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 http://www.hughlecaine.com/en/ 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.

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!!!