Monotron Gets All the Mods

[Harry Axten] turned the diminutive Korg Monotron into a playable analog synthesizer, complete with a full-sized keyboard spanning two octaves and a MIDI interface.

Korg Introduced the Monotron analog mini-synthesizer back in 2010. They also dropped the schematics for the synth. Hackers wasted no time modifying and improving the Monotron. [Harry] incorporated several of these changes into his build. The Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) has been changed over to an envelope generator. The ribbon controller is gone, replaced with a CV/gate interface to sound notes.

The CV/gate interface, in turn, is connected to an ATMega328P which converts it to MIDI. MIDI data comes from one of two sources: A two-octave full-sized keyboard pulled from a scrapped MIDI controller or a MIDI connector at the back.

The user interface doesn’t stop with the keyboard. The low-cost pots on the original Monotron have been replaced with much higher quality parts on the front panel. The tuning pot is a 10-turn device, which allows for precision tuning. All the mods are mounted on a single board, which is connected to the original Monotron board.

The fruit of all hard work is an instrument that is a heck of a lot of fun to play. Check it out in the video below. Want more? You can read all about hacking about the Monotron’s bigger brother, the Monotribe.

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A Fully Open Source Raspberry Pi Synthesizer

Have you ever seen something and instantly knew it was something you wanted, even though you weren’t aware it existed a few seconds ago? That’s how we felt when we received a tip about Zynthian, a fully open source (hardware and software) synthesizer. You can buy the kit online directly from the developers, or build your own from scratch using their documentation and source code. With a multitude of filters, effects, engines, and essentially unlimited upgrade potential, they’re calling it a “Swiss Army Knife of Synthesis”. We’re inclined to agree.

At the most basic level, the Zynthian is a Raspberry Pi 3 with a touch screen, a few rotary encoders, a dedicated sound card, and MIDI support. Software wise the biggest feature is arguably the real-time Linux kernel for the lowest latency possible. There’s also a custom web interface so you can control the Zynthian from another machine on the network if you want. As a matter of course, it also includes a wide array of pre-installed audio packages to experiment and create with.

Kits are offered at various prices from $420 USD for the top of the line model down to unpopulated PCBs for a few bucks. We like that they broke things down this way; allowing users of various skill (and or patience) to pay what they want. If you just want to buy the custom boards and roll your own case and Pi solution, you can do that.

If you want to go all in, you can build one entirely from scratch as well. Everything from the CAD files for the case to their custom rotary encoder library is completely open (most licensed under GPL v3) for anyone to use however they see fit. There’s even a page in the wiki for listing hardware which isn’t officially supported by the project, but remain as options for those looking to cut their own path.

Synthesizers are a fairly popular hacker project, from Google’s AI-powered version to single chip exercises in frugality. If you want to learn even more about the fine line between digital noise and music, check out this fantastic series by our very own [Elliot Williams].

[Thanks to Mynasru for the tip.]

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Vintage Organ Donates Parts for Two New Instruments

It’s often hard to know what to do with a classic bit of electronics that’s taking up far too much of the living room for its own good. But when the thing in question is an electronic organ from the 1970s, the answer couldn’t be clearer: dissect it for its good parts and create two new instruments with them.

Judging by [Charlie Williams]’ blog posts on his Viscount Project, he’s been at this since at least 2014. The offending organ, from which the project gets its name, is a Viscount Bahia from the 1970s that had seen better days, apparently none of which included a good dusting. With careful disassembly and documentation, [Charlie] took the organ to bits. The first instrument to come from this was based on the foot pedals. A Teensy and a custom wood case turned it into a custom MIDI controller; hear it in action below. The beats controller from the organ’s keyboard was used for the second instrument. This one appears far more complex, not only for the beautiful, hand-held wooden case he built for it, but because he reused most of the original circuitry. A modern tube amp was added to produce a little distortion and stereo output from the original mono source, with the tip of the tube just peeking above the surface of the instrument. We wish there were a demo video of this one, but we’ll settle for gazing at the craftsmanship.

In a strange bit of timing, [Elliot Williams] (no relation, we assume) just posted an Ask Hackaday piece looking for help with a replacement top-octave generator for another 1970s organ. It’s got a good description of how these organs worked, if you’re in the mood to learn a little more.

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A Parallel Port Synthesiser For Your DOS PC

It is a great shame that back in the days when a typical home computer had easy low-level hardware access that is absent from today’s machines, the cost of taking advantage of it was so high. Professional PCBs were way out of reach of a home constructor, and many of the integrated circuits that might have been used were expensive and difficult to source in small quantities.

Here in the 21st century we have both cheap PCBs and easy access to a wealth of semiconductors, so enthusiasts for older hardware can set to work on projects that would have been impossible back in the day. Such an offering is [Serdef]’s Tiny Parallel Port General MIDI Synthesizer for DOS PCs, a very professionally produced synth that you might have paid a lot of money to own three decades ago.

At its heart is a SAM2695 synthesiser chip, and the board uses the parallel port as an 8-bit I/O port. The software side is handled by a TSR (a Terminate and Stay Resident driver loaded at startup, for those of you who are not DOS aficionados), and there are demonstrations of it running with a few classic games.

If the chip used here interests you, you might like to look at a similar project for an Arduino. The Kickstarter we covered is now long over, but you can also find it on GitHub.

Stylish Business Card with a Stylophone Built In

If you’re in the electronics business, PCB business cards seem like a natural fit. They may be impractical and expensive, but they can really set you apart from that boring paper card from Vistaprint crowd. But they need to make sense for what you do, so for a musician and MIDI pro, this MIDI-controller stylophone business card is a real eye- and ear-catcher.

This business card is an idea that [Mitxela] has been kicking around for a while, and he even built a prototype a couple of years ago. The homebrew card, made using the spray paint, laser etching, and ferric chloride method, worked well enough as a proof of concept, but it was a little rough around the edges and needed the professional touch of a PCB fabricator. We’ve got to say that the finished cards are pretty darn sexy, with the black resist contrasting nicely against the gold-immersion pads. He selected a 1-mm thick board and made the USB connector as a separate small board; snapped off of the main board and reflowed back on, it builds up the edge connector to the proper thickness. The parts count is low — just an ATtiny85 and a resistor ladder to encode each key, with a simple jumper used as the stylus. The device itself is just a MIDI controller and makes no music on its own, but we still think this is a pretty creative way to hang out a shingle.

[Mitxela] has quite a few interesting builds, and is no stranger to our pages. Check out his recent servo-plucked MIDI music box, or these amazing miniature LED earrings.

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Tracktorino Shields You From Poor Interfaces

On-screen controls in a digital audio workstation expand the power of a DJ or musician, but they are not intuitive for everyone. The tactility of buttons, knobs, sliders and real-world controls feels nothing like using a mouse, trackpad, or even a touchscreen. Unfortunately, devices meant to put control into a DJs hands can be unavailable due to location or cost. [Gustavo Silveira] took charge of the situation so he could help other DJs and musicians take control of their workstations with a customized MIDI interface for Traktor DJ software.

MIDI is a widely used serial protocol which has evolved from a DIN connector to USB, and now it is also wireless. This means that the Traktorino is not locked to Traktor despite the namesake. On the Hackaday.io page, there’s even a list of other workstations it will work with, but since many workstations, all the good ones anyway, accept MIDI hardware like this, the real list is a lot longer.

The custom circuit board is actually a shield. Using an Arduino UNO, the current poster child of the Arduino world, opens up the accessibility for many people who don’t know specialized software. A vector drawing for a lasercut enclosure is also included. This means that even the labeling on the buttons are not locked into English language.

Here’s another project which combined laser cutting and MIDI to make some very clever buttons or turn your DIN MIDI connector into USB.

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There’s More To MIDI Than Music – How About A Light Show?

MIDI instruments and controllers are fun devices if you want to combine your interest in music and electronics in a single project. Breaking music down into standardized, digital signals can technically turn anything with a button or a sensor into a musical instrument or effect pedal. On the other hand, the receiving end of the MIDI signal is mostly overlooked.

[FuseBerry], a music connoisseur with a background in electronics and computer science, always wanted to build a custom MIDI device, but instead of an instrument, he ended up with a MIDI controlled light show in the shape of an exploded truncated icosahedron ([FuseBerry]’s effort to look up that name shouldn’t go unnoticed). He designed and 3D-printed all the individual geometric shapes, and painstakingly equipped them with LEDs from a WS2818B strip. An Arduino Uno controls those LEDS, and receives the MIDI signals through a regular 5-pin DIN MIDI connector that is attached to the Arduino’s UART interface.

The LEDs are mapped to pre-defined MIDI notes, so whenever one of them is played, and their NoteOn message is received, the LEDs light up accordingly. [FuseBerry] uses his go-to DAW to create the light patterns, but any software / device that can send MIDI messages should do the trick. In the project’s current state, the light pattern needs to be created manually, but with some adjustments to the Arduino code, that could be more automated, something along the lines of this MIDI controlled Christmas light show.

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