History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

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History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by synthcube » Tue Jun 08, 2021 4:57 pm

We're coming up on ten years in business serving synth DIY and still feel like noobs. [we are very grateful for all of your continued support!!]
We've re-opened our brick and mortar shop outside Boston, and have this amazing blank white staircase wall leading up to our second-floor front door. We want to use it to create a synth-DIY 'timeline' of sorts. We plan to section the wall into various 'eras' in synth DIY, and create content frames with events, people and 'signature' products in each era-- roughly from the origin of modern synth DIY through today.

So its a mashup of synth DIY pioneers, legends, market changers, notable products, meaningful events etc.... basically 'synth-DIY at a glance' as you walk up the stairs to our front door.

WE KNOW THAT NO SINGLE SOURCE OF 'TRUTH' EXISTS and a lot of this will end up being a lot of opinions- no right or wrong answer. We are soliciting your input on this thread for helping us define the most important eras, people, companies, products and events that make synth DIY what it is.
At the moment, we are thinking that synth eras might include:
• ORIGINS (earliest modular synth developments)
• FOUNDATIONAL FORMATS /EARLY DEVELOPERS (5U MOTM, 5U MU/dotcom, 4U Serge, Buchla, Fracrack/PAIA, Music From Outer Space, others?)
• EURORACK ERA (Doepfer DIY and then…..BOOM! )
• DIY COMMUNITY ERA (OR FORUM ERA and/or WEBSTORE ERA) (MW, E-M, Thonk, MA, synthCube, Erthenvar, SA Modular, many more)
• THONKICONN ERA (move from flying wires to panel PCBs) (credit to Steve and the Thonk team)
• DIY SMT
• OPENSOURCE DIY (Mutable, Erica Synths, others)

Would you share your opinions here please?

(Caveat here: I am certain I have seen one or more threads with at least some of this material discussed. I can't put my hands on it-- so if this thread helps identify other threads where the info already exists so much the better)
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by jorg » Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:31 pm

Bob Moog and before him, Raymond Scott both developed modular synths basically as DIY. In fact, they collaborated. See this:
https://www.raymondscott.net/em-article-2001/

I think Paia really created the modular DIY market; at least that was my experience of it, back in the early 1970s.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by gkuhn43 » Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:34 pm

Its not a modular synth, but I would say that electronic music started with the Theremin. Maybe have a "before the modular" section as the start.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by revtor » Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:43 pm

My synth diy origins, mid to late 90’s:

Gene Stopp ASM-1 pcbs’s And C. List front panels.

PaulS MOTM.

Also Chris Macdonald (?) mini modular.. Three rack unit black and orange and white color scheme.

TOM G. EFM. So many circuits, so many errors. I got a few to work I felt like a wizard.

Thomas Henry had a whole lineup “Midwest Analog Products”.

Of course Blacet and Paia were goin strong the whole time!
Last edited by revtor on Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by The Peasant » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:02 pm

Don't forget to include the Aries modular system in the 70s, available as kits.

http://www.electronicpeasant.com/circuits/a1.jpg

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Joe. » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:04 pm

Big love to Elby :loves:

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Teusa Rass » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:09 pm

And
Hail Reed Gazala

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Teusa Rass » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:20 pm

and all *snip* playing around with 4xxx chips

- please be mindful that referring to people by their immutable characteristics is against forum guidelines - Joe.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by jorg » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:22 pm

The Peasant wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:02 pm
Don't forget to include the Aries modular system in the 70s, available as kits.

http://www.electronicpeasant.com/circuits/a1.jpg

Take care,
Doug
Oh, that's right! I drooled at those, but they were out of reach for me. Paia was closer, but ultimately I had to roll my own.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by revtor » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:23 pm

Teusa Rass wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:09 pm
And
Hail Reed Gazala
YES. Some early internet anti-theory websites led me into and down the synth diy rabbithole.. Still making amazing work, still a huge fan!!!


Way later, but a hugely influential presence, Ray Wilson and MFOS.

Forest Mimms 555 timer book, the “stepped tone generator” circuit still being ripped and sold all over as “Atari punk console”
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by jamos » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:42 pm

Synth-DIY basically started with PAiA, about 1972 (?). Of course there were those building systems by hand, but John Simonton was the first to offer a full line of modules that the average person could build (and afford!)
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by amonti » Tue Jun 08, 2021 7:10 pm

I was looking for some background on the McLeyvier a few months ago and found this resource - thought it was a comprehensive "ORIGINS" timeline (up to the 1970s or so)

https://documents.techno-science.ca/doc ... d-2013.pdf

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by MikeDB » Tue Jun 08, 2021 7:39 pm

From a British point of view, Synth DIY was helped along considerably by these three series of articles :
Practical Electronics : http://www.timstinchcombe.co.uk/index.p ... emini#pess
Wireless World : http://yusynth.net/archives/WirelessWor ... esizer.pdf
ETI : https://encyclotronic.com/synthesizers/ ... 600-r1429/

Maplin (UK version of Radio Shack) supplied kits for the ETI design which helped make it the most popular of the three.

All three show various degrees of being based on the VCS-3, notably that all included spring reverb units and ring modulators which other designs of the time often omitted.

There were also numerous separate designs in all of these magazines for the individual parts of synths, including an ultra-stable VCO in Wireless World that I've never managed to find again but at the time was a revelation in not ever needing retuning.

There was also the PEAC - Practical Electronics Analogue Computer - published in January 1968 which used discrete opamps to create many sections recognisable in modern modular synths.
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by cbm » Tue Jun 08, 2021 8:09 pm

I would argue that the synth "open source" world really got going with the Electronotes Newsletter. It was read, and contributed to, by just about everyone in the early electronic music community.
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by KSS » Tue Jun 08, 2021 8:35 pm

Prior to PAIA, there was Don Lancaster. His early synth work can still be seen his TTL and CMOS Cookbooks. Later he did things like the PsychTone.
Radio Electronics and Popular Electronics magazine in the USA, and to a lesser extent the Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Mags had electronics projects for tone oscillators and other projects -like theremins- which have to be seen as drivers of what became synth DIY.

You can talk about Raymond Scott and Harald Bode as pioneers, but pre-internet their work -from the standpoint of being able to DIY it- was next to impossible to access. Meanwhile the 'maker' mags of the 60s were showing people how to make things, and some of those things were electronic. And some of the electronics were musically oriented. OR could at least be pushed that direction. The first real opportunity for 'synthesizer' DIY I became aware of was Bob Moogs JAES article in October of '64. Voltage Controlled Music Modules.

Prior to that is his well known Theremin DIY in Radio and televisjon news Jan, 1954. If we call that the start then a whole host of articles can still be found at the various magazine article repositories online. Most of these are more 'audio' than synth.

But in the mid to late 60's is when I remember SDIY getting it's first real push. The JAES article had schematics and while the famous filter isn't among them, the VCA is. And we know how important VCAs are !

The electronics kit scene was also well in force during this time with Heathkit -and others less well known selling things which we still see people today re-purposing into synth-ike duty.

The next cover article I vividly remember was Don Lancaster's Polytonic module set in Radio Electronics? He was of course already well known but this was a chance to build a real synth! <--More an organ than a synth, but it was a notable step in the timeline. Not too long after, John Simonton's real push of series articles began, First with a couple non-synth projects and then with a few ambient boxes like the surf synthesizer and his writing style and the fact you could buy kits and also that unlike many he gave ALL the details needed to truly DIY made his projects popular builds. The Radio Electronics 2720 series of '72 probably needs to be on your wall. PAIA spawned Polyphony magazine which later became Electronic Musician and was a source of many articles and SDIY projects.

There's really far too many to go into in a simple forum post, but a next person and project to illuminate simply has to be Bernie Hutchins and electronotes. I needn't say more, as there is probably no single person in the world who has done as much for synths as we known them -including NON-DIY- than Bernie and his typed worldwide Electronotes newsletter. If there is a synth 'rushmore', he needs to be on it.

When Dennis Colin had a rift with Alan Pearlman over some unexpected and seemingly assumed overtime, he went to Bob Snowdale's ARIES company and designed many of their core modules. I'm not alone in remembering and lusting after these. Unlike PAIA, these were pro level circuits and large format.

Serge Tcherepnin must also be included even though his form of DIY was less DIY and more wire up this already populated PCB. We're seeing that more and more again today. EML is another who offered 'kit" PCBs that only needed 'system level integration and wiring to power and panels.

Other small companies like Tau and the DIY books and magazine article authors of the time, Robert Penfold, Delton Horn, Thomas Henry, Craig Anderton, and others were important to fueling and growing the DIY synth community. Hal Chambelain's Musical Applications for Microprocessors needs to be on the wall.

Bigger companies like SWTPC also dabbled in synth -mostly power amps- and their computer projects were a driving and sustaining force when synth DIY for many shifted to home computer DIY. Your wall needs to include this dark age of synth DIY. Which wasn't as dark as it was shifted to digital means and sortware solutions. Many of the older people here today moved into computers from synths and are now back in synths.

Don Lancaster was not doing so much directly in synths, but his influence on all of these others cannot be overestimated. Both his immensely poular and useful cookbooks and his monthly DIY articles in various magazines were driving forces and sources throughout the 60's,70's,80's,90's,00's, and 10's. If you took a poll, I'd bet the number of us with at least one of his books or articles among our stash would be huge.

Most of this is a decidedly American viewpoint, but our USA libraries were also full of imported magazines which foillowed a similar trajectory. The projects were different and had different and equally well known authors like Huggett and Cary. ETI, E&MM, and Elektor all presented worthy additions to your wall. Maplins projects need to be on your wall too.

There are many others too, but I'll go ahead and mention one from much later which has a controversial path, but which also cannot be denied as being important to the modern SDIY movement. EFM. Maddening as they were, the circuits did work somewhat and were often a driving force to learn more -if only to fix their many erors!- and become more involved in designing rather than just building.
PAIA falls into that category for many as well.
You built it, it worked. But then you noticed it wasn't a minimoog or 2600 either. So began many journeys by other 'famous' SDIY names like Patchell -who designed and sold exponential converters for PAIA modules and memory upgrades for their 8780 KBD computer. MW member OldCrow has talked of his PAIA past as has Michael Caloroso. And too many others to list, but which a search of MW past posts should turn up?

Gene Stopp's ASM-1 was already mentioned, and the analog heaven mailing list can't be left out.

The final point I want to emphasize in this post is the difference in timing for a synth project back then -'70s. There was no internet. You sent your dollar snail mail for an info pack or catalog and waited weeks to get the slimmest of information. When you had a question, it was more weeks and expensive phone calls to try and get answers. Scanning the surplus listings in the backs of magazines for the 'magic' parts you needed.<--Yes, even then it was a thing. I remember when DigiKey hit the radar, and polypaks. And mouser. As technology shifted from tubes to transistors and then again from transistors to ICs, and then yet again to computer chips from the linear ICs, these 'surplus' resources were wonderfully available and low-priced solutions.
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by revtor » Tue Jun 08, 2021 8:42 pm

Wowza, there ya go!!
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by KSS » Tue Jun 08, 2021 8:42 pm

Ken Stone and CGS are among the more important modern SDIY providers.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Rob_C » Tue Jun 08, 2021 9:16 pm

synthcube wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 4:57 pm
... have this amazing blank white staircase wall leading up to our second-floor front door. We want to use it to create a synth-DIY 'timeline' of sorts. We plan to section the wall into various 'eras' in synth DIY...
Second floor? You might have to relocate to a higher floor. You're going to need a longer staircase for all this history.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by KSS » Tue Jun 08, 2021 9:51 pm

Teusa Rass wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:20 pm
and all *snip* playing around with 4xxx chips
Yes. Stan Lunetta was a percussionist in Sacremento, CA, USA who used to make Moosack machines* using ordinary ICs of various types. When the owner of the Electro-music forum ten or twelve years ago referenced working with him in the past making these, the genre of DIY called "Lunettas" was -re born. Think of the seamoss website and Nic Collins book as derivatives of this Lunetta movement.

*Google this term to learn more about the originator of the devices now called Lunettas.

Again, Don Lancaster was doing something in supportof this with his micro lab explorer. It wasn't aimed at making music but it was an inexpenisve and fully explained way to access the pins of various ICs in a useful way. You can read about one version in the CMOS Cookbook. Don's books are available at his tinaja.com website for free. If you're into SDIY you should have the CMOS Cookbook on hand and if you repair old synths, the RTL and TTL version Cookbooks are good to have also.
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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by soup » Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:09 am

I came in to sdiy a a lot later than many of the folks who have posted in this thread. I found my my way in through one of Mutable Instruments’ kits and the wonderful forum that used to exist around them. Emilie has gone on to design a number of classic modules but I think her diy designs were very special and very beginner friendly and the community that surrounded them was incredibly encouraging. It might have been a small blip in the larger picture of this hobby but I think it was a special one and I am very happy I found it.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by metasonix » Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:42 am

Harald Bode, 1961. (Scott was doing similar work in the 1950s but kept extreme secrecy.)

https://haraldbodenews.files.wordpress. ... cs1961.pdf
Last edited by metasonix on Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:50 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Bjarne » Wed Jun 09, 2021 12:45 am

^ yes! The mutable instruments DIY kits for standalone instruments were truly stellar (many years later the open sourc documentation etc is still available and a valuable resource for learning etc)

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by ricko » Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:05 am

I would add magazine articles, datasherts, theses and patents, for DIY in the 70s.

In Australia, Electronics Today International lead the way in the mid 70s, ultimately with the 4600 and 3600 synths. I recall the boy Ken Stone putting some circuit ideas in too. (The ETI publisher later went on to make the Fairlight CMI, who shared a building with ETI.)

In the UK, Wireless World magazine.

For theses, Chicago's Sergio Franco's thesis, which gives the circuits for the SalMar Construction (oh, you mesn there was more than West Coast and East Coadt?) was influential for introducing the 3080 OTA as well as transistor arrays.

For patents, there are too many: I think they allowed the Japanese engineers to get up to speed and eclipse the US in the 80s. Think of the Collins and Moog filter US patents, etc

The death of DIY was the advent of the CEM and SSM chips, more than the arrival of digital and the expectations of polyphony and presets. Instead of spurring innovation in modules with higher-level building blocks, they killed off new innovative designs for analog getting widely published or taken up. Instead of freeing up DIYers to spend more effort on innovating or building less lemming-friendly designs, they fostered a reactionary view that analog = retro, the less innovation the better, and the fetishistic approach to vintage synths.

As far as I can see, the sole individual who lead us through the Dark Ages was Ken Stone and his CatGirl Synths (which Elby Designs took on) who should be regarded as a hero for DIY (and proto-Open Source): ...I don't recall he ever had yet another Moog ladder filter or CEM/SSM module. (I would put Ken ahead of the other hero, Bernie Hutchens only because Ken sold PCBs, and ahead of other wonderful kit providers for his enormous number of new and revived and guessed designs: he was not selling a product hoping to capture you.)

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by ricko » Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:19 am

synthcube wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 4:57 pm
We're coming up on ten years in business serving synth DIY and still feel like noobs. [we are very grateful for all of your continued support!!]
We've re-opened our brick and mortar shop outside Boston, and have this amazing blank white staircase wall leading up to our second-floor front door. We want to use it to create a synth-DIY 'timeline' of sorts.
Congratulations. (I have never had a problem with any order I bought from you!)

Here is something, not exactly DIY:
TimelineOfPatchableSynths.jpg
Also at
https://www.matrixsynth.com/2007/05/tim ... tside.html

Please feel free to use any bits of the full chart without attribution. Original post at https://web.archive.org/web/20080705162 ... s-out.html

N.b. "America" above = continental America (nth and sth) not one country.

Cheers
Rick

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Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Bodo1967 » Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:31 am

Accompanying information is mostly in German, but imho the "Formant" modular synth as presented by the "Elektor" magazine in 1977 is worth mentioning.

Here's a lot to read, including schematics and original PCB layouts - however, it's in German and I doubt there's an English version:

http://www.florian-anwander.de/formant/FormantBuch.pdf
... why buy it for $100 when you can build it yourself for $150?

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