Category Archives: Alternate Controllers

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.


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.

Rare inside views of two legendary modular synths.

First, in 2007 Matrix covered Greg Danner’s restoration of the notorious Sal-Mar Construction, an obscenely complex synthesizer from 1969 controlled by digital logic sequencers. What you didn’t know: Greg has a Flickr account full of photos of the restored Sal-Mar.

Also in 1969, Joel Chadabe had Moog build a modular synth along roughly similar lines–no keyboard, lots of sequencers. The innards of the CEMS are documented here.

Things you won’t see on Matrixsynth. :P

First, the Infinite Response folding keyboard. I’ve seen folding keyboards before, but never one this nicely made. Even has a magnesium chassis.

Second, the Fender electric version of the Takaratomy Air Guitar. Now available from They also sell the acoustic version that Matrix ran a video of long ago, plus the FM3 Buddha Machine.

Also the Ta Horng iSmart roll-up soft keyboard.

And MiJam’s Pro Air Drummer. You can still buy some amazing gadgets at Toys R Us. In fact, MiJam makes all kinds of clever and great music toys. Most of which Matrix has never mentioned……

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:

Tapdrum — a DIY kit

It’s been around for several years. There is an AOL homepage from 1999.
The guy who runs this is named Urip Wisnuardi, I think he’s Indonesian. He also sells OEM GPS modules.
A Tapdrum board accepts up to 8 analog inputs from piezo sensors (or whatever–you could feed audio into it if desired), from which it generates MIDI note and velocity data. More than one Tapdrum circuit can be daisychained together to obtain more than 8 inputs….video here.

Anyone built this? Share your experiences.

The Tonal Plexus IS shipping….

I just heard from Aaron Hunt, the head of H-PI Instruments. He says that their Tonal Plexus MIDI controller has been shipping since last October, in the 2-octave and 4-octave form.

$1292 is really not much to pay for a PROGRAMMABLE microtonal keyboard that can do ANY scale, with 422 keys (!). In fact, that’s a steal.
tonal plexus layout
Think about it–the next instrument up that can do this, the Haken, costs THREE TIMES as much as the Tonal Plexus. Not sure if the C-Thru can do programmable scales.

Plus, microtonality makes it more flexible than the other alternate keyboards, which H-Pi lists here.

(No idea the Terpstra cost $10,000. Still no idea if they shipped any.)

I am very tempted to get a 2-octave Tonal Plexus. No, this is not an advertisement. It would be interesting to see if it can give full effect with popular MIDI-CV converters like the Kenton.

Aaron’s site also has a section on microtonal keyboards of the past. READ IT.