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Is The Vintage Sampler Craze Over? - B(L)og 018

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Well what is going on! You made it! Glad to have you here in the new year! So let’s call it about 2017. There was a massive spike in the interest of vintage samplers. So many things contributed to this boom that it’s actually a bit difficult to attribute it to any one thing. What I can say is that regardless of the reason I’ve never seen such a wide shift in interest from software instruments to straight archaic samplers. It seemed to be the best and worst of times looking back at it. On one hand it revived the hardware market and educated an entire generation that might have remained ignorant to the benefits of the vintage stuff. What’s not to like about seeing younger folk actively using Akai S950’s and ASR-10’s? How can you not be happy when you see that?

The Flipside

On the other hand, Let’s say things kinda got out of control. General interest turned into a frenzy. The expectations from these old machines became so great that myths were created around them. All of this made the value of vintage samplers increase to a point that we’ve never seen before. Any vintage sampler was considered a great sampler and commanded a new and improved price tag.

As one observing all of this from the sidelines you’d have to wonder how long a situation like this would last? There was no practical or logical rhyme or reason for any of it. My personal thought was that it was all part of the natural ebb and flow of musical interests. The software instrument market had matured and now artists were simply poking around to see what else was available. I likened it to the analog renaissance and the vacuum tube craze before that. I held my reservations as to whether it was all genuine or not.

The Beginning

As we rolled into 2017 I began to receive more emails than usual about vintage hardware samplers. They typically went something like this:

“Hey man! I love your work! It’s amazing! I found “XYZ” sampler on “ReBayEggsList” for $1.2 Jillion Million dollars. Should I buy it? I know you’re going to say “No” but I’m still gonna ask because I want you to tell me yes (so I can hold you responsible for my decision…..did I type that out loud? I hope not). Anyway you seem to know a bit about this stuff. I think a hardware sampler is the one thing that’s missing from my music. I need that special old-school flavour. You know what I mean Bro?
P.S Do you mind if I send you a few links to some other samplers that I’m looking at? Where are you located? We should have a jam session sometime!

After receiving a few of these; That’s when I noticed this whole thing really had nothing to do with the samplers themselves but a race to own the rarest and barest samplers on Earth. Why? It turns out that simply owning an unattainable instrument is a 1to1 substitutes for skill and practice. Who would have thought?

That wasn’t everyone of course. The cream always rises to the top and there are some amazing young artists who’ve become masters of their craft using nothing but a retro MPC.

The MPC Series samplers are arguably the most popular drum sampler of all time.

What Happened Next?

Now with that backdrop in place we moved into early 2019. That’s when I think the vintage sampler craze hit its apex. Hardware samplers were in everyone’s hands. Music was being made and the used gear market was definitely in a state of hyper-inflation. Nevertheless, those who acted quickly were already sitting pretty with their desired vintage sampler.

For awhile it seemed great! The choices made by the mass exodus of ex-software sampler users even influenced the big companies out there. Slowly but surely small new hardware samplers began to hit the scene with updated features and a loving nod to the vintage features of old. This was the beginning of the end. The learning curve and clear tediousness of old samplers began to wear away at the drunkenness of vintage sampler nostalgia that seemed impenetrable only a few years earlier. Add to that the unforeseen repair and maintenance costs of these archaic sampling artifacts and you’ve got fertile soil ready for seeds of buyers’ remorse.

If I were a contemporary musical instrument maker and had to sit by and watch potential customers rush to buy outdated versions of my own previous creations; I’d be pissed! And proud! I’d want to get back in the game and that’s exactly what’s happening now.

Listen to Episode 83 - The SP1200 Discussion - The Samplers Podcast Probably the biggest catalyst into the vintage sampler renaissance is the E-mu SP1200.

So what’s the overall observation and take away here? The relationship between artists and instrument maker is one that must remain active and engaging at all times. When that relationship is neglected or perhaps even taken for granted; the wandering eye of the musician will look elsewhere. The redundancy of offerings in 2015-2017 led to the dissatisfaction and eventual abandonment of software by 2018. Is this a bad thing though? I certainly don’t think so. Older gear let’s us understand the gear we use today in greater depth. And let’s say instrument makers never let up with new gear. We’ve experienced that before. It’s pretty overwhelming and ironically it leads to dissatisfaction anyway. So ebbs and flows are necessary. Everything can’t be controlled in such a restrictive manner. There has to be room for explorations, questions and discoveries.

It’s now 2022 and we’re on the brink of a new frontier. What it will be? I have no idea. But what is clear to see is that the dust of the vintage sampler craze has settled and reality has set in. That reality is that vintage gear is wicked but it cannot improve your natural ability unless you want to. It isn’t better or worse than software or any other modern equivalent, it’s just another option that might suit you just as much as it may not. Instrument makers need breaks to research and develop new products. What happens in-between that downtime can’t be controlled; but it can and ought to be observed. And when it’s all said and done we'll all live and learn from the entire experience. But just for the sake of inquiry; Could you imagine a world where vintage samplers were completely forgotten? Neither can I.

Thanks for reading!


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