History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

From circuitbending to homebrew stompboxes & synths, keep the DIY spirit alive!

Moderators: Kent, luketeaford, Joe.

User avatar
gbiz
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1082
Joined: Tue May 07, 2013 11:20 am
Location: Sussex, UK

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by gbiz » Wed Jun 09, 2021 3:55 am

Electronics & Music Maker in the UK in the 80's. Most editions had some sort of useful SDIY project.

And the E&MM fork "Home & Studio Recording".

Thomas Henry
Learning to Wiggle
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2019 3:33 am

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Thomas Henry » Wed Jun 09, 2021 4:30 am

Greetings, Friends,
synthcube wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 4:57 pm
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.
As a rule, these sorts of lists hinge critically on the axioms at play. (In the classroom, I used to wheel out the Michael Hart book, The 100 Most Influential People in History for discussion. Most students were outraged at many of the entries, until I reminded them of that adjective "influential" which can be taken for either good or evil...Hitler ranks fairly high).

Anyway, from the quoted text, above, I don't see the commercial synth people as making much of an impact on DIY. A little bit maybe, just not a lot.

On the other hand, for those of us who grew up with and learned from Popular Electronics, Radio-Electronics and Electronotes, three names stand out: Don Lancaster, John Simonton and Bernie Hutchins. Remember, I'm working from the axioms of (a) most influential, and (b) those who gave DIY-ers a real chance to build musically useable equipment.

Among these three, it's hard to tell who had the most influence, especially since those influences fall in different categories. Don gets high marks for being one of the first showing us how to actually build synth circuits at home, not to mention his books were everyone's bibles in those days. (My copy of the CMOS Cookbook is in tatters all these years later, and still referred to regularly). And then John stands out, because his circuits were always clever, inexpensive and within reach of thousands of newcomer DIY-ers. Especially notable is that his how-to-build-it manuals have never been equalled to my mind: he was a superior writer from whom I learned so much. I wonder how many beginners went from total ineptitude to confidence because of his careful tutelage. There's at least one I know of. I also wonder how many article writers learned about easy-to-read style from him. There's at least one I know of.

And then there's Bernie, both as an inventor and a publisher. Can there be a synth in the world, whether DIY or commercial, where his imprint on solid mathematical design can't be noticed if traced back far enough? Moreover, as a publisher, the contributors he attracted read like a Who's Who.

Perhaps I'm prejudiced a bit, for in fact both John and Bernie contributed quite literally not only to my own writing career, but also to my start as a professor of mathematics for some thirty years. Not to mention the wonderful times John and I spent together back in 1980 both at his place and mine, brainstorming late into the night. He was a wonderful and generous friend.

Last of of all, may I suggest Craig Anderton deserves some sort of mention? Yes, most people will think of him with regard to guitars, but in fact quite a bit of what I, at least, learned from his seminal articles wound up in my own DIY synth designs. Moreover, he was the reason I snagged a regular column in Polyphony and then Electronic Musician. That's an interesting story that no one knows...

Well, rather long-winded, this, but in a nutshell: if the rationale is how DIY went from trivial sound effect modules to actual musical instruments, then I vote for Don, John, Bernie and Craig as being the most influential, say from 1975 through 1985 at least.

Thomas Henry

User avatar
Joe.
Wired for sound
Posts: 5322
Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2011 10:58 pm

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Joe. » Wed Jun 09, 2021 4:52 am

Harry Bissel.

User avatar
MikeDB
Ultra Wiggler
Posts: 777
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2019 8:28 am
Location: UK
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by MikeDB » Wed Jun 09, 2021 5:02 am

If we're including names then Tim Orr has to come on it. Numerous magazine articles and projects, all of which worked rather then needing major reworking as many other authors' designs did.

He also worked for EMS and Akai, where he produced some of the worst synth colour schemes in history :-)
Always interested in innovative audio startups needing help and investment, just PM me.

gkuhn43
Learning to Wiggle
Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Jun 05, 2021 6:20 am

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by gkuhn43 » Wed Jun 09, 2021 7:24 am

A couple names I've not seen mentioned yet who contributed to synth DIY with their designs (at least to my DIY): Jurgen Haible and Ray Wilson (MFOS).

User avatar
Rob Kam
Common Wiggler
Posts: 89
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2012 3:16 am
Location: Gwynedd, UK
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Rob Kam » Wed Jun 09, 2021 7:32 am

Elektor Formant modular synth book English version.

User avatar
Rob Kam
Common Wiggler
Posts: 89
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2012 3:16 am
Location: Gwynedd, UK
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Rob Kam » Wed Jun 09, 2021 7:55 am

So I've been slowly roughing out an article on the subject for the Synth DIY Wiki, that you might find useful. Still unready I've now posted it anyway at Chronology of synth DIY. If anyone is bold enough to attempt editing it as well, please go ahead.
Last edited by Rob Kam on Wed Jun 09, 2021 10:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Bodo1967
Ultra Wiggler
Posts: 755
Joined: Wed Aug 10, 2016 2:27 pm
Location: Germany

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Bodo1967 » Wed Jun 09, 2021 8:12 am

gkuhn43 wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 7:24 am
and Ray Wilson (MFOS).
He was mentioned on the first page of the thread by revtor ;). I was sure I had seen Ray Wilson/MFOS being mentioned in the thread a few hours ago. I would have added him myself otherwise :D.

Rob Kam wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 7:32 am
Elektor Formant modular synth book English version.
:tu: Didn't know it existed in English (not too important for me though since German is my first language anyway ;)).
... why buy it for $100 when you can build it yourself for $150?

jorg
Ultra Wiggler
Posts: 984
Joined: Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:38 am
Location: East Coast USA

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by jorg » Wed Jun 09, 2021 8:41 am

Juergen Haible did amazing work which is often copied and used as a starting point.

User avatar
Flounderguts
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1266
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2017 5:56 pm
Location: SLC
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Flounderguts » Wed Jun 09, 2021 10:05 am

While he's mostly known for the Electronic Sackbutt, Hugh LeCaine also worked on modular designs in the early 60's at the same time Bob Moog was.
Many of those early designs are in the collection of the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

I think LeCaine probably belongs in any synth history timeline.
----------------------

Flounderguts

User avatar
Katherine Alicia
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 318
Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2021 8:00 am
Location: England
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Katherine Alicia » Wed Jun 09, 2021 10:39 am

KSS wrote:
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.
I`v still got both of these books, the TTL cookbook was like my bible for the longest time and I still refer to it even now on occasion, Definitely worth getting if they`re still around! :tu:
*Peace, Love, Unity, Respect*
https://www.youtube.com/KatherineAlicia

User avatar
e-grad
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 3425
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2008 5:55 am
Location: Berlin

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by e-grad » Wed Jun 09, 2021 11:04 am

jorg wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:31 pm
I think Paia really created the modular DIY market; at least that was my experience of it, back in the early 1970s.
Yes, I think the late John Simonton's influence is huge. IIRC Grant Richter acknowledged John's impact in one of his postings to the Analogue Heaven mailing list.

User avatar
neil.johnson
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1753
Joined: Thu Apr 08, 2010 3:51 pm
Location: Cambridge, UK
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by neil.johnson » Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:55 pm

A thread on synth-diy and no mention of the synth-diy email list?
https://synth-diy.org

Further to Mike's mention of Tim Orr you can add the Transcendent synth range he designed and were published in ETI and E&MM:
- Transcendent 2000
- Transcendent Polysynth
- Transcendent DPX

Also, with the CEM chips came the Digisound modular, again published in ETI.

Neil
Random ramblings :: http://www.njohnson.co.uk
SSI parts and more :: https://www.cesyg.co.uk

lickspittle
Common Wiggler
Posts: 63
Joined: Fri Feb 07, 2020 5:40 pm

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by lickspittle » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:11 pm

I've got stacks of old ETI's, WIreless World's, Elektor's etc. It seems amazing now, that these were (relatively) mainstream publications. I bought them all from WH Smith on the high street.
I guess the internet has taken that role.

User avatar
synthcube
you will be assimilated
Posts: 2267
Joined: Wed Dec 21, 2011 6:42 pm
Location: Boston
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by synthcube » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:23 pm

neil.johnson wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 1:55 pm
A thread on synth-diy and no mention of the synth-diy email list?
https://synth-diy.org

Further to Mike's mention of Tim Orr you can add the Transcendent synth range he designed and were published in ETI and E&MM:
- Transcendent 2000
- Transcendent Polysynth
- Transcendent DPX

Also, with the CEM chips came the Digisound modular, again published in ETI.

Neil
Yes, that one is going to get its own 'tile' on the wall-- just not sure the best way to graphically do justice to what is essentially a text email exchange medium :)
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/2SynthCube

synthcube webstore www.synthcube.com/cart
music from outer space: www.musicfromouterspace.com
blacet research: www.blacet.com
MOTM DIY Analog Synthesizers: www.motmsynthesizers.com
music from outer space euro smt: www.mfoseuro.com

User avatar
neil.johnson
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 1753
Joined: Thu Apr 08, 2010 3:51 pm
Location: Cambridge, UK
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by neil.johnson » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:44 pm

lickspittle wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:11 pm
I've got stacks of old ETI's, WIreless World's, Elektor's etc. It seems amazing now, that these were (relatively) mainstream publications. I bought them all from WH Smith on the high street.
I guess the internet has taken that role.
Yup: http://www.muzines.co.uk

Neil
Random ramblings :: http://www.njohnson.co.uk
SSI parts and more :: https://www.cesyg.co.uk


User avatar
KSS
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 5817
Joined: Mon Jan 25, 2016 7:28 am

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by KSS » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:57 pm

https://worldradiohistory.com/ Has PDFs of many Electronics DIY magazines. A fantastic resource.

User avatar
m0n0mania
Wiggling with Experience
Posts: 254
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 9:40 am
Location: Muff Wiggler

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by m0n0mania » Wed Jun 09, 2021 2:58 pm

Maplin 4600/5600 in the UK too

lickspittle
Common Wiggler
Posts: 63
Joined: Fri Feb 07, 2020 5:40 pm

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by lickspittle » Wed Jun 09, 2021 3:09 pm


rich_de
Common Wiggler
Posts: 93
Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2020 3:00 pm

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by rich_de » Wed Jun 09, 2021 3:40 pm

Also from Germany, a rather advanced endeavour, the "c't Klangcomputer" from c't magazine. Using an Apple II as platform they went as far as including wavetable RAM. I've not ever heard of one being built outside of the magazine article. I had an additive wave synthesis program at the time, which I submitted for a youth research contest with moderate success. (About what Wolfgang Palm did a few years before, but there was no internet to read interviews with him where he told us, so I didn't know he did that, I vaguely noticed the Waveterm appearing around that time). I even talked to the c't editors at CeBIT about using my software with the device, but nothing ever came of it (I had only so much time if I wanted to keep my grades...).

Mirror of article scan here:

https://r3tr0.de/mirror/www.appleii-box ... er01GE.htm

User avatar
Rob Kam
Common Wiggler
Posts: 89
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2012 3:16 am
Location: Gwynedd, UK
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by Rob Kam » Wed Jun 09, 2021 4:31 pm

rich_de wrote:
Wed Jun 09, 2021 3:40 pm
Also from Germany, a rather advanced endeavour, the "c't Klangcomputer" from c't magazine. ....
Between what dates?

User avatar
The Peasant
Common Wiggler
Posts: 221
Joined: Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:33 pm
Location: Sunny Alberta
Contact:

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by The Peasant » Wed Jun 09, 2021 5:05 pm

You may want to mention and celebrate all of the wonderful people who created personal websites at the dawn of the internet, freely sharing their designs and information.

People like Rene Schmitz, Ken Stone J. Haible, Robin Whittle, Jim Patchell, Larry Hendry, Bergfotron, Grant Richter, Eric Barbour, Ian Fritz, and a whole bunch of others that I'm sure that I have missed.

These sites allowed myself and many others to easily learn about and build our own synths and helped to begin the modern synth-diy revolution that has continued to this day.

Take care,
Doug
The Electronic Peasant

www.electronicpeasant.com

User avatar
wiperactive
Veteran Wiggler
Posts: 516
Joined: Sat Apr 12, 2014 12:17 pm
Location: Gloucestershire, UK

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by wiperactive » Wed Jun 09, 2021 8:06 pm

Another UK angle here. My first ever DIY project and electronic instrument was the rather obscure (by now) Complex Sound Generator... "Not quite a synthesizer, but more than your average stylus organ..." said the October 1978 edition of ETI. A friend built a much more ambitious ETI featured Digisound 80 modular a few years later.

Thought I'd also tentatively mention one Geoff Waterston of Enigiser fame who before that wrote several synth DIY articles over 1997-98 for "The Mix" - a comparatively short lived UK music tech magazine. "Here's how we make a VCO, next month we'll be building a multimode filter" kind of approach.
These later became refined into the low cost Orgon Systems modular synth DIY kits available through the Orgon Systems website which actually sounded good! I bought enough kits to make a nice modular synth.

User avatar
pricklyrobot
Veteran Wiggler
Posts: 649
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 9:09 am
Location: Austin, Tex-ass

Re: History of Synth DIY: Opinions requested

Post by pricklyrobot » Wed Jun 09, 2021 8:27 pm

KSS wrote:
Tue Jun 08, 2021 8:35 pm


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.
Man, you’re describing how I used to buy punk albums (on cassette) back in the late ‘80s.

Got into pedal, and then, synth DIY much later in life, and can’t imagine doing it that way. Much respect to those who did!

P.S. I’ve got copies of Don Lancaster’s CMOS and Active Filter Cookbooks in my ‘to be read once I better get my head round the basics of electronics’ stack.

Post Reply

Return to “Music Tech DIY”