In the year 2000, I was in college and obsessed with modular synths, but could barely afford to eat. I knew it was possible to build your own synth, but there wasn’t anyone, or anywhere to turn to for advice. In the past decade, much more information has been published online, and in 2013 I started down my path to DIY modular. Even with all of the information online, there still lacked a single, simple comprehensive guide for those looking to build their own synthesizer. I want AI Synthesis to be that guide. Prior to building my own synth, I was a dreamer, after building my modular, I felt I had awoken. I want to help others do the same.Abe Ingle
So, you want to build your own Synth? Awesome, we’re here to help. Here’s how it went for me: I dreamed of building a DIY synthesizer, and all I could think about was modules, modules, modules. I would search for information on how to get started, and quickly got bogged down in the dirty details: I would need to pick a format, a case, and get my hands on a bi-polar power supply. I would need tools, and then choose a DIY Synth kit. That’s a lot of decisions, and while the information I needed was out there, finding it involved thousands of different google searches and forum posts. Below I’ll help you make them quickly – let’s get started!!! Disclaimer: There are a many, many, many different options and opinions on how to getting started in synth DIY: This list is the most simplified, vanilla list I could come up with and will work for most anybody.
Step 1: Order Some Tools
There are a lot of tools that come in handy when building your own synth, but to get started, you’ll just need the following:
- Soldering Iron: Cheap or Nice
- Wire Strippers
- Multimeter (with continuity testing)
- Tip Cleaner
That’s it. That will get you through quite a few kits. Once you build a few modules, you can get all the other cool DIY tools!
Step 2: Pick a Format
Format is important, but don’t think too hard on it. AI Synthesis offers DIY Synth kits in Eurorack. If you want to get into the weeds, here is more information on formats. My personal modular system is mostly “large format.” This is a personal choice. I love the large format, aka, 5U format because I love using trustworthy 1/4″ cables, and having room to manipulate knobs and switches without having to be too careful. When I dreamt of synths, I was always dreaming about the old Moog, Roland, and ARP 1/4″ modular systems. This was my dream, and no other format would fulfill it. The downside is that it is 2/5 larger than a Eurorack system, and often a bit more expensive. That said, large format modular systems often feature shielded cabling, extra power filtering, and more deluxe hardware then their Eurorack counterparts.
Eurorack is by far, the most popular modular synthesizer format. The smaller size (3/5 of Large Format size) and the wonderfully diverse array of manufacturers make this format very attractive. Eurorack systems are small, and use 1/8″ jacks (like headphones). You can pack an awful lot of Eurorack modular into a 6U 19″case. If you are leaning towards a large format synth, do it. It is probably your calling and you’ll end up there regardless. If you are 50/50, choose Eurorack. They are different systems, but by no means are they not compatible. I own both formats and they play quite nicely together.
Step 3: Choosing a Case (made easy)
You can agonize over cases for months, but I have a simple solution for the beginner: Pick up a shallow 19″ road case:
- They are (relatively) cheap, even when compared to building your own case.
- There are off the shelf solutions for mounting both MU and Eurorack into a 19″ case.
- When you need more room you can just buy another rack case – they look great together.
- If you want to get rid of it, they are easy to sell.
I use “shallow” (also called effect) 19″ cases – they look great. That said, if there is another case you just love, by all means buy it!
Step 4: Power and Mounting
If you go MU, the easiest power solution is a Synthesizers.com QPS2 power supply. You’ll get enough power and distribution to start, all in one product. Nice! If you take my advice and buy a 19″ standard road case, the QCR8 is a great solution for mounting your modules. If you go Euro, the Tiptop Audio Happy Ending Kit is a great solution for putting your first system together in a 19″ rack. There. That was easy! If you want to build your own, I humbly suggest our own DIY Wallwart Eurorack Power Supply.
Step 5: Buy your first DIY Synth Kit!
If you’ve never held a soldering iron before, fear not. I built this business specifically for you. Start with our AI001 Multiple DIY Synth Kit. It contains everything you need, will teach you to solder, and will be an invaluable part of your modular system. When you’ve finished that, move on to the AI002 DIY Mixer Kit. It contains everything you need, and will teach you how to deal with the common components of a DIY synthesizer module: resistors, capacitors, and ICs. the mixer is perfect for mixing both audio and control voltage signals, and will be a valuable part of your system. After that, choose from any of our “3rd build” DIY Synth Kits, and you’ll be off to the races! Get on our mailing list to be informed as to when our other DIY Synth kits are ready!