Synth DIY books
49 Easy Electronic Projects for Transconductance and Norton Op Amps by Delton T. Horn
TAB, 1990, ISBN 0-8306-7455-1, 216 pages
This book is spoilt by one thing – mistakes, and there are lots of them, some of which are glaringly obvious, others are likely to be less so. This is a shame, as decent quantities of material on transconductance and Norton amps is hard to come by. Slightly more than the first half of the book covers OTAs, with practical circuits couched around the CA3080 and the LM13600. There are many standard circuits of potential interest to the DIY synthesist: VCAs, sample-and-holds, ring mods, VCOs and VCFs. The latter part of the book covers Norton amps, and is based around the LM3900 – there are probably slightly fewer circuits of interest here though. Those less-well equipped to spot the errors (i.e. beginners) probably ought to steer clear of this one.
Advanced Projects for the Electric Guitar by J. Chatwin
Bernard Babani, 1996, ISBN 0-85934-380-4, 'BP380', 87 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book. Whilst primarily aimed at the guitarist (wah wah, distortion, tremelo etc.), there are comprehensive treatments of two delay cicuits in here: an analogue BBD one (MN3102/MN3207); and a digital one (HT8955).
An Analog Synthesizer for the 21st Century by Thomas Henry
Magic Smoke Electronics, 2006, v+32 pages
Another small booklet by Thomas Henry. This is a collection of schematics to build a complete simple synthesizer, containing two VCOs, a VCF and VCA, LFO etc. Be warned however it is literally the schematics and parts lists – there are no descriptions of the circuits, nor how to set them up etc., and hence should be considered only suitable for the seasoned synth DIYer, and so is clearly NOT aimed at beginners!
Audio IC Projects by Keith Brindley (ed.)
Newnes, 1994, ISBN 0-7506-2121-4, 191 pages.
This little book, published by Maplin, contains details (circuits, graphs, PCB layouts and parts lists etc.) of about 20 audio projects: as well as several power amplifier circuits, there are a few relevant to synth DIY, namely several LM13700 circuits (VCA, VCF, VCO and more), an SSM2044-based VCF, a couple of bucket-brigade delay lines, and even an MF10-based voltage-controlled switched-capacitor multimode filter!
Build a Better Music Synthesizer by Thomas Henry
Tab Books, 1987, ISBN 0-8306-0255-0, vii+167 pages
A proper hardbound book by Thomas Henry. Perhaps understandably there is some commonality with the information in this book and many other of Thomas Henry's smaller booklets. The book explains how to put together a complete snythesizer, including things like the PSU and the case. It contains circuits for most usual synth components, VCO, VCA, VCF etc., but unfortunately is a little dated in that many of them are based around hard-to-get chips, like the CEM3330, CEM3340, SSM2056, SN76477 etc. There is also an introductory chapter on what a synthesizer is and what the major components of one are.
Electronic Drum Cookbook by Thomas Henry
Originally Midwest Analog Products, 2002, v+50 pages; now available from Magic Smoke Electronics
This booklet from Thomas Henry is about twice the size of the smaller ones. It contains a lot of basic information about how to synthesize drums, and as well as several filters/tone generation circuits, it also includes a simple VCA, PSU, white noise generator, percussive-type envelope generator, and even how to build a simple drum pad using conductive foam.
Electronic Musical Instruments by Norman Crowhurst
Foulsham-Tab, 1975, ISBN 0-7042-0144-5, viii+188 pages.
This book explains in fairly general terms what electronic musical instruments are and do, but does cover some technical aspects of how traditional instruments make their sound, and how synthesizers replicate these. Most of the circuits given are more 'representative' rather than practical, and only a few have sufficient component values given so that they might actually work if constructed.
Electronic Music and Creative Tape Recording by M.K. Berry
Bernard Babani, 1978, ISBN 0-900162-72-4, 'BP51', 87 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book. About half this book is about recording on tape, and splicing etc. to manipulate the sound, but there are also lots of very simple circuits of a VCO, VCA (MC3340), and other effects like fuzz etc. One of the more complicated circuits seems quite out of place, a diode ladder filter – this book is the source of the circuit found in several places on the net: Modulus newsletter and The Free Information Society
Electronic Music Circuit Guidebook by Brice Ward
TAB Books, 1975, ISBN 0-8306-5743-6, 222 pages.
In the preface the author states he wrote the book because at the time he couldn't find other books with details of synth circuits in them. There are quite a lot of circuits in here, covering a variety of oscillators, filters, a 'function generator', VCAs, etc., and there are also circuits less often covered, like a spring reverb, ring modulator, envelope follower etc.
Electronic Music Circuits by Barry Klein
ISBN 0-672-21833-X. Originally published by Howard Sams, 1982, 302 pages. Updated in 1996. Now available from the author in comb-bound form, email@example.com
This is probably one of the better books explaining synthesizer circuits in some detail, covering not only oscillators, filters, envelope generators, voltage-controlled amplifiers etc., but also things like the PSU and keyboard controllers. Though some of the circuits are based around now-obsolete CEM and SSM synthesizer chips, there is much to be learned from this book. It also contains quite a lot of circuits taken from Electronotes, q.v. (And if you intend to get serious about all this stuff and are contemplating buying a copy of this book, getting a copy of the Electronic Music IC Databook at the same time is thoroughly recommended!)
Electronic Music IC Databook by Barry Klein
Published by the author, Barry Klein, along with Electronic Music Circuits (if you are serious about this stuff and are buying that book, buy this one too!).
This is a large (more than 300 pages) compendium of datasheets of old (generally) synthesizer-dedicated ICs. Some of the information is available online, most notably Synthesis Technology's CEM chip page, but for many of the chips, this is likely to be the only place you will find the data.
Chips covered are: CEM: 3310, 3312, 3320, 3328, 3330/3335, 3340/3345, 3350, 3360, 3371, 3372, 3374, 3378/3379, 3387, 3389, 3391, 3394, 3396, PA381/382 (CEM3381/2), PD508, SAM8905. SSM: 2000, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2022, 2024, 2030, 2033, 2038, 2040, 2044, 2045, 2047, 2050, 2055, 2056, 2100, 2110, 2120/22, 2125, 2134, 2200, 2210, 2220, 2300, 2402/12
Electronic Music Circuits: The Reprints Vol 1 by Thomas Henry
Midwest Analog Products, 2002, 162 pages.
This is a larger comb-bound book from Thomas Henry, and consists of reprints of 38 articles from old newsletters of the 70s and 80s, such as Electronotes, Polyphony and Electronic Musician. It has circuits of many components familiar in synths, e.g. VCOs, VCAs, VCFs, envelope generators, and also less usual ones like BBD delays, drum circuits etc. (It is not believed that a 'Volume 2' has ever been produced.)
The Electronic Musical Instrument Manual by A. Douglas
Tab Books, 1976, ISBN 0-8306-5832-7, 205 pages
The preface warns that 'this is not a constructional book', and indeed it is not; it is also subtitled 'A comprehensive guidebook on the theory and design of electronic musical instruments, with special emphasis on the organ'. Thus it is not about synthesizers per se, but there are many circuits of oscillators, tone controls, noise generators and vibrato circuits etc., and seemingly a large number from actual commercial organs, and many of these employ all manner of electro-mechanical devices (motors driving toothed wheels), photo-electric devices (slotted discs etc.), and other such curiosities (with many older circuits using valves as well as more 'modern' ones using transistors!). Potentially useful if you are trying to find out how some old organ achieved some particular effect or other.
Electronic Music Learning Projects by R. Bebbington
Bernard Babani, 1993, ISBN 0-85934-329-4, 'BP329', 114 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book. The circuits in here are at a very introductory (e.g. schoolboy) level. They include several oscillator circuits (including a very Stylophone-like one), and others like a metronome etc. It is clearly not intended as a book of serious synthesizer circuits, though doubtless one or two could be adapted for such.
Electronic Music Projects by R.A. Penfold
Bernard Babani, 1980, ISBN 0-900162-94-5, 'BP74', 106 pages
Typical Babani pocket-book. The circuits in this book are mostly fairly simple, and many are aimed at the guitarist: wah wah, fuzz, sustain etc.; there is actually a circuit for a spring reverb unit (though there doesn't appear to be anything like a specification for the spring tank itself); a Stylophone-like 'Stylus Organ'; the most synth-like circuit is a 555-based oscillator, but it isn't voltage-controlled.
Electronic Projects for Musicians by Craig Anderton
AMSCO Music, 1997, ISBN 0-8256-9502-3, 220 pages
Electronic Projects in Music by A.J. Flind
Newnes, 1979, ISBN 0-408-00391-X, 81 pages.
(Similar in size and type to the Babani books, but better print quality.) Contains details for building quite a few simple circuits, such as waa-waa, fuzz, a couple of pre-amps etc. Probably the most complex circuit is for a Stylophone-type mini-organ.
Electronic Synthesiser Construction by R.A. Penfold
Bernard Babani, 1986, ISBN 0-85934-159-3, 'BP185', 99 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book (note the non-conventional spelling in the title). It contains details for making a basic synthesizer with the usual VCO-VCA-VCF voice, including an ADSR envelope generator, and several simple sequencer circuits. There is also a pseudo-stereo circuit using a simple phase-shift circuit.
Electronic Synthesiser Projects by M.K. Berry
Bernard Babani, 1981, ISBN 0-85934-056-2, 'BP81', 81 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book (note the non-conventional spelling in the title). It contains details for a basic synth, but again uses some now hard-to-get chips, namely the SN76477 'single chip synth' and a TDA1022 BBD delay. Other circuits include a 4017-based sequencer, 8038 and 555 VCOs, and a logic-based ADSR.
Electronotes edited by Bernie Hutchins
Electronotes is a newsletter-like publication produced by Bernie Hutchins, covering technical details of music synthesis and sound processing: back-issues up to the very first issue in 1972 are available, and the complete set is a rich repository of circuits, techniques and ideas. The everything package is a huge amount of information – it amounts to about 30 useful-sized volumes, and occupies over 18 inches of shelf space! For those not wanting to go to the expense of getting everything, the Musical Engineer's Handbook and the Builder's Guide and Preferred Circuits Collection is a good compromise. Tim Stinchcombe has compiled an index of Electronotes, which may give an indication of the totality of subjects covered. It features commented historical designs by pioneers like Robert Moog and others.
Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking by Nicolas Collins
Routledge, 2009, ISBN 0415998735, 360 pages.
Introduction to circuit bending, how to solder, basic components, mini projects and experiments.
IC LM3900 Projects by H. Kybett
Bernard Babani, 1978, ISBN 0-900162-73-2, 'BP50', 119 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book. Many older synthesizer circuits made use of the LM3900 chip, which is slightly harder to figure than an op amp. Finding books that even mention this chip is hard, never mind one dedicated to it. This is a nice, tractable introduction to the chip, what it is and what it does, and contains dozens of simple utilitarian circuits.
Make: Analog Synthesizers by Ray Wilson
Maker Media Inc., 2013, ISBN 1-4493-4522-0, 184 pages
Many of the books on this list are decades old, so this recent offering (published in 2013) is a welcome addition. It is nicely laid out and easily readable, contains a lot of practical advice about soldering and construction, yet does contain some technical explanations of how some of the circuits actually work. One criticism is that the author seems to have decided to cram each schematic into as small as space as possible, which makes many of them overly cramped and hard to read, which doesn't make things as easy as they could be for beginners. On the whole though the reviews at amazon.com are positive!
Making Music with the 3080 OTA by Thomas Henry
Originally Midwest Analog Products, 2003, vi+26 pages; now available from Magic Smoke Electronics
Another small booklet by Thomas Henry. This one contains an easily-digestable introduction to the CA3080 Operational Transconductance Amplifier, including circuits for a simple VCA, VCO and a ring modulator.
Making Music with the 566 by Thomas Henry
Originally Midwest Analog Products, 2003, vi+26 pages; now available from Magic Smoke Electronics
Another small booklet by Thomas Henry. This one has lots of circuits and detail around the 566, a 'function generator'-type chip (which unfortunately was made obsolete ages ago I suspect). The booklet shows how to hook one up as a VCO which gives all the major waveforms, sine, tri, ramp, square etc., and also others like a noise circuit.
Making Music with the NE570 Compander by Thomas Henry
Originally Midwest Analog Products, 1998, viii+19 pages; now available from Magic Smoke Electronics
Another small booklet by Thomas Henry. This one shows how to use the NE570 chip not only as a compressor/expander, but includes other circuits such as an envelope follower and a VCA.
More Advanced Electronic Music Projects by R.A. Penfold
Bernard Babani, 1986, ISBN 0-85934-148-8, BP174, 78 pages.
Typical Babani pocket-book. This contains slightly more advanced/complex circuits than its predecessor, Electronic Music Projects, BP74 (q.v). Amongst the circuits here: a simple phase shifter; BBD-based flanger/chorus/vibrato unit; a ring modulator; and the latter part of the book details a 'percussion synthesizer', though this doesn't appear to use the more traditional method of 'pinging' a resonant filter, so heaven knows what it would actually sound like... Many of the circuits make use of the now obsolete LM13600 OTA, and so presumably would need some small adjustments to use the LM13700 instead.
Musical Applications of Microprocessors by Hal Chamberlin
Hayden, 1985 ISBN 0-8104-5768-7, 802 pages (2nd edn)
Although primarily concerned with microprocessors and their use within sound and music synthesis, early chapters have introductory material on synthesis in general, including methods using tape, voltage control etc. There is also a nice chapter giving typical examples of basic analogue circuits such as VCOs, VCFs, VCAs etc., with good explanations of how they work. If you get just one book, this is the book to get. Although it has "microprocessors" in the title, it has a superb section on analog circuits.
Music Synthesizers: A Manual of Design & Construction by Delton T. Horn
TAB Books, 1984, ISBN 0-8306-1565-2, viii+343 pages.
There are lots of schematics in this book, but it is assumed the reader can take the schematics and turn them into practical circuits. Many of the designs utilize some of the older synth chips: CEMs, SSMs, the MM5837 (digital noise) and the SN76477 effects chip. There is also a large section on patching ideas.
Noise Generator Cookbook by Thomas Henry
Original probably Midwest Analog Products, 2003; now available from Magic Smoke Electronics, 2009, vi+27 pages
Another small booklet by Thomas Henry. This one contains circuits for most of the basic ways to generate and filter noise, including : reverse-biased p-n junction; pseudo-random shift register sequence; multi-oscillator bank, pink noise filter, etc.
Practical Electronic Music Projects by R. A. Penfold
Bernard Babani, 1994, ISBN 0-85934-363-4, BP363, 122 pages
Typical Babani pocket-book. There are many circuits to interest the guitarist: distortion units; a guitar tuner; pseudo echo etc. More general circuits include: a metronome; a pseudo stereo unit; mixers etc. There are also some interesting MIDI circuits, including: a MIDI comparator, which looks for a specific bit pattern; a simple MIDI tester; a MIDI controller pedal; a MIDI lead tester etc.
Small Signal Audio Design by Douglas Self
Sound Synthesis: Analog and Digital Techniques by Terence Thomas
TAB Books, ISBN 0-8306-3276-X, x+166 pages.
Contains circuits and details for building a complete synthesizer, from the PSU, through VCO, VCA, VCF etc., and including a simple sequencer, though some of the circuits are perhaps a little unorthodox. There's also a strange circuit that produces trigger pulses from MIDI data, with scant regard for what the data actually is.
The VCO Chip Cookbook by Thomas Henry
Magic Smoke Electronics, 2013, vi+118 pages.
Originally shown as being published by SMS Electronics, as you can see by this electro-music.com thread, editing and production was eventually taken over by Magic Smoke/Lulu with the book being made available In 2013.
A larger-than-usual offering from Thomas Henry. It includes detail on how to use three VCO chips: the 566, 8038 and XR-2206. Some of the information is taken from Making Music with the 566 (q.v.), but there is much more here besides, including exponential conversion, triangle-to-sine waveshaping etc.
Troubleshooting and Repairing Electronic Music Synthesizers by Delton T. Horn
TAB, 1992, ISBN 0-8306-3921-7, x+206 pages.
This is a very odd kind of book, which probably has a very narrow readership. There are very few schematics in here, yet it is trying to help people to troubleshoot synthesizer-based circuits. After a basic introductory chapter on what a synthesizer is, there is a chapter of general troubleshooting techniques, which mostly looks like good, sound advice. Then there are five chapters entitled 'Problems with XXX', where 'XXX' = VCOs, VCAs, VCFs, etc. There are also chapters on digital synths, software and hardware problems, and MIDI. At the back are three schematics: an SCR-based VCO; a FET-controlled multi-feedback single op amp VCF; and a VCA circuit using three transistors and an op amp, and running off 9V and 18V supplies (which looks like it might owe something to a Korg circuit) – none of these look anything like 'standard' synth circuits!
- Electronics books for books about electronics.
- Synthesizer books for books about synthesizers, etc.
- Datasheet, see external links
- Schematics and manuals
- Synthesizer Do It Yourself, lists a lot of online resources.