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April 25, 2014

This DIY synthesizer cost $70 to build and it sounds amazing

by John_A

What could you build with a budget of $70? For George Gleixner, it’s a homemade battery-powered synthesizer. One that’s constructed using a circuit bent a children’s Hing Hon EK-001 squarewave keyboard no less. What’s circuit bending you ask? Well, Reed Gazala pioneered the process back in the mid-90s which modifies (read: bends) the original circuits of keyboards, drum machines and even children’s toys to create new sounds that vary from its original use. Each year at Moogfest, as an homage to founder Bob Moog, there’s a circuit bending competition in which entrants hack together their instruments for a shot at maker glory. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the larger festival attracts electronic music’s finest, like Kraftwerk and Dan Deacon, that could end up peeking the goods too. This time around, Mr. Gleixner took the top prize and we caught up with him to see the inner workings of his creation.

As we’ve already mentioned, the unit primarily driven by a Hing Hon EK-001 kids keyboard that was hacked to serve up some quite tasty synth sounds. A wood and plexiglass shell, shaped kind of like a classic Moog instrument, houses the whole thing. That all-important front panel not only packs controls for pitch and two types of distortion, but both also have their own theremins for gesture-controlled sounds. There’s even a hexagonal keyboard layout based on the harmonic table made out of thumb tacks. As if all of that wasn’t enough, the final bill came in under the $70 budget and the instruments runs on four AA batteries — fulfilling the contest requirements. Don’t worry, we’ve got a brief rundown of the tech straight from the builder just below.

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