the positive affects it has on the sound. Is this true? Do you still hand solder your synths today?

I still use thru hole parts and do believe that if you want an analogue synth to sound truly vintage, you have to use very similar parts to the machines of old…and no! It’s been some time since I hand soldered a product! Prototypes yes, but if you are outputting many modules or synths to your distributers and clients- it’s a far, far better plan to have professional assembly in place. Otherwise people would wait years for their units.

You once made it clear that you weren’t a fan of the post analog, early digital hybrid synths, such as the Korg Poly-800. I have to say that I take personal exception to that remark as the hybrids are some of my favorite synths! but I’ve always enjoyed the sound of the Moog Source, as I find it to be in line with the sound of the hybrids, but somehow, just simply more massive and wide. Do you have any feelings with regards to the source and the hybrid synths?

Thanks for taking exception to that! :) All synths have their own inherent qualities, some I’ve found better than others, some have more parameters and others have better functionality. Indeed, I had a Korg Poly 800 myself, sounded good for some things, but I found it a very limiting synth, so if I made a comment like what you’ve said there, it’s just because I found I couldn’t get enough out of it. And I do like synths!

The Source of course is a favorite of mine too, but you couldn’t really compare a source to a poly 800- their characters are poles apart. The source has been a great influence sonically to me.

Do you see yourself ever producing a “modern” synth, or that is, one that isn’t inspired by a classic synth or perhaps with a new twist on an old idea? If you could redesign a synth from the 70’s while incorporating features or technology from today’s synths, how would you do it or what modern ideas would you use?

There’s one synth from the seventies that would make a hell of a poly, the EMS Synthi! I’m keen on touch stuff.

Do you think we’ll ever hear from fuckety bucket again? Does he love Taggart as much as I do?

Ha….gOod olDE fB!….well I still get some quite absurd ideas for music/expression….and fUCkeTYBuCketY! was a good example of that……but time moves on and I’d like to work my ideas into yet another strange abstract!….and no- He’s not a fan of Taggart…..more like Columbo!

Last I spoke with you on facebook, you were trying to quit smoking. How’s that going for you now?

I smoke a lot.

Anything on the horizon that you’d like to tell us about?

I’m very excited about my new micromac products, these are the best sounding synths that I had the pleasure to design in a long while! I’m also working on a complimentary synth that features touch keys and tape echo emulations…..you’ll have to wait a wee while- but that machine will be out there soon!

Thanks for your time!

My pleasure Chris!

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