17 amazing Steampunk synthesizer mods
27th Oct 2009 | 17:13
The Casio SK-1
In honour of Synth Week on MusicRadar, we’re celebrating the wonderful world of modified synthesizers and circuit bent boxes of noise from the darkest corners of the internet… with a twist: all are Steampunk-esque in design.
Etched brass plates, antique-green controls and vintage radio shells are all present and correct. As are the oscillators, triggers and circuits needed to breath electronic life into each glorious creation.
Scroll through to find MusicRadar’s ultimate Steampunk synth mod, starting here: the delightfully amateur-looking, ‘dangerously'-circuit bent Casio SK-1…
While the world of circuit bending is another kettle of modded fish entirely, this bent Casio SK-1 scrapes in thanks to its boxed (almost Art Deco-like) drag wheel attachment.
According to the SK-1’s creator, Gieskes: “It’s got an arpeggios circuit for overall pitch control, and a video out. The video out is basically just the signals from the patch bay going through a 1k resistor and a diode… video signal is around 1 volt and the pins from the Casio chip are 5 - so it’s a bit dangerous…”
You can see the SK-1 (and its video out capabilities) here.
Next: Kawai PH50
According to mistergone: “This is actually a great sounding keyboard for being a portable. It even has a joystick for blending sounds and pitch-bending. I use effects processors with it live. I actually bought this synth off of a crack-head with a case for $20! I hate to see good instruments go to waste in a pawn shop.”
(Via The Gaslamp Bazaar)
The Electric Dream Chest
NOTE: This is the first of five synth mods from the modestly titled Mr Ugly. You can see all his homemade delights via Mr Ugly's Instruments blog with accompanying videos via his DoctorUltra channel on YouTube. First up: The Electric Dream Chest...
Not only does Mr Ugly craft wonderful boxed synths, he actually makes music with ‘em, too. The Electric Dream Chest features two oscillators “feeding into a JK Flip Flop” an overriding pitch control plus “a whole bunch of modulation/glitch switches and two outputs with different signals.”
Hear the Dream Chest in action with Mr Ugly’s band, Stamina Mantis.
Next: The Quintrigger
Another noisy wooden box! We’ll let Mr Ugly explain: “It's a quintoscillator feeding into a Hex-Schmitt Trigger that I fed back into itself. The first of many projects where I design something from scratch then circuit bend the shit out of it.”
“The quintoscillator triggers the Schmitt Trigger, then the Schmitt Trigger feeds back into itself via all of those lovely switches! Each switch has 3 positions of modulation, so the number of drone combinations is amazing! And there are four separate outputs. I think that if each output was run through effects into a mixer, you could create some pretty intense walls of symphatic drone.”
(Via Mr Ugly)
Ring Modulating Oscillation Distorter
The first example of an ‘antique radio’ Steampunk-by-default housing to grace this list is Mr Ugly’s Ring Modulating Oscillation Distorter. According to him: “It's got five oscillators, a circuit bent Ibanez Distortion Pedal with body contact bends, and a passive ring modulator all housed in the body of an antique radio.
“All three things can be used separately, but in conjunction with one another they sound pretty rad! Beeps, tweeps, grinds and waves of things! The oscillators and the pedal run off 9v power supplies. Boss adapters with a daisy chain is what I use, but the pedal can run off a 9v battery if needed.”
(Via Mr Ugly)
Next: The Haunt Box
The Haunt Box
Mr Ugly features a bunch of ‘Haunt Boxes’ on his blog but it’s the brass detail and antiqued-green controls that give this one its Steampunk edge. Sound wise, the case includes a spring reverb unit, variable voltage control and one 1/4-inch mono output.
According to Mr U: “you can toggle the oscillator signal to the output on and off, so you can hear either just the creepy moans and wails or the wails with beeps and screeches".
(Via Mr Ugly)
Next: Dual Oscillator
Yes, the Dual Oscillator is a dual oscillator, made for “simple two tone drones”: one is controlled with the sliders, the other with “knob action”. The leather work surface, wooden housing and brass detail make this a simple yet elegant Steampunk-esque design.
(Via Mr Ugly)
Next: Edison's Beatbox
NOTE: This is the first of eight entries from the uber-talented Mike Ford. He has countless other mods which are well worthy of a mention here but, to save repetition we strongly recommend you check his maddscientist39110 photostream on Flickr, his SonofCastille channel on YouTube and his interview with Getlofi for a mind-boggling display of metal-cased noise. First up: Edison's Beatbox...
This drum machine/synth combo features two sounds: “one a cheezy (sic) drum machine and another organ type circuit tuned in fiths!”. The wooden housing definitely adds a touch of Victorian chic.
Next: Homage To Moog
Homage To Moog
“This is a synth that I was working on during the time of Bob Moog’s passing,” writes Mike Ford. It is housed in an old wooden speaker cab that was surplus medical equipment. The circuits are two old ray guns from circa 1979 made by Kuson toys. The guns were called Fazors.
“There are two echo delay kits from Canakit, both modded to self-oscillate. All that goes through a salvaged CPU speaker system I dug out the dumpster! There are 18 AAA batteries that power the delay units and three [x] 9v that power up the amp and toy ray guns!! This thing makes crazy sci-fi noises from hell!”
Next: Silver Sequencer
Weird Sound Generator
Radio Free Mars
Atari Steampunk Console
An Atari Punk Console (or APC for short) is “a simple DIY noisemaker circuit that is relatively inexpensive and easy to build”. This is Mike Ford’s take on the genre but, while it certainly does ‘make noise’, it probably doesn’t sit in the ‘easy to build’ category. Brilliantly dubbed “Her Majesty’s Ataric Punkaphone“ by ‘someone over at Electro-Music.com’, you can see it in action here.
Next: Captain Nemo Beatbox
Captain Nemo Beatbox
Here’s a snippet from Getlofi’s interview with Mike Ford: “The Nemo beat box is fucking rad! Are you getting those extra sounds through some feedback circuitry?”
“Nemo is a bent 1980s Realistic/Radioshack beatbox,” replies Ford. “I kinda love those old drum machine sounds and hope to get a National Panasonic or Univox to mangle (circuit bend) soon! There were some trimmer caps on the board [and] I wired some pots to gain control over the oscillators.”
All Hands, Man Your Battlestations
“This is a sculpture that produces electronic synthesizer sounds and percussion,” writes Mike Ford about this battlestation-inspired chrome-plated telephone/synth wonder. “I used the old photographs on the old WW1 submarines and the ‘talking tubes’ that connected the various areas of the submarine.”
Unfortunately there's no accompanying video. It looks amazing, though.
Jules Vernian Analog Synthesizer
A modular masterpiece built by a man known simply as ‘Peter’ (check his Flowerseven blog for more info). Modules include an SNVoice (based on a ‘70s Texas Instruments sound chip, the SN76477, originally used for arcade game sound FX) and a Pulse Divider (a timing control element “for creating poly-rhythms and complicated evolving sequences”).
The brass control panels were etched using Jake Von Slatt’s electrolytic process.
(Via: Steampunk Workshop)
Our top Steampunk synth mod! This etched-brass modular beast took its German creator, Moritz Wolpert, two years to build. And if the Google translation is correct, we can believe it: “all parts such as buttons and handles were made on a lathe by hand. The same goes for the front panel - it was decorated by hand, and etched.”
Moritz Wolpert was also responsible for the Heckeshorn - a working steampunk controller! It was apparently on display at Frankfurt Musikmesse 2007 hooked-up to a turntable and a Korg MS-20. Let’s hope the Heckeshorn returns with the Schaltzentrale in 2010…