Getting started in synth DIY

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An oscillator on a solderless breadboard.

Getting started in synth DIY without any electronics experience, is not beyond the realm of possibility and it can be done for cheap. There are a lot of different ways to get started in synth DIY. Everybody is unique and your experience might be different.[1]


It can take multiple attempts to breadboard your first working circuit. Each time you fail, you will have learnt something. If you get discouraged, take a break. The most important things you'll need to get started in synth DIY are:

  • A desire to make things that make sound.
  • Plenty of patience.
  • A willingness to fail.[1]


A circuit built on a wood panel by Chris Beckstrom.

You'll need a few things to get started. Here is the minimum:

  • A solderless breadboard.
  • A multimeter.
  • Small side cutters
  • Small needle nosed pliers.
  • Soldering iron and stand.
  • 60/40 tin lead rosin core solder. The thinner the diameter the better. Avoid lead-free solder.
  • Brass wool to clean the soldering irion tips.
  • Wire. Stranded is more flexible and less likely to break, single core is easier to bend to shape.
  • Passive components. Resistors, capacitors, potentiometers, jacks, etc.
  • Active components like diodes, transistors, LEDs and various ICs.
  • Test leads. With crocodile clips or test hooks.
  • A power source. A battery or wall wart.
  • Active speakers. Such as computer speakers.
  • A well lit work-space where you can leave your work in progress and it won't be disturbed.
  • A small fan to remove solder flux fumes.
  • ESD precautions such as an anti-static wrist strap and earth connection point (via a 1M5 resistor), if required.[1]


A small section from Chris Beckstrom's DIY modular synth.

You will find it easier to buy a kit which comes with the PCB(s), panel as well as suitable components.

For experimenting on breadboard you'll want a supply of components for which it wont matter if they're going to show signs of use. There are two main type of components, tiny surface mount (SMT) and more manageable through hole. When starting out, you want through hole. Passive components like resistors and capacitors are very affordable. The more useful components to have a stock of are:

  • 1k, 100k, and 1M resistors (1/4 watt).
  • 0.01uF, 0.1uF, 2.2uF, 10uF, 100uF capacitors, rated at least twice your projects supply voltage.
  • 100k and 1M linear potentiometers.
  • 1N4148 diodes.
  • Small signal transistors, such as the BC547 or equivalent.
  • ICs to suit your project.[1]


Acquire some basic skills:

  • Being able to recognise types of electronic components, their names and schematic symbols is enough to begin with, don't worry too much about the physics of how they work.
  • Being able to read a schematic. A schematic is a map of the circuit.
  • Being able to breadboard the circuit from the circuit schematic.
  • Being able to solder.[1]


Experiment with small simple circuits on breadboard, to experience how active components such as diodes, transitors and ICs such as op-amps function.

  • The 13600/13700 OTA datasheet includes circuits for synthesizer building blocks, such as VCAs, VCOs and VCFs.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Getting Started in Synth DIY: First Steps by Chris Beckstrom, 15 November 2019.

Further reading

  • Electronic Synthesiser Construction by R.A. Penfold, Bernard Babani, 1986, ISBN 0-85934-159-3. Details for making a basic synthesizer with the usual VCO-VCA-VCF voice, including an ADSR envelope generator, and several simple sequencer circuits. Online at E-Music DIY Archive.
  • Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking by Nicolas Collins, Routledge, 2009, ISBN 0-415-99873-5. Circuit-bending toys, building simple oscillators, filters, amplifiers using CMOS circuits. Simple, inspiring projects that will get you started.
  • Make: Analog Synthesizers by Ray Wilson, Maker Media Inc., 2013, ISBN 1-4493-4522-0. Easy to read, contains a lot of practical advice about soldering and construction. A more accurate title would be How to build the MFOS Noise Toaster.
  • Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest M. Mims III, Book Renter Inc, 2000, ISBN 0945053282.

External links


Affordable PCBs, panels and components for beginner friendly projects.