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The third (and final) showing for our Gary. Cars was a UK number one single for Numan in 1979. But that evocative lead sound that plays the long sustained notes? It’s the ‘Strings’ preset from a Polymoog.
The Polymoog was Moog’s first polyphonic synth; Gary had already brought the sound of the Minimoog to the top of the charts with his previous single Are ‘Friends’ Electric?. Time to air its younger, less-celebrated polyphonic sister for Cars, creating one of the most evocative synth parts we’ve ever heard.
This simple sound should be very easy to recreate, but there’s a problem. The original Polymoog was designed using the ‘divide down’ circuitry that was incorporated into home organs of the time, and exhibits the same drawbacks. Without getting too technical, this divide down technology is an electronic shortcut that gave home organs lots of polyphony but unfortunately has a thin ‘weedy’ sound, especially when compared to traditional analogue synths.
Modern soft synths avoid sounding weedy by design, so to get that thin Polymoog sound we’ll have to be clever. Use two sawtooth oscillators set to the same pitch but lightly detuned (5-10 cents between them). Use an attack envelope of around 50ms, and release of around 300ms to adjust the volume of the sound. Set the cutoff of your low-pass filter so the sound is bright but not too bright, with no resonance. To approximate the weediness of a Polymoog, gently filter out the lower frequencies in the sound with a high-pass filter - a 6dB/octave slope would be best at around 200Hz.
The finishing touch is gentle but fast (4Hz) frequency modulation to introduce vibrato to the sound. Don’t forget to add reverb too!