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The 40 greatest synth sounds of all time, No 31: Prince - 1999

Perhaps the only song ever to have its video played for 24 hours straight, courtesy of a VH1 stunt to welcome in its namesake year, 1999 was originally released as a single in 1982. 

Prince 1999 synth sound

(Image credit: Future)

Year: 1982
Original Synth: Oberheim Four Voice
CM Plugin: ThornCM

The song made heavy use of the many synthesizers and drum machines installed at Prince’s Paisley Park studio. It’s quite likely that the sound was actually an Oberheim preset as, according to longtime collaborator Lisa Coleman, Prince had a tendency to “just use a preset, and brighten the f**k out of it!”. 

The introduction lead part has a brassy, shiny texture to it, and it would have been played using an Oberheim Four Voice keyboard. 

Now, let’s make our own version of this iconic tone, once again using the excellent ThornCM plugin, included free with every issue of Computer Music.

Prince 1999 synth sound

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Start by setting Osc 1 to the Organ 01 waveform. Pitch the osc up by an octave, giving our patch a sharp tone. Turn on Osc 2 and select the Pulse Sweep waveform. This adds thickness and depth. Reducing the Amp Sustain to 45%, and Release to 20% tightens the sound’s envelope up.

Prince 1999 synth sound

(Image credit: Future)

Step 2: Modulate the pulse width of both oscs using an LFO, for subtle movement. Set the FX Type of both oscs to Pulse-Width Modulation, then assign LFO1 to both dials. Change LFO Speed to ¼ notes, so the sound is less warbly. Set Filter Mode to CleanLP, Cutoff around 9kHz.

Prince 1999 synth sound

(Image credit: Future)

Step 3: Step 3: Reduce Master Vol to 20%. Add reverb, increase Filter Res to 40%, then push Drive to 6dB to make up lost gain. Add Reverb at 10%. Push reverb Treble control to 100% to disable high freq damping, for a brighter sound. Reduce Speed to a slow 8/1, then set the Modulation to 60%.

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