Ensoniq ESQ-1 programming tips

Although Transoniq Hacker lays out some cool programming tips, I have discovered some new techniques that I have not seen before to make my ESQ-1 sing. I have also been underwhelmed with programs from the 80’s. people had a different aesthetic then, and some sounds aren’t interesting enough for me.

This article will mix both programming tips in general and ESQ-1 specific tips, so it should be useful to almost anyone.

Standardize your programs:

Standardize the modulations and realtime controls as best as you can. I modded my ESQ-1 to have a knob in place of the “pedal”. It always controls filter cutoff. The mod wheel is vibrato, except for instruments that don’t have vibrato, then it is a timbre modifier. External control is often pan, since I split percussion to the left or right output for live independent processing. I use aftertouch for timbre modification like sync effects (although the ESQ-1 doesn’t have aftertouch, I “play” it in using my Ableton Max4Live patch which transmits aftertouch.) You get the point…

Use a saw LFO as an envelope:

By using a slow envelope and setting it to always re-trigger, you can get another envelope. This is useful on percussive sounds with no sustain to give an additional pitch or volume envelope.

Use slow envelopes as a modulation offset source

The LFO, when set to a very slow, re-triggered square wave can act like a value shifting modulation source. Think of this like a +63 value that holds for several seconds. You can use this on the oscillator to offset the pitch beyond the standard octave range. You can assign it to any source where you want “more”. In addition, you can slowly swell the modulation in. The LFO delay allows you to set the speed which it changes between the beginning and end intensities. I use this technique when I want very odd sounding oscillators. Try using noise as OSC2 and set it to sync to OSC1. Then drop the pitch very low and you can get some oddly shaped oscillators!

Use a modulation source twice to the same destination:

Transoniq mentioned this, but by assigning the same modulation source to both modifications slots you can get a more extreme effect. This works well for envelopes controlling pitch or filter.

Use LFO on pan:

This is too cool. The ESQ-1 can modulate pan per-voice so your sounds each move through the stereo field independently. Very nice with delay and reverb added.

Use KBD2 for scaling percussion instruments oscillators;

Using KBD2 as a modulator of oscillator pitch with a -24 to -36 scaling to work well to minimize the pitch change up and down the keyboard. A setting of -63 negates any pitch tracking of the keyboard. You can then use the scaling on envelopes to change how the different ends of the keyboard respond. As an added bonus, when you set your pitch wheel range to 12 (one octave), you can play a note one octave higher (while using the pitch bend wheel all the way down) to get a slight shorter envelope for a note with the same original pitch. When playing a low note and pitching it back up you can get the same pitch with a longer envelope. I use this for percussion instruments (think open and closed hats) so my high notes are quick closed hats and my low notes are longer open sounding hats. Used in mono mode you can get voice “choking” so only one of the hats can sound at a time, like real hi-hats.

Assign your external midi CC to pan for “mono” instruments. 

I use this for percussion instruments so I can pan the low frequency instruments to one side and the high frequency instruments to the other. Then externally I use selective EQ to help tonally shape the instruments as though I had two separate outputs. Each output is in mono, but this isn’t typically an issue with percussion.

Layer mono sounds with themselves

When making mono synths I often use a noise LFO to lightly randomize pitch of one or more oscillator and/or filter and pan. By layering a synth with itself it can create a 6 oscillator unison patch, but the LFO will make both patches slightly different. This works best with performance patches rather than patches you are editing, since editing a patch will only affect the one “top” layer, not the patch it is layered with. (the exception to this is the Midi CC control which will affect both patches)

Mod your ESQ-1 for realtime filter sweeps

Check out my post about adding a potentiometer to control the CV/ pedal input. 

Use the Noise LFO for oscillator “slop”. 

This works well when the ESQ-1’s oscillators just seems too static. If you set it to modulate the pitch with a setting of about 1-2 and have the LFO level also very low. This works well when layering two identical sounds.

Layer in some other sounds to the ESQ-1

I find the ESQ-1 very flexible for percussion sounds, but it’s envelope attack is a little slow. When I want snappy percussion, I just layer the sound with a click sample, then mix it to taste.

Go multi-timbral

When I do program percussion on the ESQ-1, I use an empty sequence to save my setup to have each of the 8 tracks respond to 8 different midi channels. I can then send drum sequences to the ESQ-1.

Make use of that Midi CC

I have an Ableton drum rack setup so that 8 different drum pads send out to 8 different midi channels on the ESQ-1. Then I have a Max4Live patch which allows me to control the Volume, Aftertouch, Pedal, External Control CC, CC #1, Velocity, etc. I also use the next technique to send multiple pads to different “notes” of the keyboard to get variations of the percussion patch, either open and closed hats, or different pitched toms, etc.

Use different pitches and the envelope Key-Tracking to vary percussion

If you program percussion on the ESQ-1, you can use the ENV4 key-tracking to make lower notes hold longer. If your oscillator’s pitch is modified by the key-tracking, you can get a tone which does not change up and down the keyboard. Now “low” notes last long, and “high” notes are quick. This allows me to create a closed and open hi-hat patch with a single patch. All I need to do is send different midi notes to the same midi channel on the ESQ-1 and I am set.

I hope this gives you some insight into the ESQ-1’s possibilties.



One thought on “Ensoniq ESQ-1 programming tips

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for your work on the dss-1
    It might be interesting to check the cm-midi from kissbox. They supply hard and software to communicatie with the dss-1 within vst plug in.

    Greetings kevin

    Verstuurd vanaf mijn iPhone

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