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.


At 24 May, 2006 02:42, Blogger shoontz said...

Dear god that's nice! Kind of what the Moog Little Phatty should have been.

At 24 May, 2006 14:10, Blogger Dave said...

Well done mate. It's fantastic that the MS10 found its way into your hands, I hope it gives you many years of faithful service!

At 19 June, 2006 03:23, Anonymous fint said...

It looks great ... good opportunity to remodel this cool synth.

At 12 September, 2006 08:53, Anonymous julian said...

I have an ms-20 that im restoring at the moment. If i cant get the parts, i may follow you in a similar way, or i may consider racking it.
I have to ask too - id love it if you still had the redundant ms-10 parts ? (specificaly a side pannel that im after!)

At 17 August, 2007 16:40, Anonymous Fred said...

Looks really nice, like a Mini moog that's been left down.

Do you find it easy to manipulate the knobs like this?

Good pix too, very pro!

At 17 September, 2007 19:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've owned my MS10 for years. I'm a synthesist, but I also play bass. The MS10 always perches at the top of my rig, because of it's awkward design.

Great solution! Any trouble with wiring?

(PS - I'm also an Industrial Designer! I wanted to work for Sequential Circuits!)

At 20 October, 2007 13:41, Anonymous Ashley Pomeroy said...

That's very impressive - it looks sleek, and I bet it confuses synthesiser enthusiasts.

At 18 April, 2008 02:25, Blogger QiQe said...


It's incredible.
I own a MS-10 too, but it has
a problem: Once in a while synth detunes
like a glissando(portamento) up and down.

I can play with it, but it's not
reliable in a concert.

Do you have any idea to fix it?

mange takk

thanks a lot

At 14 August, 2008 23:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! This is fantastic. Absolut great!!!

At 09 October, 2008 09:57, Blogger Harry said...

COOL. Nice work! I also own a MS-10 and it I want to rebuild it 2.

Do you have some more pictures? Or perhaps some drawings?

At 16 February, 2009 05:28, Blogger mario said...

Really great!!! Fantastic. I'm a italian synth fan, and i have an old but perfect MS-10.

It is possible to have some more pictures or drawings?

Thank you,

Mario - Genova

At 31 March, 2009 11:44, Anonymous rRetronix said...

Very nice done. I just bought an MS-10 on ebay and it seems i'm having a problem here....
I can't tune the keybord. The minimal spacing i get from C-1 to C-2 is half a note more than one octave. I can reach till an octave and a half almost by tuning the pots. But an octave itself... no...
If you know by heart what the problem would be than drop me a line if you want on myspace...

and once more... your job did honour to the MS-10.
But.... maybe i'd prefer the wood in red plastic so it would get that tasteless and thus so tastefull '70 look. Or maybe something like this:
... you get the idea... and then you get rid of the moog connotation
Maybe you want to transform mine?? :)

At 06 December, 2009 02:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

good work man!
that's what i need
do you make it for other people too?
i'm really intersted, let me know

At 25 January, 2012 07:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I want to rebuild my ms 10 'cause I don't like the original exterior. You can mail me


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