Belly Flopping into Synth DIY: Designing and fabricating a front panel on the cheap (4)

Here I look into various ideas for the panel design and settle on my final plan and get building. You learn how I came up with my design and spent much less money.

So I pondered over the MFOS the synth panel at £58

Ext-7210-578

Nearly bought it, then realised that it would also need an aluminium rigid back panel too! 

Ext-7210-800_s73w-bt

At about £100 once you’ve added taxes, I couldn’t justify the cost. I thought that what matters most to me is getting sound out of the thing  and it seemed a bit expensive for something that looks fairly pedestrian.

I also like the idea of re-using stuff, recycling, permaculture, make-do-and-mend all that stuff. So making my own panel seemed like a good challenge as long as I didn’t spend too much time on it.

I found this vid by Ray Wilson (the designer of my Synth Kit) on making cheap panels

Initially I’d looked into printing out the panel design like in the video, I bought some red card but found when making the template, setting up the scale on my home printer was tricky, and had to stick various sheets together which would look crap if done on the final panel. I also would need to laminate it and I didn’t have a laminator big enough. All in all It started to sound like a bit of a chore for some not particularly interesting results. So I scrapped that idea and went for a rummage in the next door neighbours workshop. He’s into Post-industrial design, and loves anything to do with machines, lucky me. He soon got me going with a piece of old steel, and an grinder to clean it up.

I was getting into buffing the paint off it, and started to think. Hey that’s a really cool effect. So I kind of used that buffed effect as the basis for the design concept.

So I’ll go through in steps what I did

Front Panel Planning 2

Main Tools:

Workbench, Hacksaw, Power-drill, Flat-File, Round file, Letter Punch set, steel rule hammer, centre punch, Sharpie, Calipers, Spring clamps

Step 1 Cutting the metal

Marked it up against my printed out panel diagram,Cutting the steel with a hacksaw and a bit of elbow grease seemed to do the trick.

Filed off the edges to make them more hand friendly

Step 2 Marking up the holes

As you can see I used a ruler to mark out the drill holes on a printed out panel template (available on the MFOS site) Then punched through with a hard piece of metal (centre punch)

Step 4 Drilling the Holes

To drill the holes I used HSS drill bits and lots of WD40. Botching together a sort of drill holder I could make the holes fairly accurate, well accurate enough anyway.

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Warning !, This takes longer than you might think. Also be careful with drilling metal, lots of shards can get stuck in your hands and wear safety gear such as goggles.

Don’t forget to use lots of WD40 too, this helps lubricate the drilling and stops the bit from getting stuck and smoking, take it easy and clamp down your metal panel whilst drilling.

At the same time I also made the plywood back plate, it added some rigidity as well as some spacer material for the components to sit on.

Step 5 Letter punching the labels

Here we see my efforts at abbreviating Ray’s rather long labels, I mean who calls an LFO a “Low frequency Oscillator”?

So as well as thinking what still makes sense, I had to fit my chunky 5mm letters into the space availble.

Letter Punched

 

Well at least I know what they all mean!

The letters were punched through the paper onto to a smooth hard surface, you’ll need to find one for this to work. Don’t use a counter top or it won’t work. I used the base of my drop drill bracket. Basically you’ll need something with no give to it.

 

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So the results are pretty raw looking, I used a sharpie to fill in the indents of the letters to give it more contrast. It could have looked clearer in parts , but overall I’m pretty pleased with the look of it. I used some clear metal lacquer to give it a finish, and done

Next time we look at the populating the panel components! Hope you enjoyed the pics. But sure to check out the rest of the build and you can follow me on twitter.

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Belly Flopping into Synth DIY: Go Populate that PCB! (3)

Populating the PCB (in other words soldering the components into the circuit board), Stuff I Learnt and again being very patient like a cat waiting to pounce.

First off I’m gonna show you how I actually found all those little symbols and numbers on the PCB. It involved quite a lot of squinting until I found a slightly less squinty way.

The less squinty way is:

Print out your PCB component map and then get a highlighter pen to colour code all the components into groups, like say, all resistors orange…etc

component map

Colour in your component map!

This means you can save your squint reserves and do this for much longer without getting fatigued. Finding the component on the map first made it easier to find it on the actual PCB. Trust me its worth preparing in this way.

So last time I starting talking about putting resistors in, not all components were as simple. I read after the fact that diodes and transistors could be heat sensistive, well actually I’d already done the diodes. But I found a good precaution you can take to leech heat away from transistor whilst soldering.

Method:

Take some tweezers and position them so that they hold all of of the transistor legs.  A bit like in the pic below, this is the best I could find, not mine.

3-Soldering-Jfet-Transistor-Heat-Sink

Then try to get it touching all three legs, insert into board and solder.

This acts as a heat sink and leeches heat away from the sensitive transistor

Fingers crossed my diodes are alright aye! Leave a message in the comments if you know a better way or a way to heat sink diodes.

Here’s Some lovely soldering pics for you to peruse

So Its coming along, next up will be panel stuff, which is pretty exciting! Bit of post-industrial recycling.

Also worth checking out if your getting into this is the Discord server https://discord.gg/JSShWkN for all kinds of cool Synth DIY projects, ideas and advice.

 

 

 

 

Belly Flopping into Synth DIY: Getting Organised (2)

 

This is where I get organised, practice my soldering and adopt a zen mindset.

The meticulous planning that went into this stage, made sure there could be no margin for error. And being a rookie I felt there was a high chance error could find its way in.

MFOS SoundLab Mk2 PCB

The PCB and component kit arrived! I got it from the UK based Soundtronics.co.uk website which are pretty speedy. Although they don’t include absolutely everything you need for the build. I’d not realised at first, but they do state it the parts kit, what’s not included etc. The Jack sockets and power supply, banana plugs all have to be ordered or made separately. So make sure you check this out! All this info is on the MFOS website but it’s easy to miss stuff especially when you are just beginning like me.

I’d read Ray Wilson’s book, Make: Analogue Synthesisers which is a good primer. He lists stuff you probably need for your lab, but I didn’t get everything. Will see how that goes for me 🙂 I also printed out all the paper work from his website and checked the bill of materials (BOM) for any extraneous bits and bobs that i might need to order.

MakeAnalogue

My list of tools was smaller than Rays because I’m on a low budget and its my first synth build, It went something like this…

  • Draper Soldering Iron 40W adjustable temperature £25 – essential for soldering! This one isn’t fancy but does the job.
  • Helping Hands – Lidl £9 – had these already but can be helpful when you feel like you should have evolved extra limbs by now!
  • Solder 1/32″ diameter 60/40 rosincore – obvious innit
  • Antistatic mat – to reduce static charges from damaging your components
  • Electronics tweezer set – for handling fiddly components
  • Isopropyl alcohol and Acetone 75/25% – cleaning solution for PCB and components
  • Highlighter pens – for marking up your component map.
  • Old toothbrushes – for scrubbing off the flux residue from the PCB
  • Some organiser boxes – for sorting components into.
  • Multimeter – mine has a temp sensor on too which i found very handy for calibrating my cheap analogue iron.

I should say that these tools are for the soldering of the PCB and panel components, if you want to see how I make the actual panel then you’ll have to wait and see.

Next was organising the lab, getting everything ready to populate the PCB with all the components. Refering to the BOM, I identified and counted the components, placing them in storage boxes and labelling them.

I found this process strangely meditative and zen feeling.

Before jumping in with my level of soldering and destroying everything, which was pretty much “well ive soldered my own audio cables and done the odd repair here and there” kind if level. I thought it wise to practice on some components I had lying around.

I reckon I made enough mistakes to get a good solder joint. So I started with the resistors, putting in about 15 to 20 at a time into the PCB, bending the legs then turning the board over and soldering from the back. Okay so I made some mistakes but hopefully it’ll be okay, I’ve yet to see. fingers crossed… more about this next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belly flopping into Synth DIY (1)

This is going to be a series of posts about how I ended up starting to build a synth, its not finished yet so don’t go jumping in just like I did. This will either be a warning to others or guide, so hold tight till I’m done making mistakes….read on.

So before Christmas just gone, during the cold winter months I was thinking what I really needed in my life was something to really get my teeth stuck into. I thought why not get one of those synth kits, the type you build yourself. then I’ll have a an actual synth without having to ask my dearest to break the bank for a Christmas pressie.

Problem is, the more I looked, the more I discovered that I just needed something better than those clip together toy kits that would be done in five mins. I salivated over the thought of a modular system then gave myself a slap and said whoa reign it in, your just starting out, don’t bite off more than you can chew, I said to myself.

I checked out those top synth list blogs, but that didn’t seem to satisfy my wants. Not enough of a challenge. I wanted circuit boards and components and a proper instrument that required sweat, some tears, but not too much blood.

Then I found the late Ray Wilson’s Music From Outer Space (MFOS), This website has a whole load of DIY synth kits, info and just about everything you need to build a proper analogue synth and more. This was for me! I struck upon the MFOS Sound Lab Mini- Synth Mk2 ignored the warning and I leaped into the deep dark waters of synth DIY (I clicked buy on the PCB and electronics part kit).

Gasping up for air as I wondered what the hell I had just let myself in for, I scrabbled around for some books, youtube vids, bad idea when I saw the wiring on this one below (at 2:30), and as much info as I could find on electronics and soldering.

 

So the more that I looked into and researched, the more I realised what I hadn’t considered. The power regulator board, all the extras, the front panel? Well yes the front panel I thought, I’m on a budget, and I thought that it would be fun and easy to make my own. I was wrong about the latter.

It began to dawn on me that I had perhaps opened up a world of stuff I only had some basic knowledge of but that was kind of the point of this adventure. To challenge myself, build something unique, stretch my understanding of audio processing and electronics and much more, and best of all, have an actual piece of hardware analogue lushness that I built all by myself.

So if you want to follow my synth building adventures I’ll be posting a series of updates on how not to do it, what to definitely do and what you should absolutely not do. And probably some pictures and bits of useful tips that I picked up from my rather panicked but extensive research. My DIY very low budget approach will probably provide enough amusement for the duration. So follow on. Next week synthers.

2015 update

With the summer finally here, things are really getting into full swing. I’ve been busy to say the least.

I’ve set up a bespoke audio mastering and repair service for anyone who wants to make a podcast. If your a new business and need help with the technical aspects of getting a professional sound, I’ll give your business a slick online presence by giving you a fully mastered sound. I also offer free advice if you want to do it yourself. Check it out now.

https://podcastpolishing.com/

 

Audio mastering and repair service for podcasters

Audio mastering and repair service for podcasters

As well being a part time stay-at-home dad of my two year old son, I’m on the road to releasing my first track as an electronic music producer. Well fingers crossed there’ll be two tracks but I won’t spill the beans yet. Check out my soundcloud for a mish-mash of productions.

Rosski Soundcloud

Rosski Soundcloud

Oh yeah and there was Thailand, which was awesome, recorded some musicians, joined a drumming circle and camped in the jungle. Find a recording on my soundcloud page of the most awesome jam session I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in.

Well I’ll leave it there for now. Watch this space. 🙂

Anyone need a podcast polishing?

Recording on location for Tales from the Tweed project (Yes that's a baby)

I had this idea the other day when we were driving back home from Scotland. We were listening to some podcasts on parenting and although the content was really top quality the audio quality was not.

The only way it was intelligible over the noise of the car engine was to turn the treble right up, which also amplified pops, clicks and cracks. I was always turning the volume up and down because the recording was either too quiet or too loud. As an audio buff this frustrated me because I knew I could make it sound better. This got me thinking…

With a few tweaks and techniques I could really improve the quality of these recordings. I could make them intelligible and add a professional sheen to the podcast for a reasonable cost.
So, I wondered if anyone wants a podcast mastering service?

Podcasters, bloggers, teachers, lecturers, whoever you are please let me know your thoughts.

How do feel about your podcasts at the moment? Are you happy with how they sound?

If not then would you pay for a service to make them sound better? If so what do you think is a reasonable price?

What kind of turnaround would you be after?

How would you like to send me the audio file and what bit-depth and format do you prefer?

Anything else you think I could do to improve your podcast?

 

Comments will be much appreciated, thanks in advance.

Reaper Template for NI Maschine

Hey guys,

I’ve been very organised recently and meticulously made a Reaper template for NI Mashine that I thought I would share with you.

Its basically set up so you can record any audio you do live on Maschine straight into audio tracks in Reaper. Its like the Ableton Arrange window but for Maschine. You can record performances on the fly or just use it for bouncing or mixing down  There are also ‘MIDI outs’ set up in case you want to record MIDI in Reaper too *Seemed like a good idea at the time*. I’ve tried to make it fairly minimal aesthetically and created some useful shortcuts on F7 (mixer) , F8 (Maschine) and F9 (Media Explorer) so that mouse use is minimal. (see screenshots below)

Let me know how this works out for you or if there could be improvements for the type of work flow you prefer etc. I have tested it out and it all works but not really worked with it so I would appreciate feedback. Have fun 😉

Note: Its all in 64bit BTW sorry if your a 32bitter

Download :

http://www.4shared.com/rar/eximyUl8/Reaper_Maschine_Template.html