The ARP 2600: Evolution and Revolution

The Metamorphosis of an Iconic Instrument

Alan R. Pearlman with the ARP 2600 (2005) by William Bond, via InMusicThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Meet the ARP 2600

In the pantheon of great ARP designs, the 2600 stood tallest. While not as imposing as the behemoth 2500 or as handy as the Odyssey, the 2600 (shown here with Alan R. Pearlman in a 2005 photo) struck a beautiful balance of clarity, flexibility, and sound. It taught an entire generation of musicians how to synthesize!

The Story of the ARP 2600

Move to the next screen if you'd like to watch this 28-minute mini-documentary from in its entirety.

Check out this 28-minute video from, which contains interviews, music examples, and discussion about the 2600 in a historical context. (You may find it easier to follow after you've read the rest of our story.)

ARP Blue Meanie (1971) by Magazine scan courtesy of Daniele Marziali, Vintage Italian Synthesizers Museum in Marche, ItalyThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

In The Beginning, All Was Blue

The 2600 came in with a bang – and a blue flash. The first 25 units or so were tricked out in a futuristic chassis with a beautiful blue finish on both the front panel and the detachable keyboard. This model was called the "Blue Marvin" (after ARP CFO Marvin Cohen), but its unofficial – and best known – name was, unsurprisingly, the “Blue Meanie”!

The ARP Foundation was surprised and pleased to receive this photograph, a cover from the April 1971 issue of the Italian magazine Strumenti & Musica (Instruments & Music). The caption roughly translates as "The Fabulous 'SYNTHESIZER' – Finally In Italy!"

The Blue Meanie in action

This 2013 video demonstrates the Blue Meanie's sound design capabilities.

This is an 11-minute demo of the Blue Meanie's main functions by Enrico Cosimi, recorded in 2013 for the Audio Central video channel. The narration is in Italian, but the overview of the many sounds the very first 2600 model can make is still very interesting.

Al with 2600 and 2500 (1972) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

One Synthesizer – Many Generations

The 2600 went through nine revisions during its 1971-1981 lifespan, but the essentials never changed. It was the world's first semi-modular synth: while it could be configured with patchcords like other modulars, it didn't need them, being prewired internally with a "default" signal routing. This revolutionary design made the 2600 accessible to beginners and advanced synthesists alike. Here, Alan R. Pearlman poses with the 2600C "Gray Meanie", the second version of the 2600. About 35 were made.

ARP 2600 Spec Sheet (1971) by Tonus, Inc.The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The Iconic 2600P

Late in 1971, ARP introduced the 2600P while (as you can see in the ad) the 2600C was still being sold. The "P" stood for "portable": its new enclosure was designed to let the synthesizer and its keyboard latch together, forming a sturdy road case. The 2600C was discontinued by 1972, and the 2600P design became "the 2600" that musicians knew and loved – to the point where most users didn't even know the earlier versions had ever existed.

ARP Story Brochure 2600 (1974) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The Classic 2600

This 1974 sales brochure shows the 2600P with its iconic mid-1970s battleship-grey front panel: the machine that almost every musician thinks of when they hear the words "ARP 2600". It has appeared on stages, in studios, and in classrooms all over the world for nearly 50 years.

ARP Story Brochure 2600 (1974) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The back of this brochure illustrates the 2600's layout, which remained unchanged from its birth to its retirement. Signal flow went from left to right in a relatively conventional path that most players would quickly understand. Each of the 2600's sections had jacks for patchcords to reroute signals in different ways. The use of sliders rather than knobs made it easy to see what a patch was doing at a glance. The two grilles in the lower corners covered a pair of small, handy built-in speakers.

ARP Ad 2600 Herbie Hancock, ARP Instruments, 1972, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
ARP Ad 2600 Edgar Winter, ARP Instruments, 1973, From the collection of: The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
Show lessRead more

ARP made it a point to let potential users know that the 2600 was already in the hands of the most important players in modern music. The 2600 popped up everywhere in the 1970s, played by jazz, rock, funk, and soul musicians, as well as experimental sound designers. It was easy to use, portable, and offered a great deal of sonic flexibility to those willing to learn its intricacies – and it gained a lot of fans.


The Edgar Winter Group plays the most famous 2600-based song ever. Move to the next scene to see and hear the whole song.

Edgar Winter created "Frankenstein", appropriately, from bits and pieces of instrumental jams spliced together on recording tape from various takes. In this live version of the iconic track (with a short opening interview), the 2600 takes center stage with everything from rapid melodies and screaming leads to thunder crashes and a duet with a bike horn. (No, really!)

Joe Zawinul and his two 2600s

Famed keyboardist Joe Zawinul plays two 2600s with Weather Report. Move to the next scene to watch this whole song.

In this live concert in Offenbach, Germany, in September 1978, Weather Report keyboardist Joe Zawinul carries the song "The Pursuit Of The Woman With The Feathered Hat" with rapid melodic lines on two 2600s, whose sounds he changes while playing. The cabinets can be seen behind him, played by the top two keyboards on the left. Aside from electric piano and the deep bass notes, all the keyboard sounds on this track are made by those two 2600s.

ARP Flyer 2600. Artwork by Margaret Shephard. (1972) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The 2600 Conquers the Classroom

For educators, the 2600 was one of the greatest synthesizers ever made. With its large and easily-accessible controls, clear layout, and flexible patching, it was a complete electronic music lab in a box. Its built-in speakers were very handy in a classroom, and the designers' choice of sliders rather than knobs made patch settings easy to visualize quickly. Topping it off was the owner's manual, famous even today as a brilliant teaching resource – not only for the 2600 but for any analog synthesizer.

Educating with the 2600

Marc Doty of the AutomaticGainsay YouTube channel teaches the basics of the 2600. Move to the next scene to watch all of this 10-minute video.

Synthesizer expert and educator Marc Doty begins his demonstration series for the 2600P in this 10-minute video created for his YouTube channel AutomaticGainsay. In this video, Marc describes the 2600's history and strengths, and demonstrates some of the sounds the 2600 can make.

ARP Spec Sheet 2600 p1 (1979) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

A New Look For A Stalwart Synthesizer

This 1979 brochure provides not only technical details for eager buyers but also a look at the last panel design for the 2600, which was updated to match the striking and easy-to-read black and orange livery of all other ARP products at the time.

Underneath the flashy new paint job, though, beat the heart of the original 2600 – one that had graced thousands of tracks for nearly a decade, and would go on for many more decades and many more amazing songs. Why mess with success?

ARP Spec Sheet 2600 p2 (1979) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The actual circuit components used in the 2600 did vary over time. These days, synthesizer enthusiasts like to argue over which set of circuits sounded "best" – but those changes were tiny parts of the evolution of a synthesizer that had become famous for how it never seemed to change or fade away while other synth fads came and went. In the gardens of synthesis, the 2600 was a very hardy perennial.

ARP Ad 2600 Studio and Stage (1979) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Same 2600, Different Perceptions

ARP relied heavily on music-technology magazines to educate potential buyers. By 1979, when this ad ran, there were a lot of prepatched synthesizers available to compete with the 2600 (including several by ARP itself). Changing with the times, ARP shifted its focus to capitalize on the 2600's still-unique capabilities. Eight years into its life, ARP's promotional emphasis had turned completely around: instead of a synth that didn't need patchcords to work, the 2600 was now billed as a synth that offered the option of more complex patching!

The 2600 continues to inspire musicians in all genres of music. This video for the experimental soundscape "Correlative Moons" by musician, clinician, and educator Lisa Bella Donna heavily features the 2600, reaching the insane outer limits of its capabilities. Strap in, it's a heck of a ride.

Alan R. Pearlman and Way Out Ware 2600 (2005) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

The 2600 in the 21st Century

In the years after ARP closed its doors, the 2600 enjoyed continued popularity among musicians who still considered it an unbeatable machine. Used 2600s commanded high prices on the used market, but as time went by, other alternatives became available...

In 2005, software developer Way Out Ware garnered a lot of attention with TimewARP 2600, a software version of the 2600 that could run on a computer. Based on physical modeling of the original 2600's components, TimewARP 2600 delivered the 2600's familiar sound in a portable and affordable form. While it lacked the immediacy of the hardware, it allowed the user to store sounds for future use, and could even play chords. It had many fans and endorsers – including Alan R. Pearlman.

The Return of the 2600

In this video from the Winter NAMM trade show in January 2020, a reporter for UK dealer Anderton's was given a surprise reveal and tour of Korg's ARP 2600FS. Move to the next scene if you'd like to see the entire video (including his hilarious reaction at his first glimpse).

Japanese synth maker Korg has been engaged in a years-long effort to bring the ARP brand to a new generation of players. After the 2015 re-introduction of the Odyssey, in 2020 Korg delivered the new ARP 2600FS – completely faithful to the original 2600P's electronics, with added connectivity for modern studios. That "FS" was intriguing, though: Korg's analog synths (including the Odyssey) were often released in FS (Full Scale) and more affordable, scaled-down M (Mini) versions. Could it be...?

The ARP 2600M

The first limited run of Korg's ARP 2600FS sold out almost instantly, a testament to the 2600's ongoing veneration among musicians. In 2021, Korg made good on the implied promise of the 2600FS' name with the long-hoped-for introduction of the ARP 2600M, a scaled-down but fully functional 2600 that offered its genuine circuitry and sound in a smaller and more affordable format.

Antonus Honors Its Ancestor

The 2600 has motived many others to recreate and emulate this beautiful instrument. These include not only several excellent virtual versions like Way Out Ware TimewARP 2600 (previously shown), Arturia 2600 V, and Cherry Audio CA2600 but also the Antonus 2600, a hardware tribute lovingly made in Barcelona. For the 50th Anniversary of ARP Synthesizers, Toni Gutiérrez, creator of Antonus, performed on the Antonus System to honor the legacy of Alan R. Pearlman.

ARP Blue Meanie (1971) by Magazine scan courtesy of Daniele Marziali, Vintage Italian Synthesizers Museum in Marche, ItalyThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

 It would seem that 50 years after the “Blue Meanie” made the scene and transformed the music world, the ARP 2600 is just getting started.

Credits: Story

Story by Mike Metlay; editorial contributions by Dina Pearlman and Mary Lock; The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Music, Makers & Machines
A brief history of electronic music
View theme
Google apps