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:
Grant 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
Wiel’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
What 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 Â£1500 at the time!).
The improvements are as follows:
- Ultra-stable oscillators – these have yet to go out of tune in eight years.
- Transpose switch – the range of the keyboard has now been increased by +/- 1 octave.
- Digitally-scanned keyboard
- PWM on Oscillators 1 & 2 when they are set to Square/Pulse waves. Osc 3 in LFO duties provides modulation.
- Multiple Triggering – the envelopes can be set to multiple triggering, in addition to the original’s single triggering.
- 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.