One of the things that has been the most helpful for me over the years in sort of syncing up my general understanding of electronics theory with understanding how synthesizers are actually designed is reading circuit descriptions in service manuals. A lot of the American companies especially wrote really great, detailed explanations of how their instruments worked, and reading them has helped me to both understand the specific circuits they discussed, and understand more broadly how different objectives in synth design can be achieved… and more quickly recognize what’s going on in an unfamiliar circuit.
Because I’m a nerd I guess, I thought it might be fun to make some step-by-step “circuit descriptions” like that for synth circuits that don’t have them. My first featured circuit –the system through which the Yamaha CS-80 handles preset, panel and memory switching– is sprawling, but actually fairly simple, much like the synth that it comes from. Continue reading “How Sound Selection works in the Yamaha CS-80”
When this Minimoog Model D arrived a couple of years ago, it was probably the absolute most thoroughly wrecked synth I had ever agreed to work on. I made a deal to do it for a flat fee, even though I knew it wouldn’t be technically “profitable,” under the condition that I could take my time on it, kind of as an absurd challenge to myself and because I knew it would be really satisfying when I finally finished it. Since it is finally done and restoring it was such an insane gauntlet of tasks, I thought it might be worth reviving the long-neglected Shop Blog with a post about it! Continue reading “Restoring the Saddest Minimoog in the World”
While we’re working from home due to the virus and have all of the synths and all our recording gear in the same place, we took the opportunity to make this video about the restoration of two Prophet 10s we’ve restored recently. One of them proved to be one of the most arduous restorations we’ve ever done due to massive damage to its microprocessor system. It was a long road to get it working, but when it was done, we celebrated by MIDI chaining the two of them (which we had also both retrofitted with MIDI) and making some fantastic and massive PROPHET 20 sounds! Check out this video for a recap of the restoration process and some demos of the synths’ powerful sound.
The development and release of the Moog MemoryMoog (and MemoryMoog Plus) was the last gasp of the Moog company in the 80s. Around 1980, the two younger American synth companies, Sequential Circuits and Oberheim, were thriving, putting out one new synth after another. By the time the Memorymoog came out, SCI and Oberheim had already released multiple true polysynths. The Japanese companies were cranking out one new polysynth after another. The two remaining from the old guard of major American synth companies, ARP and Moog, were acutely aware of the serious market pressure to put out polysynths of their own. Each had already barfed out a big, cumbersome, paraphonic psuedo-poly (the ARP Quadra and the Polymoog, respectively) but it was REALLY time for them to get their act together, hire some programmers and design a true polysynth with digital voice assignment and control.
One interesting thing about restoring vintage synths is that almost every instrument that we work on has been worked on by another tech at least once before. And it seems that more often than not, those other techs were… not great. We see a lot of bad work, but my favorite examples also feature a very special element of absurdity. Here are some recent highlights:
The owner of this ARP 2600 got it in an insane trade in the late 80s… in exchange for a Peavey keyboard amp and a TR-505! A lot of it had never worked in the entire 30 years he had had it.
When we do restoration of an ARP that’s in bad shape, we’ve learned that there’s really only one good way to approach it. We basically strip it down to its bones and do everything we possibly can in one fell swoop before even trying to test different systems. It ends up being so much more efficient that it actually costs less than taking a more step-by-step approach.
Because I am now one of those people who thinks they are very busy, I am just going to share a “quick tip” today.
In one of several Odysseys that we rebuilt recently, the “Proportional Pitch Control” pads (otherwise known as PPC, those three spongy white pads that Mark III Odysseys have) were so bad that no amount of cleaning could revive them. I finally was forced to look for another solution, and tried using some FSRs (force sensing resistors) and the results were great.
This was Bell Tone’s first Polivoks job, though not my first Russian synth repair as I have a UDS MARSH drum synth of my own. My goals were basically to “assimilate” this Soviet-era Russian for life in the modern United States and correct a few issues with the keyboard.
I’ve been surprised by how many people have seemed to enjoy reading the Bell Tone Synth Works blog and now feel bad that it has been neglected so much in recent months. So what happened to the blog? Basically, the blog is a victim of its own success. I started the blog when I started the business and didn’t have many clients, to sort of get our name out there, make our site more findable on Google and prove to prospective clients that I knew what I was doing, aware that as a somewhat young woman working in a field undeniably dominated by middle-aged and older men, my knowledge and skills might be met with skepticism, conscious or subconscious. I also wanted to store my notes on my repairs somewhere so that I could refer to them later, and figured I might as well put them where other people could find them too.
Now, partly thanks to the blog and our YouTube channel but also to a great extent due to word of mouth and our growing reputation for doing good work (which is great), we have so much demand for our work that I often feel like I can’t spare the time it takes to write here.