Engineer Unwittingly Trips Balls On LSD From The ’60s While Repairing Iconic Synth

Robert Moog tweaks his famous Moog Synthesizer in 1969
Photo: John Lent (AP)

Here is a delightful story about psychedelics to ease you into the long weekend.

San Francisco’s CBS station KPIX published a story earlier this week recounting an accidental mind-expanding odyssey undertaken by their Broadcast Operations Manager Eliot Curtis. Last year, Curtis, an experienced hand, volunteered to help the Cal State East Bay music department fix a vintage piece of music equipment. It was an original Buchla.

The iconic synth was named after Don Buchla, a Berkeley-based electronic music pioneer who developed his eponymous instruments around the same time that Robert Moog (pictured above) developed his own machines in the ‘60s. Buchla was deeply enmeshed in the counterculture movement at the time, and he enjoyed a friendship with Grateful Dead sound engineer and alleged LSD chef Owsley Stanley. Unsurprisingly, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters outfitted their party bus with several Buchla 100 synths, and rumors that parts of the instruments were dipped in acid—thus allowing musicians to wet their finger and get a little high before playing—have circulated for decades.

Those rumors were never completely confirmed until Curtis unwittingly dosed hard on a 50-year-old stash. When he found the instrument, it was collecting dust in the corner of some godforsaken closet. He noticed that someone had modified the machine to add a red module on the top row. It seems he was unaware of old stories about how the “red panel” was the acid one:

During his repair work, Curtis opened the module and saw something stuck under a knob.

“There was like a residue … a crust or a crystalline residue on it,” said Curtis.

He sprayed a cleaning solvent on it and started to push the dissolving crystal with his finger as he attempted to dislodge the residue and clean the area.

About 45 minutes later, Curtis began to feel a little strange. He described it as a weird, tingling sensation. He discovered this was the feeling of the beginnings of an LSD experience or trip.

Buchla, Kesey, and Stanley are all dead, so none of the principals can confirm exactly who installed this red panel or when they did it. CSUEB apparently doesn’t have detailed records about the Buchla, though whatever its journey, all the old rumors about acid-laced machines are now confirmed. LSD can keep for years under the right conditions, and it can also be taken in through the skin, especially if you’re also using cleaning products. Curtis says he tripped for nine hours or so before returning to Earth and finishing the job. The machine apparently works fine now, though CSUEB music students can’t get high off it anymore.

Either way, the Dead are back in the Bay Area for a few shows next weekend, and I hope Curtis gets to go as a guest of honor.



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