Crafting the Devo “Big Mess” Synth Lead


Creating the iconic synth lead from “Big Mess” by Devo can be an exciting venture for any synth enthusiast. The process involves a few specific steps that transform a plain sound wave into a distinctive audio signature that is immediately recognizable. Here’s how you can recreate this classic sound.

Starting with the Basics: The Saw Waveform

Begin with the most fundamental element—the saw waveform. We’ll be changing this waveform in a bit, but it’s a great universal starting point for any patch.

Modulating the Sound: LFO and Cutoff

Once you have your plain saw waveform, the next step involves modulation. Use a Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO) to modulate the cutoff frequency of the sound. Start by switching your LFO waveform to saw and increase the speed to introduce that repeating-note effect. Carefully adjust the cutoff frequency and the LFO amount so that the modulation starts at the brightest point and only brings it down about halfway through the frequency range.

Changing the Waveform: Medium Pulse

After getting the modulation right, switch the waveform from a saw to a medium pulse wave. This change adds a somewhat hollower and more videogame-like character to the sound.

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The Smearing Effect: Doubling and Detuning

To give the sound that smeared, thick quality, you’ll need to double it and apply a slight detune. This moves the sound away from a solid stagnant timbre, and introduces a soft-textured pulsation.

Adding Depth: The Sub Oscillator

Finally, to add some weight to the sound, bring in a sub oscillator set to a square wave. This underpinning layer enriches the synth lead, providing a solid bottom end that will carry the lead and give it a full-bodied presence.

By following these steps, you can create a synth lead that not only emulates the Devo “Big Mess” sound but also gives you a foundation on which to build your own unique synth sounds. Experimentation is key, and as you become more comfortable with these techniques, you can start tweaking and adding your own personal touch to make it truly your own.