Serge Modular Music System

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Ken Stone's classic 1973 paperface Serge synthesizer. Click through for a breakdown.

The Serge synthesizer aka Serge Modular Music System or Serge Modular system is an analogue modular synthesizer originally designed by CalArts professor Serge Tcherepnin, beginning in 1974.


In the early 70's Serge Tcherepnin began to design and build synthesizers while teaching at California Institute of the Arts. Before long, other professors, students, and musicians became interested in these new synthesizers. Serge set up an odd manufacturing arrangement where interested people paid $700 up front for parts, then worked for him building modules. When done, they were rewarded with a six-panel system of their own.[1]

In 1992 Serge production and intellectual property were taken over by Sound Transform Systems (STS) of Oakland, California, founded by Rex Probe in 1984.[2]


A few different methods of panel marking were tried, and the one settled on for some of the early units was to print (photocopy?) the panel markings onto a piece of paper, one per module. These were then stuck on the 17" x 7" aluminium panels that were pre-drilled with a grid of 1" (5 HP) centre to centre spaced holes, irrespective of whether all holes would be needed. The top edge of these pieces of paper folded over on to the back of the panel, and contained brief markings to help wiring the jacks of the module in question to its circuit board. All of the pieces of paper were then covered over with a single piece of adhesive mylar film or "Contact" type book covering film.[1][3]


Unlike other synthesizer systems with components designed to control the basics of musical sounds, such as pitch, duration, amplitude envelope, timbre. The intent of the Serge system is that the electronics speaks for itself. It makes interesting (although "un-musical") functions such as positive slew, negative slew, peak and trough, comparators, processors, wave shapers, etc. available .[4] Typically Serge modules are multipurpose, e.g. the Serge TKB is a touch activated keyboard, analogue programmer and sequencer, while the Serge Universal Slope Generator can serve as an envelope generator, slew processor, LFO, VCO, frequency divider, lowpass VCF, trigger/gate delay, or envelope follower.[2]


Serge uses banana jacks for patching.[2] The Serge connector color scheme is more about the type signal than its function but with some flexibility e.g. some CVs can go negative. Many black inputs are AC coupled, but most black outputs are not.[5][6]

Signal Color[7][8][9] Comment
Trigger pulses in/out  red 
CVs in/out  blue 
Bipolar CV in/out  black 
Audio in/out  black 
Special functions in/out  yellow , orange , green [10]
Sync  purple  Pink noise out on the Animal panel[11][10]

See also


  1. ^ a b Classic Serge by Ken Stone, 1999, with permission of the author - archived
  2. ^ a b c Vintage Synthesizers: Groundbreaking Instruments and Pioneering Designers of Electronic Music Synthesizers by Mark Vail, Backbeat Books, 2000, ISBN 0879306033
  3. ^ What and Why Paperface?, coa-modular, 3 Jun 2012
  4. ^ Foreword by Serge Tcherepnin, A guide to the Euro-Serge Modular Synthesizer by Laurie Biddulph.
  5. ^ Serge Maintenance Info, Mod Wiggler forum, Nov 2010
  6. ^ If you could color code your inputs...., Mod Wiggler forum, Apr 2010
  7. ^ Introduction to the use of the Serge Modular Music System, 1976, p. 14
  8. ^ Serge Fans FAQ
  9. ^ Serge Guidebook by Rich Gold.
  10. ^ a b Best of CGS Build Thread, Mod Wiggler forum, 1 Jul 2011
  11. ^ The Serge "Animal" - a massive modular in 4U

External links