How to start making synthesizers

hey friends,

I have been wanting to start making my own hardware synthesizers but have no idea where to start.

if you have any advice or any resources on how to start I would be very thankful <3

much love

(this was an edit)

I forgot to say that I want to make hardware synthesizers so I added that :slight_smile:

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I’m sure there will be a lot of suggestions but to start off, these videos are very well suited for someone with knowledge of synthesizers but not much electronic theory:


& this is a decent resource to learn more about basic electronics theory:
https://www.electronics-tutorials.ws/

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thank you friend! every little bit helps :slight_smile:

Three part DIY series Casper did for bastl

The logic noise Series by Eliot Williams on hackaday is how I got started :slight_smile:

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Before you begin, I recommend thinking a little more carefully about what you want to do. Just like there are many synths to buy, there are many you could build. You can definitely go for some of the many DIY projects out there, but I’d recommend considering what you want to build and why; hardware or software, analogue or digital, monosynth, drum synth etc? Additionally what type of format you’d like to target: standalone, semi modular, modular? For me, for example, eurorack gave me a format in which I could make something piecemeal out of simpler parts. It also let me more easily experiment with individual elements of a synth Vs designing something all in one. I could make a simple voice, a custom trig sequencer, unusual modulation sources etc. Personally, modular was a great driver for improving my analogue circuit design skills (which was intersting in itself) too.

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fantastic, thank you friend!

yes! good thinking, thank you for the advice :slight_smile:

Adamski’s YouTube channel documents his multi-year process of coming up with what, in the end, is a pretty awesome 3-voice analog synth:

He’s clearer than most in his explanations, too. Seconding Moritz Klein’s and Casper’s channels linked above as well.

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Not trying to hijack the thread or anything but are there good beginner resources to do digital microcontroller based synths? I bought a Electrosmith Daisy Pod a few months ago and have done some very minimal tinkering, but I’ve got a full vision for what I’d like to achieve for a small generative synthesizer now but just don’t have the coding know-how to really get it off the ground. The only thing I’ve tried to use as a resource to learn has has been a basic C++ course that’s been pretty good but I feel like there’s so much I also need to know about how things work on embedded systems.

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I’ve been enjoying Brian Oakes building circuits live on twitch. Lots of good info:


@broakes

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Andrew of Nonlinearcircuits posts schematics for all of his modules, they’re all CMOS based (no microprocessors), a good place to look over schematics to see how things are done.

Also Elby/CGS, Music from outer space and the Yusynth pages are great resources for some older schematics…

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nice! thank you friend <3

thank you! I appreciate all the help!

thank you my friend! this helps :slight_smile:

anything helps friend! thank youu

About 2 years ago I wanted to get into synth building. I had simple electronics experience (some basic Arduino stuff) and knew how to code.
So I set off and found myself on a winding and very indirect exploration, which a few months ago culminated in my first “self-designed module” (in reality a mashup of a few open-source modules).

Some highlights from my explorations:

  • I started by getting an Axoloti and building some add-on circuits. This was a good way to play around with analog/digital ins and figure out what sort of circuits are needed to integrate a 3v chip with eurorack voltages. I was super lost at this point but managed to build some really messy circuits. The axoloti is pretty cool and a great starting point but I never really enjoyed designing patches in the visual patch IDE.
  • I then naively wanted to get into Eurorack but not buy “what everyone else had” so I tried to DIY some Yusynth circuits straight onto PCB perfboard, which failed in a horrific mess.
  • From there I built a handful of open-source DIY modules: radio music, ornament and crime, two tone LPG, terminal (DIY teletype), etc. I inevitably made plenty of mistakes and this is where I got familiar with reading schematics + got better at soldering. I also was fortunate to live across the street from the Koma synth shop, so they helped me debug some issues when I was starting out, for which I’m super grateful ( :yellow_heart: Koma folks!)
  • Eventually I got to the point where I wanted to try to build my own thing. Given my previous perfboard mess I was determined to learn how to layout circuits in software and have PCBs manufactured. I ended up learning Kicad with Getting To Blinky 5.0 - Introduction - YouTube. My first fabricated board was a 4HP SMD redo of the Bastl Kompas. The Kompas is an open-source arduino based module with 3 pots, 3 cv in, 2 gate in, and 3 trig out. This was a great opportunity to dive deep into how a simple digital module works and it wasn’t as risky because I was only transposing the schematic.
  • From there I started doing adaptations. I reworked the Kompas to expose serial pins so I could interface with other chips/sensors. I built a little sequencer by adapting the Befaco Muxlicer design (also an open-source arduino-based module)

From this I have a few observations:

  • digital is probably easier to get into than analog (at least for those familiar with coding): I tried several times to design and then breadboard purely CMOS based synths and always ran into issues that I had no idea how to approach. My tactic now is to build modules with a digital-core that integrate with one or two CMOS chips so that I can slowly learn analog stuff but still be in a the more familiar digital world. This is also great because you can adapt and prototype much more easily in code.
  • learning layout software and getting boards printed is so much better than winging it :slight_smile:
  • choosing a nice platform and getting good at it is probably a good way to go. For instance, I’ve been having blast working with Arduino-based designs because the more familiar with the Atmeg328 chip, the more I can explore and bring in new ideas while still doing interesting things. I’ve found so many nice synth projects that use that Arduino chip, which has also helped (a lot of Bastl and Befaco + Mutable Instruments Grids to name a few commercial ones). If you are into analog stuff, I would second the resources @forrest mentioned and guess that picking one designer and getting familiar with their style could be beneficial. For more processor-intensive digital stuff, I’ve seen a lot of knowledge sharing going on around the Mutable Instruments designs.

Have fun! It is a rich and deep area to play in, which can be overwhelming. What always helps me is to not always look forward at what is the next challenge, but also look back at old projects and realize how much I learned from them and how much clearer everything is now.

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To add to this, Barton Musical Circuits offer designs which include a pretty good breakdown of how they work. The designs are a mixture of microcontroller based, modules built around various ICs (eg 4k family CMOS and their successors) and other analogue discrete components.

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wow, thank you for the thoughtful response! this was some good advice and insight.

thank you friend!

awesome! thank you my friend!

wise words

from what i understand, if you wanna make your own design from scratch then you’ll need to study electrical engineering

how deep you need to go is up to you

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