Category Archives: Alternate Controllers

A cornucopia of crazy for the holidays

First, did you know that RCA made a vacuum tube that was usable as a phonograph pickup?

Second, Feena Electronics. They introduced an interesting DJ MIDI controller in 2006. Since then, nothing. The last post to their forum was September 21.

Finally, this guy is building a duplicate of the old Metasonix Hellfire Modulator. He’s making a chassis for it out of plain sheet metal, and he apparently mated two toaster ovens together in order to bake powder-coating onto it. DIY FTW!!!

New controllers

There’s been a big stink about the British-made Eigenharp controller, with mention from Engadget, Synthtopia, the BBC, and bloggers like CDM and Matrix. It requires a Mac, however. Hope they sell some and are encouraged to port the software to Windows. Given its complexity, ~$7000 isn’t a terribly high price.

(Just remember that people nowadays routinely pay $50,000 or more for a grand piano.)

Almost forgotten in all this hype was a different controller, the Madrona Soundplane. Looks as though it’s not finished yet.

I bet you didn’t know about this accordion MIDI controller

The Cool Chromaticover. You can’t really tell from these terrible product pages, but this is a standalone MIDI controller with velocity and several slightly different key arrangements available, that just happens to be made to fit over the keyboard on a Yamaha combo instrument. Unlike the Yamaha (or most other MIDI controllers) the Chromaticover appears to be really well-made, mostly metal with metal buttons.
The only dealer selling it (piens.be) is also the owner of the company making it (cool.be). Also strange is that very few people in the accordion world, or elsewhere, even know this product exists. I’ve found very few Google mentions of it.

(This was discovered by the diykeyboard group, who now have their own wiki.)

The Electric Western THERMATRON

Test of the THERMATRON flame controlled synthesizer by Lorin Edwin Parker from www.electricwestern.com:

The THERMATRON
The THERMATRON

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58lX3Uu9OOs

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.

Odds and ends (videos)

First, artist Jake Waldron usually does sculpture;
but he did build a complex noise box, and he circuit-bent a TV set.

Then we have this thing, made of an old SN76477 noisemaker chip.

The guy who built a sequencer out of a Dekatron tube is braver than he realizes–
Dekatrons are erratic and unreliable. Same guy who previously built a modular synth out of tubes.

An experimental analog video synth–very rare to see anyone doing this today.
(Doing it with a VGA monitor simplifies the electronics, because
you don’t have to worry about recombining sync and chroma signals.)

Finally, this defies explanation……

Want to explore alternate tunings? Now it’s easy.


H-Pi has released a new, updated version of their Tuning Box. It does any arbitrary tuning setup, from Archytas Septimal to Just to Harry Partch’s 43-Tone Chromelodeon Scale to Johnston Enharmonic. You name it, if your MIDI synthesizer accepts pitch bend, this device ($299 is an amazing price) will generate the correct MIDI messages to make any alternate tuning or key reassignment desired. I’ve already ordered one for my own experimentation.

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H-Pi also had something on its website that amused me.

Remember my post about unusual MIDI controllers last March? Well……

The New York Times ran a strangely familiar article four months later…..

The Electronic Peasant strikes again…..with a banjo synthesizer

His new pitch-CV processor and synthesizer was intended for processing the output of a banjo pickup with separate outputs for each string. Based on a Harry Bissell pitch-CV processor. The quality of the Peasant’s construction will embarrass most DIYers. (Not to mention his homebrew modular synth.) If you like to read about alternate controllers, here is a perfect example. How many other banjo players do you know of who build their own synthesizers?

And not only that, he has a lady friend, who is learning to DIY music electronics.