The Creation of a New Synth – Part 1
Jan 30, 2012
Well January is almost over now, so I’m going to make good on a resolution I made to do at least 1 blog posting a month. December was quite the busy month with gigs, many happenings around Cantos and the odd repair / DIY project. First, I managed to get my Yamaha CS-10 working the way I want. (Finally!) I was afraid I might have fried something while poking around, but it turns out I actually just had a connector in upside-down. D’oh! JL helped me modify it originally a couple of years ago with 2 sub-octave pots that give you 1 and 2 octave divisions of the square wave from the CS-10′s VCO. I had seen a few other very similar modifications people have done to their CS-10s online and wanted to do likewise because…lets face it….having just one VCO on a synth can be a little thin sounding. Other mods were done over the last couple of years such as adding a Synhouse MIDIJack and transplanting an old Waldorf Q pitch bender into the space where that useless slide pot was. Also added a button and toggle switch to switch pitch vibrato on/off. There were a couple of cosmetic tweaks as well – most notably the beautiful end-panels that Jesse made for me out of this exotic, bright colored African wood called “Padauk”. Also, I replaced the black Yamaha knobs with mini versions of the classic Moog knobs. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
Then there’s the Drumulator. This was given to me by my piano teacher Gilles Parenteau
in College. Click on his name if you want to be wowed by some virtual symphony madness! He gave me a container of EPROMs for it too, but I ended up purchasing 808/909 combination ROMS from Strellis in the UK. (Which, it appears, aren’t available anymore). They had tiny little switches mounted right on the chip to switch the sounds back and forth, which meant you had to reach inside all the time and leave the bottom unscrewed. I eventually ordered these funky round switches from Mouser
and now it’s vastly easier to switch back and forth from 808 to 909 mode.
So now that those projects are out of the way, I can concentrate more on my most ambitious project to date: building a modular synthesizer. Not from scratch of course, I’m not as intense as some DIYers out there, but from a combination of kits, pre-fabricated modules and maybe the odd scratch-built circuit. It’s a daunting task trying to figure out where to start something like this. I mean, what is the absolutely most essential module in a synthesizer? I’d say it’s an Oscillator – wouldn’t be much of a synth without one! I took an unusual approach to this and actually built a keyboard controller first. It was a Roland EP-10 that I gutted and installed a Music From Outer Space
single buss keyboard controller circuit board into. Now that I have a pretty decent keyboard to play this synthesizer from, this week I ordered a pair of VCOs from synthesizers.com
. Not a bad start, but there’s still the other bread and butter modules I’ll need to get like VCAs, envelopes, and filters…..not to mention all the fun stuff like Sample & Hold, noise generators, sequencers…..the list goes on. It’s kind of hard to prioritize when there are so many cool toys available these days for the modular synthesist. I can see this becoming a very versatile and useful tool in my home studio setup for sure, it’s just going to take a while to build.