Thursday, February 09, 2006

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Friday, September 23, 2005

The project

July 2005 I bought an old KORG MS-10 analog synthesizer and redesigned the exterior of it. Here's the story:
As the bass-player in the poptriphopelectronica-band melophonia, I was in the need for a good bass-synth for recording and live usage. It would have to be:
  • Analog. I like analog synths, both the sound and the way they are operated. And the honesty about them that the virtual analogs lack.
  • Capable of both good deep bass sounds and more resonant TB-like sounds (meaning a good, powerful lowpass-filter, first of all).
  • Small. It should be easy to bring to gigs and rehersals, and I wouldn't need polyphony or lots of keys.
  • Fitted with rotary knobs, especially the filter. Much better than sliders for manual tweaking. (I sadly had to write all Roland-synths off the list for this reason.)
  • Not too expensive.
  • Good looking.

After some time searching for suitable synths, I found out that the Korg MS-10 would probably be great for my needs. Except for one thing: I don't really like its looks. The nearly vertical control panel was probably a way to make it look more like a modular synth (the MS-10 is actually semi-modular), and the shape of it and its more famous big brother MS-20 has become well known and classic. But still - I don't really like it.

Then I came across a guy who was selling his old, already rebuilt MS-10. He had turned it into a synth module at the age of 16, sometimes in the late 80's, when these synths were really out of fashion; he had cut off everything but the control surface of the synth (all the electronics are mounted to the inside of this surface). Then he had put this board with knobs and connectors in a self made wooden box. He had a MIDI to CV converter, and used it as a mono synth module. Luckily, he had saved the keyboard, but the modulation wheel was gone (only the pot left).

This was really a great opportunity for me; I got the synth fairly cheap because of its non-original state, and I got an MS-10 that I could rebuild without destroying a classic piece of gear; it was already "destroyed". Best of all, I got to build my very own synth (almost) just the way I wanted it to look. As I am an industrial design student, this was a great little project for me.

I bought the synth, took it home and picked everything but the electronics apart.




After measuring all the pieces, I started to redesign it; I wanted a nearly flat synth with wooden side panels and straight, clasic lines. I wanted to keep the control surface untouched. I did not want to use a lot of time building it, so I tried to make it straight-forward and easy to build, yet cool and with attitude. The result of my design was something not too far from the looks of Sequential Circuits Pro One.

I used wood as building material, as it is easier to shape than metal. It also made it easier to fit the aluminium control surface to the rest. I painted everything black, except for the side panels; they are made of solid oak, oiled with furniture oil.

Wooden parts and control surface...

... put together

Adding the keyboard

Since the mod-wheel was gone, but the pot for it still present, I included it as a "rotary mod-wheel" instead, fitting the pot with an un-original knob. The previous owner had changed the volume-pot, and mounted a separate on/off-switch instead of the original volume-knob on/off. I kept this new switch. I also mounted a socket for a standard power-cable.

Now I've used my MS-10 for some months, and I'm really satisfied with it. I really like its dusty, old sound and its nearly unlimited sound shaping possibilities. Not to mention its wonderful filter. It's also very steady and reliable; after about 15 minutes switched on it stays nicely in tune, and it's never been any problems with it. I'm also still satisfied with my redesign, both the looks and the operational convenience that the flat design gives.