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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?

a few assorted obscurities

First, Russian DIYer Dmitry Morozov, better known as vtol, has a website full of his colorful instruments. Nice panel art! He apparently makes limited issues of some of them for sale.

Then, Flickr user “jugger-naut” built a tube synthesizer in plug-in module form.

And Joe Paradiso built a hybrid synthesizer into a CAMAC crate, to be controlled by a PDP-11 minicomputer, in December 1979. Don’t throw it away, Joe, it’s a priceless historical artifact!

Dr. Zee

Mike Zee is a musician and prolific DIY builder in Poughkeepsie, NY. (That’s like saying Sean Connery is an “actor of some repute in Scotland”, I suppose.)

His main site for custom work is here. His cabinetwork is so beautiful, it will make you cry. Be warned, you will be exploring every link there. He has schematics of almost everything he’s built — clever designs, easy to reproduce.

He has a Soundclick page if you want to hear samples of his music. And he has a YouTube channel.

lamps lamps lamps

neon lamp osc with doorbell keyboard

goes into a 6au6 via depth/drive knob with a neon as a modulator –

inductor on the plate for tone

goes into a second 6au6 via depth/drive knob and neon as modulator

inductor on the plate for tone

6AL7 magic eye on the outputs

each modulator has rate knob and ‘range’ switch – one setting being

a .015 cap across the neons – the other setting being no cap between the neons

some how this works really nicely

you know i couldn’t do it without barbour’s help!!!

dave wright

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…..