My Journey into Modular Synths
When I was in my mid-20s, I was making web games in New York. These often required music and sound effects, and as I was a keyboard player and synth nut, I relished the challenge. At the time, there were plenty of digital synths, but I preferred analog. It was so tactile and I could tune in the warm sounds with precision and a bit of flair. Digital was too cold for me, even in 1997.
As I became a more serious full-stack developer, I lost interest in music for a while. Fast-forward to 2018, and I ran across this video, which was a review of a Eurorack module from Intellijel called the Atlantis. Nearly 20 years earlier, I borrowed a classic Roland SH-101 from a friend in New York, and fell in love with that sound. Here was a modern reproduction, perfect and beautiful, but only available in modular "eurorack" form factor. So to use it, you needed to have it in a bigger setup, which I didn't have.
I didn't know much about modular synths at the time, but I quickly went down that rabbit hole. I learned everything I could about Eurorack and modular synths, and started collected the pieces to make something basic: a simple synth that I could use to generate musical patterns.
This quickly grew. I researched and purchased more modules. They can cost anywhere from $80-$500 each, with the average being around $200. I found a number of DIY kits that were cheaper, and figured: "why not, I can assemble them myself and save money." This turned out to be a blast - I started to learn a lot about how these modules worked in the process of building them.
I soon became aware that modular synth nerds tend to buy and sell modules a lot. In fact, it seemed that out of every four modules purchased, only one might last a year in someone's setup. This is partially because of ADHD - once you figure out how something works, it's boring and you want something new. Manufacturers know this, because they release new modules so frequently and people buy them. The used modules show up on second-hand sites, and since I was working at Ricardo.ch, this was perfect.
A few DIY kits added to the case, along with some second-hand finds.
Pretty soon my case was getting full.
So it was time to get a second case.
As it was clear that my hobby was not fading past the first year, it was time to invest. I wanted a monster case, so I designed one:
My concept was simple: make it look like a spaceship. I first needed to figure out how to cut the plywood, so that led me to using a router and a DIY circle jig.
Next I had to install the rails and align them all.
I really didn't want the screws to be visible, and I wanted some "play" to align things. So I printed some custom brackets using my 3D printer.
Five double-width rows needs a lot of power. After much research, I chose a Trogotronic power system, which claim to kill fascists.
Today I'm still enjoying this synth, and it keeps changing as I add and remove new and old and DIY modules. You can hear what it sounds like on my Soundcloud channel.