All posts by LorinP

The Canadian Synth maker we should all know…

May I introduce, Hugh LeCaine.

Hugh LeCaine at the Electronic Sackbut
Hugh LeCaine at the Electronic Sackbut

First, watch this awesome video on the legendary Electronic Sackbut :

Electronic Sackbut Video

(sorry don’t know how to embed video here…)

As I troll around for Hammond Solavoxes and Novachords for my own projects, I must state here that THE ELECTRONIC SACKBUT WAS THE FIRST VOLTAGE CONTROLLED SYNTHESIZER, not some univox organ a dude is selling on ebay, despite what the ebay page claims. Although the novachord, clavioline, ondioline, trautonium, are all beautiful, LeCaine made a synthesizer with voltage control of things like filters, VCAs and pitch before 1950!!!

This technical touch of voltage control allowed the integration of all sorts of nuanced control of the instrument without the need to discretely switch components in the circuit or contrive complicated mechanical variable capacitors and inductors (as used on some other instruments of the time ie, martenot’s string).

Gotta love the look, too.

Visit to see the many more interesting and trippy sound machines invented by this nuclear physicist.

Like the “Spectrogram”, which often controlled the “Oscillator Bank”. Here’s a picture of a spectrogram tape that LeCaine used to synthesize bird chirps:

Bird Chirp to be read by LeCaine "Spectrogram" and played by "Oscillator Bank"

And, yes, this was all done with tubes – what would you use in 1945?

The Electric Western THERMATRON

Test of the THERMATRON flame controlled synthesizer by Lorin Edwin Parker from



Ionized gas, chemicals, heat and applied high voltage conduct through a flame, modulating the impedance across the grid and or plate of vacuum tubes. This applies a control voltage to a Phantastron synthesizer.

“How to make a Phantastron sing” article

Phantastron Schematic (Seely, 1950)

I posted a brief article on phantastrons and how to use them in audio synthesis on my Weblog at

Yes, there are schematics posted for the truly insane, and some suggestions to get you going. I was truly sad when I discovered that there really isn’t much info available on that great circuit of WWII radar!

Enjoy, and if you REALLY love it, you can feed me by getting a kit :). Maybe I’ll even cut you a deal or a swap if you’re a sufficiently deviant synther…

And, if you don’t already know, Electron-Tube Circuits by Samuel Seely and other old technical books are now in the public domain, and can be gotten at

Now, go forth and study! And do make something really tweaked, please.

Phantastron Kit Available

Electric Western is proud to present the Phantastron Kit: an all tube synth kit. The first all tube synthesizer extracted from Navy radar circuitry (at least that’s where I got it).

Here’s my video of testing the prototype model (yours will be prettier and sturdier) Audio starts as the tubes warm up (within 25 seconds) –

Video Demonstration:

Phantastron Under Test

First, I’ll start with what you don’t get:

1. A metasonix oscillator (yes it uses a 2d21 thyratron, and yes, I too love metasonix and Eric’s work, but this thing is different – the last thing I want to do is rip off someone else, really). But thank you Eric for introducing me to the 2D21, it does work better than the 884 in this case (although the 884 is sooo sexy looking)

2. 1V / xxx — the CV is quite variable, which makes this intstrument, well more like a trautonium than a TB303. Just watch the video above and know that the ribbon controls 0 to 5.5VDC linearly.


A Turret board with extra turrets for your own mods.

All the electronic parts, including a 2D21/PL21 thyratron and a 6SJ7 Pentode. Why these tubes? Well, the 2D21 is the most affordable thyratron and the 6SJ7 is a metal wonder that is RESONANT as heck in a phantastron circuit.

An all wooden box and 1/8″ Steel panels. Copper, brass and other shiny things.

A completed, safe power supply which reduces the possibility of tasering yourself and eliminates the possibility of working directly with AC wall current.

Instructions with theory lessons and the original scans of navy and pre-WWII tube textbooks. Drawings and and assembly guides. A nice note from me and my wax seal (yes, I am steampunk, and I do write the note with a quill pen on artisan paper).

All the fun of tubes and experimentation without buying metalworking tools, having a workshop, etc.

Oh, and please buy one, they’re pretty cheap, awesome, and I quit my job as an audio electronics professor and corporate employee to make more crazy stuff. The pitch ribbon is the next release, but if you’re really anxious, you can get a 500mm strip from SpectraSymbol at Spark Fun electronics and make your own. Or I can show you how to make one from $5 worth of EM shielding plastic and mylar. The Electric Western one will include some logic to change tuning, allow two touch finger control, analog computing and sustainable local lumber, etc.

Also, we are total “western steampunk”, post-apocolyptic mountain folk, and we use no lead, local materials, wind our own coils, never get Chinese circuit boards, use “green” canadian lumber and have a solar power array that makes 5KwH a day (and a steam engine that makes abut 9 watts), catch and use rainwater and live in an earthship, compost all of our feces and urine into bio-gas and humanure. And I really do wear a cowboy hat and I’ve punched a goat (lovingly). So, just buy one (a Phantastron kit, not a goat) to support our carbon neutral anti-corporate lifestyle (if that’s your thing).

Or just buy one and return it if you’re not happy. I can deal with that too. But you will be happy.

Here’s a time-lapse video of soldering the turret board:

Oh, and thank you to Eric and Metasonix for opening up the world to crazy tube instruments!

But visit Electric Western:

The Parker Steam Synthesizer is finished (and works!)

Lorin Parker’s steam synthesizer was posted earlier, but the information linked was at least 2 years old…

Steam synth in operation

The steam synthesizer has been fully operational for more than a year!!

It generates electronic sound through a modified dynamo, and, well, hisses and clacks like a steam engine.. . No electricity is used to generate an electronic signal. Only fire, heat, steam and metal!

New video, audio and info about the Parker Steam Synthesizer can be found here:

Furthermore, Lorin Parker has recently started Electric Western, a DIY oriented site for the dissemination of deviant and expressive electronic instruments. Many other instruments are showing up there as the site grows, and Electric Western will be providing unique kits and instruments in the near future.