Ask a synthesizer connoisseur where the best shops are in the northeast United States and chances are they’ll point you to a dead-end street just off the highway in Hawthorne, New Jersey, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Manhattan. That’s where you’ll find Three Wave Music, a store run by Osamu “Sam” Masuko and his son. Three Wave is well known within the world of hardware enthusiasts but has received little publicity outside of it, resembling the record stores diggers share between themselves – less a place of commerce and more inadvertent museum, with custom keyboards, vintage drum machines, synthesizer memorabilia and the latest Korg products all happily coexisting in no real order.
While it’s known today as a synth heaven in the suburbs, Three Wave Music was an New York City mainstay for two decades prior under a different name. It began in 1986, when Masuko, then a young engineer for Hammond who played the guitar and was enamored with jazz fusion, arrived in New York from Tokyo. He had been tasked by the Kurosawa company with opening a shop, which became Dr. Sound – first located on 46th Street and then in Soho. Facing financial troubles, in 1993 Kurosawa decided to bow out of the American market and Masuko, who by then had started a family, stayed behind and took over the shop and name. When Soho rents became too high, Dr. Sound moved to below Canal Street, where it survived the city’s post-9/11 changes until Masuko decided to focus on engineering once more, returning to work for Hammond. But while Masuko enjoyed tinkering most, he soon realized that what was missing was a place people could go to and share their love of hardware.
With its hundreds of items, and more hidden behind the plywood walls awaiting repair, Three Wave is testament to Masuko’s dedication to engineering and his love of machines. Over three decades in the business hasn’t dented his enthusiasm, either. He continues to look out for special pieces – most recently, he purchased a custom Oberheim previously owned by Jan Hammer. And he’s teaching his son how to fix keyboards. “I’m very happy to work every day,” he admits. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’m still learning and discovering something new every day.”