Punch tape musical synth

synthanola

[Jeri Ellsworth] sent over a 555 design contest entry that struck her as particularly interesting. The Synthanola is a three-channel music synthesizer that accepts input from an old Heathkit paper tape reader. While this hack might seem overly retro, it’s actually an extremely appropriate use of technology, as the Heathkit H-10 and the 555 timer were both popular tech in the 70’s. This retro-focused synth uses fourteen 555 timers, twelve of which are dedicated to synthesizing audio. If this entry does not win the contest, it certainly must be a strong contender for most 555 timers used.

[Thrashbarg] gives a detailed explanation of the logic used to drive the music playback from the punch tape, as well as full circuit diagrams for his entry. So far he has encoded MP3s of Bach’s Invention and Fugue in D Minor to tape, with hopefully more to come. In order to truly appreciate his efforts, the Synthanola should be seen as well as heard. Stick around for a pair of videos of the synth in action.

If you’re interested in seeing more 555 contest entries, be sure to check out some of our previously featured projects.

Comments

  1. zool says:

    :)

  2. Orinoko says:

    I’ve actually saw this synth set up to Thrashbargs’ 486 last week and I must say its quite impressive. The video’s don’t do it justice!

  3. Dino says:

    That thing is VERY cool! Well done!

  4. joe says:

    this is awesome! Very well done. It sounds like some of the notes are a bit out of tune, however.

  5. sm10sm20 says:

    Best project I have seen for quite some time! Love the punch card system, always wanted to do a project with one.

  6. svofski says:

    =)

  7. James says:

    That is not exactly a “well-tempered” clavier but the project is awesome!

  8. rsdio says:

    Encoded MP3s? Don’t you mean MIDI files?

  9. Fallen says:

    :( My 555 synth just got owned.

  10. steven-x says:

    Very cool! I was in the USAF and used a punch tape system to reprogram aircraft processors in the 80’s, and this brought back memories… Plus I like Heathkits & 555’s, so it wins all around!

    Maybe someone will get inspired to set the WAYBAC machine to the 60’s and make a punch card version ;)

  11. NatureTM says:

    That’s pretty awesome.

  12. Frogz says:

    what happens when jeri wins her own creation???
    i was making a 555 strobe light/stroboscope but…
    guess this kinda tops it by far

  13. Don’t worry. There are a lot of prizes and categories. The judges will be also be considering the amount of work done by non-555 components.

    Chris and I are not entering the contest.

    -Jer

  14. 1337 says:

    Fine, its a god damn 555 pianola. Sucks

  15. echodelta says:

    Paper tape yeah! Now I am brainstorming how to do this pneumatically for a street organ type of thing, sorry no dwino or even electricity used. Lookup logic in a integrated vacuum matrix of leather pouches and valves, sounds doable.

  16. dirtyoldman says:

    that pizza pot pie looks yummy!
    awesome hack!
    i imagine using punch cards would require manual swopping of cards in order to play longer pieces.
    (unless you have two card readers i guess)

  17. strider_mt2k says:

    I could weep.
    I would travel to see this.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  18. PhilKll says:

    My 555 music maker has something to aspire to become now. Love this thing.

  19. slipp says:

    that is great.

  20. amodedoma says:

    Punch tape!? I wrote my first program on TTY and saved it on punch tape, serious nostalgia. Amazing project. Bach is the natural choice, I got this flash back to Moogs, and ‘Hooked on Bach’.

  21. Daniel N says:

    Shoot, my entry has exactly 14 555s. Now I need to add more features to win the most 555s category cause my project probably won’t work that well and definitely won’t look that clean.

  22. 555 induction heater :-)

    its possible, I came up with a circuit which uses a single 555 running right at its thermal limit.
    In principle it should be able to heat small screws and suchlike to red heat…

  23. Ren says:

    Punch tape!? We wrote our BASIC on clay tablets with sharpened reeds. If you weren’t careful in drying them in the sun or dropped your deck carrying your program to the high priests in the computer temple, you’d have to start over. And if your program didn’t compile you had to go to the back of the queue after debugging it. If you didn’t submit a working program to the high priest before the end of the lunar cycle your barley ration was cut in half!

  24. blue carbuncle says:

    I think I should have emailed sailormouth and casper. LAME.

  25. here’s the funny part: she had to also arrange the piece for two punch tape channels… that alone was probably not the simplest test, even with the two-part inventions.

  26. TJ says:

    Musicians cry when I show them this.

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