This week in synths with Matrixsynth, the obsessively-prolific synth lovers’ blog: a master modular synth builder on how modulars could be more affordable, a blog time capsule full of out-of-print music, and a “Welsh Minimoog” model E. Here’s Matrix:

Cray5656 Custom ModularGrant Richter of Wiard on Cutting the Cost of Modulars

A Modular Renaissance

The following is from a post by Grant Richter of Wiard, makers of some of the most revered modular synths, sent to the Wiard list.

If the public could change their perception of how a synthesizer module must be constructed, we could have a renaissance unlike anything in the past. The single most expensive component in a synthesizer is the aluminum faceplate. There is only one source for turnkey faceplates in the US and they are obscenely expensive. I pay $70 each for 1200 series faceplates. Your only other option involves using 4 different vendors. One to get the metal blanks, one to put the holes in them, another to anodize them and another yet to silkscreen them. Each step is a chance for errors to creep in. Also, there are 5 shipping charges to move everything from place to place or lose the whole batch. Or drop the box…

The people who make printed circuit boards are used to doing most of these operations to a higher degree of precision and more quickly and cheaply than machine shops. If the buying public was willing to accept faceplates made from fiberglass instead of metal, it would open the floodgates to new module designs.

You can hardly see the difference either, the fiberglass is painted and silkscreened just like the metal. Plus fiberglass is lighter and stiffer. I have heard this idea repeatedly from many people, but no one believes people will buy modules with fiberglass faceplates. It is not historical.

There are also design advantages to PC material faceplates. The faceplate can become part of the circuit. Touch switches for triggers or mode selects are essentially free. Things that are expensive in metal, like slots for linear pots or perforated grills for speakers, now cost a few pennies instead of a few dollars.

It is a practical idea, but the world is not yet ready for it.

I for one would definitely be interested. The thought of being able to pick up modules for cheap after a base system has always been attractive, however the upfront cost of getting a base modular system has always held me back. The imaginative colors you could come up with in a fiberglass design is also appealing. The biggest concern of course is durability over time. (image above via Cray5656)

Synth Albums from a Time Capsule

Mike Hankinson - The Unusual Classical SynthesizerWiel’s Time Capsule (in an Electric Storm) is a blog that features rare old out of print records available for both download and streaming. Recently there have been a number of works featuring just one synthesizer. The most current album, Mike Hankinson – The Unusual Classical Synthesizer, pictured here, features the EMS VC3S or Putney.

From the liner notes:
“This record is the first L.P. ever recorded using only the Electronic Music Studios “Synthi” VCS-3. This instrument has the capability of producing virtually any sound, but was used purely as a straight musical instrument on this L.P. The only modification – a potentiometer control was added, which gave a sliding octave up or down, by rotating the control, thus extending the keyboard to 5 octaves.”

The Last of the First Minimoogs

Minimoog Model EWhat you are looking at here is a Minimoog Model E; note the Model E and not Model D. The Model D was the final version of the Minimoog from the company formed by Bob Moog. Bob Moog left Moog music prior to the company folding and eventually went on to form Big Briar where he produced theremins followed by the Moogerfooger stomp boxes, the Minimoog Voyager and now the Little Phatty. When MOOG Music folded, the name was picked up by two individuals, Don Martin in the US and Alex Winter in the UK. Both produced a new “Model E” which was essentially a clone of the Model D. The Model E you see here is from Alex Winter and it had a few extras. It was recently up for auction. It has been referred to as the “Welsh Minimoog.” From the auction:

“So what is a ‘Welsh Minimoog’ then? Moog Music Ltd., based in Caerphilly, Wales was set up in the 90′s to reissue Moog Modular parts before setting out to recreate the classic Minimoog… with a few enhancements! From what I understand, only five Minimoog Model 204Es were made before the company went under. I was lucky enough to acquire one (cost £1500 at the time!).

The improvements are as follows:

  1. Ultra-stable oscillators – these have yet to go out of tune in eight years.
  2. Transpose switch – the range of the keyboard has now been increased by +/- 1 octave.
  3. Digitally-scanned keyboard
  4. PWM on Oscillators 1 & 2 when they are set to Square/Pulse waves. Osc 3 in LFO duties provides modulation.
  5. Multiple Triggering – the envelopes can be set to multiple triggering, in addition to the original’s single triggering.
  6. MIDI – the Minimoog Model 204E features MIDI built-in (not a retrofit).”

The Model E by Don Martin is commonly referred to as the Donimoog. Bob eventually won his name back in the US in time for the Voyager. You can read a short letter sent to MMR back in 1998 that alludes to a new Minimoog in the works and his thoughts on Don Martin, here. In the UK, Alex Winter retained rights to the MOOG name and the Voyager was released as the Voyager by Bob Moog. Peter Forest, of the widely known VEMIA auctions and author of the A-Z of Analogue Synthesizers (link), noted that a recent advertisement had the Voyager listed as the Voyager by Bob Moog and the Little Phatty as the MOOG Little Phatty. Word has it that MOOG Music has regained the rights to use the MOOG name in the UK however, the Minimoog name may still be owned by Alex Winter. You can find some samples of the Minmoog Model E in here.

For daily synth-related posts check out Matrixsynth.

  • http://urbanhonking.com/fullspectrum adam

    i am SO DOWN for the idea of cheaper modular stuff, and for that matter, all sorts of cool stuff, made in fiberglass circuit board material!

    looks good to me!

  • David

    /agreed

  • dbach

    One thing to keep in mind is that while Grant's faceplates add $70 to his modules, most eurorack companies are paying far less for their faceplates. in the $5-$15 range. the cost for doing the same eurorack faceplate in PCB would be at least $5.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @dbach: Good to know that about Eurorack. Though I expect Grant may not be entirely alone in this situation.

    I do think the PCB faceplates are quite attractive. Fiberglass is definitely practical. Cheaper is better (even if only for him, not Eurorack). Letter-writing campaign? :)

  • CharlieH

    Also, the fiberglass material used for PCB's comes in at least a handful of standard colors (and thicknesses), and the silkscreen can be done in a few colors as well, all without any significant cost difference.

  • http://www.myspace.com/iplankalkul CJ

    I have a hard time believing that people wouldn’t buy the modules because the faceplate is made of a different material which makes it more affordable for the customer. What market research has been done? I suggest they send out a questioner to their customers and find out. Or why not offer both options are different prices and let the market decide for its self. I think synth manufacturers in general have dated misconceptions about their own products.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Sounds like his feedback came from his existing customers. But I agree, there must be a market beyond that — especially if you went to a different PCB color instead of green. ;)

  • 43macs

    +1 for fiberglass panels. Let's have another path besides 'exact replica of jurassic era beast'

    Plexiglass, Lexan, and Kydex sheets would all make interesting panel materials. In parts of the US, we have a company called Tap Plastics for these materials.

    Looking on eBay could yield affordable bench-top CNC machine tools that could do all the drilling and cutting. Silkscreen is good, pad printing might work well too, and some ink jet printers can have flat materials moved through them for printing… Try searching on 'desktop fabrication' and 'desktop prototyping'…

  • eskimo of torment

    -1 for fiberglass.

    It is unacceptable for folks who travel/play out with their modulars. It might be fine for basement patchers, but for a roadworthy synthesizer it is just silly.

    METAL FOR LIFE

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  • gONK

    There are one significant drawback of plastic

    panels they don't provide any shielding from

    capacitive ,RFI, EMC signals!Same for plain

    PCB's,(none copper) however if done with one

    copper layer you get a good shielding.

    Grant speaks of PCB are stiffer then alu,

    thats not the case 2,5mm alu is very hard

    and basically impossible to bend. (euro size)

    PCBs on the other hand are brittle on edges

    so an additional coating are needed which will increase end cost.

    On the other end fiberglass can be a lot more

    scratch resistant then a ordinary alu plate

    Boats come to mind!And again heat and sun

    rays wears on many plastics.

    Front panels made of steel are cheaper then alu

    still few uses steel, it needs a different

    method of cutting to be cost effective.

    After all it s a mater of volumes made, the

    more the cheaper, but for most small volume

    manufacturers this dosent matter.

    Also

  • http://www.groovesanctuary.com Jimbo

    I have a Welsh Minimoog Model E, and it has recently developed some problems, I would like to contact Mr Alex Winter to try to see if he could give some advice on getting it repaired but I don't have any up to date contact details for him, can anyone help?

    info@groovesanctuary.com

  • http://www.stonemusic.co.za Mike Hankinson

    Nice to see my first lp is still around and getting noticed. It was a real pain to record on a Studer 4 track ! And tuning the Putnsy was a problem. We hooked it up to an oscilloscope and set a reference tone to generate a lissajoux figure – then used that to set the octave distribution (temperament).