Woodworking and Music

Posted by tony on Apr 15, 2013

I have been turning my attention to combining woodworking and electronic music. Having had very little experience of electronics, but for a long time a love of electronic music, I thought what better way to combine them than build an electronic synthesizer.

I started by researching the availability of various units; ready assembled ones were plentiful but pricey. I really wanted to build my own from the PCB upwards. I knew that my knowledge of electronic design was negligible so I looked for a source that would offer the chance of providing schematics and a supply of ready etched PCBs.

My very first purchase was from a German company, Doepfer, (www.doepfer.de)  who are one of the biggest suppliers of modular synths. One can purchase anything from a single unit to a massive setup of hundreds of modules. Obviously the more you buy the more it costs but going down this path can be a long term project that builds as you can afford it. What I bought was the Doepfer DIY Synthn – a ready made and populated cct (circuit) board that just needed putting together with the relevant controls and inputs and outputs.

As an introduction it was a steep learning curve because there were no real instructions or guides that helped one use the thing after it had been built. Like so many electronic gadgets these days you can find reams of stuff about how it works but very little about how to work it – (a pet theme of mine). I was pleased to find that when I first turned on the power it at least made some interesting noises but it was a lot later that I began to work out what to plug in and where, what knob to twiddle etc. before it gave out any meaningful sounds. I mounted all the controls on an aluminium plate 500mm x 220mm which I built into a simple box made from American Black Walnut that I had left over from a previous project.

I really wanted to go a little further than this as it was really only an exercise in wiring. I bought myself a few books and started to read up on the basics of electronics. Having worked for BT for more years than I care to remember, I was not a complete numpty and could follow a lot of the text. ‘I understand all the words but not the sentence’ a favourite saying of mine.

Well, now I was a little more knowledgeable I went back to the web and discovered a great site, Music From Outer Space. This is run by a guy by the name of Ray Wilson who is keen to promote modular synthesis at a reasonable price and a look at his site (www.musicfromouterspace.com) will demonstrate just that. Cheap? yes! but quality is first rate as my first order proved.

Ray is very keen on making sure that the novice builder does not make the mistake of biting off more than they can chew. He has masses of advice on how to start gently and his first project recommendation is the aptly named Weird Sound Generator.

Everything is covered from the schematics to required components, from circuit board layout to an example for a faceplate on which to mount all the knobs and switches, even layouts for the tracks on the PCB for those more experienced who make their own. Pay the site a visit and you will see what I mean. I am on my fifth project now and have moved up to creating a much larger modular incorporating the various types of module that go to make up a fully functioning Synth.