Mighty synth companies made mistakes. (Sometimes, very embarrassing ones.)

A friend mentioned seeing an ARP Quadra in a pawnshop yesterday. He asked the pawnbroker to plug it in, and sure enough–it was totally non-functional.

In case you were not aware of it, the Quadra was ARP’s 1978 attempt to make a “super keyboard” by tossing together a pile of assorted stuff they already had. So, it’s basically a “sandwich” containing an Omni string synth, an Axxe (or Solus? some disagreement) lead synth, a simple one-VCO bass synth, and a really nice phaser, all stuffed into a very large box with a cheap keyboard assembly (which was easily ruined if you dropped the Quadra, as it protruded from the case) and a very primitive preset capability. I seem to recall that it sold for more than $4000 when it came out.

Should you be tempted to buy one, be aware that it is guaranteed that the membrane buttons will be unusable and very difficult to replace or substitute. And the electronics will have a long list of issues. Synth-collector snobs don’t like to talk about the Quadra…….Oh well, at least it had a nice phaser. Long ago I was tempted to buy a used Quadra because it could do fascinating, warped things…but then I heard the horror stories about it…..

Sonic State’s Quadra info

Emulator Archive’s info on the Quadra

A brave soul repairs his Quadra’s buttons, by building a subpanel with regular pushbuttons–BIG job

(If you want just the phaser, you could maybe DIY your own from Juergen Haible’s design)

ARP Quadra

A prediction from some years ago….


Unfortunately, the recent generations of highly versatile, polyphonic keyboard synthesizers and digital samplers have resulted in a diminished interest in the ondes Martenot today. In the years following Maurice Martenot’s death in 1980, manufacture of the ondes (which had always been a family business) ceased altogether. Perhaps with renewed interest in these wonderful devices, which are most unlike synthesizers, manufacture will start up once again.”

Well-known thereminist Mr. Pringle predicted the arrival of the French Connection.
(now if he’d just update his website–this looks to have been put up around 1998.)

I like this photo.

I like this one

Holy F*

If you want weird synth music made with weird synths you want Holy Fuck. Yes, that is the name of the band.

Holy Fuck rocking out 1

A four piece improv synth-rock band from Toronto, Canada, their instruments include a drum set, bass guitar, and two tables of broken synths, wires, and weird electronic crap. And I assure you, they can rock a party. Witness the insanity herein. Listen to some of their “songs”. See them on tour through Europe. Buy their second album out in a few weeks. Holy crap!

Holy Fuck rocking out 2

(Images by amadeeeep)

Persecuting the Persephone

So, in the year+ I’ve been working with the Wretch Machine, I’ve wanted to find as many ways as possible to control it. I’ve worked with sequencers, I’ve worked with a Yamaha CS-15, and all of them have been fun and useful for sending pitch data to the Wretch, but I’ve got a better solution: the Eowave Persephone:


It outputs CV from the ribbon, which I use the M#@g CP-251 attenuator to tweak a bit. It works really well. For trigger, I use the audio out of the Persephone which works perfectly as well.

To illustrate – I did a little tune:

Some drums, and some crappy pads in the background to form a point of reference for tuning. Note that this is my first two takes chopped up, and I am by no means a ribbon controller performer of any credibility. but I had fun.

One of the rarest pieces of vintage 1950s hi-fi

It may not look like much to you. But this is one of the first-ever products of the Fisher Radio Corporation, and is so rare that no hifi collector that I know has ever seen one–or even an ad or catalog listing for it. This particular one was found recently by John Eckland at a Palo Alto garage sale. Made circa 1953. It is a copy of the more-common HH Scott dynamic noise suppressor, made with miniature instead of octal tubes. The “Eye” tubes on each side of the panel display the operation of the bass and treble noise gates, respectively.

There was a special amplifier for it, but John didn’t find the amp chassis. So he will pair it with the Fisher 60 triode amplifier seen in the 3rd photo, for some historical parity. Imagine a home hi-fi system using this stuff, plus a large rackmount preamp, perhaps a rack-mount REL Precedent FM tuner, and a Rek-O-Cut turntable with a GE variable-reluctance magnetic cartridge mounted on a massive Gray tonearm. All feeding a huge Altec Voice of the Theater horn speaker. Top-end for 1953.




my modular synth

here’s a few photos of my modular synth taken sometime in 2005…. 

modular synth 1

(to give you an idea of scale, that’s a 20″ pc monitor in the left side of the photo)

mostly made up of old industrial & military generators, etc.  many of which are labeled “Property of NASA” or “Dept. of the Navy”

wsg delux

wsg delux
ray wilson weird sound generator built into handmade box – added a ring modulator, 2 watt amp, big magnet big speaker,
two lfos each with speed, depth, symetry and smoothing pots – switchable to the vcf, voice a, voice b and resonance via 2 vactrols
heres an mp3 www.notbreathing.com/wsgdelux.mp3

Last Sideman photo–a major weak point

An old organ technician told me something amusing. He says that the relay shown here is a MAJOR weak spot in the Sideman’s design. It was custom made for Wurlitzer, it’s a high-impedance coil that burns out easily, and replacements are impossible to find.

It has 12 poles–ever tried to buy a 12-pole relay?

The fix is even more stupid. All this relay does is to enable the drum pattern (via the START knob on the panel). Simply hold the relay closed with a rubber band, and control the output with the volume control. But people who find old Sidemen rarely think to try this….sidemansolenoid.JPG

closeups of Wurlitzer Sideman

The electronics chassis. Tube complement is one 6AV6, two 6C4, one 6BA6, and five 12AX7s. The trimpots control the resonance of the bandpass filters that make the drum tones. “SHIMMER GENERATOR” controls the decay time of the noise-based cymbal sounds. The inside of this chassis is quite impressive. Maybe later. (Does anyone out there have the schematic for the Sideman? Just curious. Repairing it is straightforward, but how this thing works is becoming interesting to me.)

Wurlitzer Sideman electronics chassis

closeups of the Wurlitzer Sideman

This is the control panel. It’s quite difficult/costly to get that kind of chemically-etched brass panel made today. The BLOCKS and CYMBALS knobs are rotary selectors that provide five different variations for block and cymbal patterns, plus totally disabling them. I must assume some of those home organists found a use for this–because the amount of switching required to implement the function is frightening. Above the start and volume knobs are two neon lamps that flash in time with the rhythm.

Sideman control panel