There are a handful of relatively dirt cheap synths out there like the KORG Monotron, but many of them use ribbon controllers that aren’t very precise. Ribbon controllers basically slide pots that you operate with your finger or a stylus. They’re painted to look like piano keys in order to show you approximately where the notes are supposed to be. The Stylophone is another extremely affordable synth that does even less as a synthesizer and uses this type of input. It’s a fun input if you don’t mind imprecision, but can be annoying otherwise.
All it really took was a couple of solder joints in the right places, plus a clever Python script. The script listens for MIDI input from a keyboard, and then controls an MCP4725 DAC, which sends voltages to the Monotron. [schollz] wrote a tuning function that computes the FFT of the MIDI tones to find the fundamental frequencies of each to send along to the Monotron. Check it out after the break.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what then are we to make of something that shares only a few of the original’s design elements, operates in a completely different way, and has been scaled down to a fifth its size? Still seems like flattery to us.
Despite the changes, it’s clear where [Love Hultén] took inspiration for his miniature Marble Machine XS. Readers will no doubt see in it elements from [Martin Molin]’s original Marble Machine, the fantastic plywood and Lego musical contraption, along with his new Marble Machine X, the construction of which never seems to end. Like the originals, [Love]’s miniature version uses a lot of steel balls, albeit considerably scaled down, and it still uses a programming drum to determine where and when to drop them. But rather than strike real traditional instruments, the falling balls strike synthesizer keys, triggering a range of sounds through its built-in speaker. The whole thing is powered by a small electric motor rather than being hand-cranked and is small enough to sit on a desktop, a decided advantage over the mammoth machines to which it pays homage.
We have to say that as much as we love the hacksmanship of the original Marble Machine and the craftsmanship of its successor, the look and feel of [Love]’s machine just blows us away. We’re not sure what materials he used, but the whole hammertone paint scheme and Meccano look is a feast for nostalgic eyes.
If you’re into creating music, you’ll have a surprisingly large variety of open source options at your disposal, ranging from Audacity as rather simple audio editor to Ardour as a full-blown, studio-worthy DAW — and LMMS, Rosegarden, MusE etc. for anything in between. With [Thomas Tortorini]’s GridSound project, you’ll have one additional choice on your list now, except this one runs in your browser. So if you find yourself in a sudden moment of inspiration, all you’ll need is a browser and off you go.
How does one describe the notes that come from a ruler that is anchored on one end and then plucked? The best word we can come up with is “wubulation”. So would that make this ruler-plucking synthesizer a “wubulator”? Or perhaps a “wubatron”?
Whatever we decide to call it, [Dmitry Morozov] dubbed it the RBS-20, or “ruler bass synth, 20-cm”, for the 20-cm stainless steel ruler that forms the heart of the instrument. The ruler is attached to a linear slide which varies the length of the sprung section. A pair of servos can pluck the free section of the ruler in two different places, providing notes in different registers, while another pair of servos control metal fingers that can damp the vibration, change the sustain, and alter the notes. There’s no resonator; the sounds are instead picked up by a piezo mic. Twelve keys on the base of the instrument can be programmed for various lengths, and an OLED display gives the musician feedback. The video below shows the instrument wubulating, and brings us back to those desktop jam sessions in our grade school days — at least until the rulers were confiscated.
[Mitxela]’s repair of a Roland JV-1080 (a rack-mounted 90s-era synthesizer) sounds simple: replace a broken rotary encoder on the front panel. It turned out to be anything but simple, since the part in question is not today’s idea of a standard rotary encoder at all. The JV-1080 uses some kind of rotary pulse switch, which has three outputs (one for each direction, and one for pushing the knob in like a button.) Turn the knob in one direction, and one of the output wires is briefly shorted to ground with every detent. Turn it the other way, and the same happens on the other output wire. This is the part that needed a replacement.
Rather than track down a source for the broken part, [Mitxela] opted to replace it with a modern rotary encoder combined with an ATtiny85 microcontroller to make it act like something the JV-1080 understands and expects. There was an additional wrinkle, however. The original rotary pulse switch is an entirely passive device, and lives at the end of a four-conductor cable with no power provided on it. How could the ATtiny85 be powered without resorting to running a wire to a DC voltage supply somewhere? Success was had, but it did take some finessing.
For the power, it turns out that the signal wires are weakly pulled up to +5 V and [Mitxela] used that for a power supply to the microcontroller. Still, by itself that wasn’t enough, because the ATtiny85 can easily consume more current than the weak pullups can source. We really recommend reading all the details in [Mitxela]’s writeup, but the short version is that the ATtiny85 does two things.
First, it minimizes its power usage by spending most of its time in sleep mode (consuming barely any power at all) and uses an interrupt to wake up just long enough to handle knob activity. Second, the trickle of power from the weak pullups doesn’t feed the ATtiny directly. It charges a 100 uF capacitor through a diode, and that is what keeps the microcontroller from browning out during its brief spurts of activity. Even better, after browsing the datasheet for the ATtiny, [Mitxela] saw it was possible to use the built-in ESD protection diodes for this purpose instead of adding a separate component.
It’s a neat trick and makes for a very compact package. Visit the project’s GitHub repository to dive into the nitty gritty. In the end, a single assembly at the end of a 4-wire connector acts just like the original passive component, no extra wires or hardware modifications needed.
When opening older hardware it’s never quite certain what will be found on the inside. But at least [Mitxela]’s repair duties on this synth didn’t end up with him tripping out on LSD.
This might seem like a tall order, but he wasn’t starting from zero. It was already known that you could plug an external display into it if you used a USB to DVI/HDMI adapter; but without the touch overlay it wasn’t a particularly useful trick. He pondered adding an external connector for the device’s built-in touch screen overlay, but that broke his no modifications rule. Considering how much one of these things cost, we can’t blame him for not wanting to put a hole in the side.
So he started to look for a software solution to get him the rest of the way. Luckily the MODX runs Linux, and Yamaha has made good on their GPL responsibilities and released the source code for anyone who’s interested. While poking around, he figured out that the device uses tslib to talk to the touch screen, which [sn00zerman] had worked with on previous projects. He realized that the solution might be as simple as finding a USB touch screen controller that’s compatible with the version of tslib running on the MODX.
In the end, a trip through his parts bin uncovered a stand-alone touch screen controller that he knew from experience would work with the library. Sure enough, when plugged into the MODX, the OS accepted it as an input device. With the addition of a USB hub, he was able to combine this with an existing display and finally have a more comfortable user-interface for his synthesizer.
When [Michael Wessel] bought his MicroKORG synthesizer/vocoder, he felt less than amused when two years later the MicroKORG S was released, with the ‘S’ standing for ‘sound’, apparently, for the 2+1 speaker system that was added to it. Undeterred, [Michael] figured out that both synthesizers are similar enough that one could likely add a similar speaker system to the original MicroKORG.
The similarities between the two products become apparent when one compares the original with its successor, with the latter seemingly mostly adding said speakers and more presets, along with a snazzy new exterior. (Although the 1970s styling of the original may have more fans.) As the embedded video shows, this mod is fairly clean.
At the core of this mod is a PAM8403-based class D amplifier board. The PAM8403 is a 3 W audio amplifier, originally produced by Power Analog Microelectronics (now Diodes). While not an amazing amplifier, it lends itself well for battery-powered applications like the MicroKORG. Rounding out the build is a 7805 linear regulator to get 5 V for the PAM8403, a few filter capacitors, a switch to turn the speakers on/off, and of course the speakers.
Although there’s quite a bit of space in the enclosure, most speakers tend to be large enough that this can be a bit of a squeeze. [Michael] found some low-profile 20 W full-range speakers that seem to work well for this purpose. To finish wiring this up, all it takes is a hole saw and a way to get the audio output from the MicroKORG.
In this mod, [Michael] opted to get the audio from the output jack on the back, but for a cleaner result it probably could be wired straight into the on-board header.