Parts for Vintage Equipment

Where to get vintage gear spares?

Over the last 6 months I have received quite a few mails from desperate individuals wishing to restore their old radios, tube and semiconductor, integrated amplifiers, turntables and tape decks.

Honest Sam's Top Notch Sales - Cars in Unbelievable Condition
Honest Sam’s Top Notch Sales – Cars in Unbelievable Condition

Belts and power supplies and many semiconductors have equivalents but we get stuck with Germanium, decals, knobs and switches with most gear and then the mechanical parts to decks and turntables. In South Africa we have to turn to eBay where often shipping charges become exorbitant. Continue reading “Parts for Vintage Equipment”

What’s in a Vocoder – voice synthesisers and Robots

Kraftwerk, Styx and My Vocoder – Shaping human voices

Generating and shaping audio and RF wave patterns has long been an interest for many and is seen in the medical, military and commercial industries.

Not wanting to re-invent the wheel but rather looking at another spin, what is the appeal?

Although there are many makes and models, dedicated or otherwise two entry level but well rated models are the Roland VT-3 and the Paia Vocoder designed by Craig Anderton. Check out an upcoming series as we attempt to build our own.

An off-tuned SSB received signal through the BFO will create vocals which sound like monkey chatter or off pitch. It doesn’t take radio students long to see the multiple effects ring modulators and different tones have on the output.

Circuits and Kits

Instructables – Build and Analog Vocoder by Planetone

MFOS – Music from Outer Space / Article / Makezine

Ghetto Talk Box

Muffwiggler / Elektor 10 channel vocoder

And of course….

Crank That Soulja Boy Talk Box (from Ghetto Talk Box)

Audio Tools

Two of my favourite audio tools would be Audacity (free) -multitrack recording which allows effects and of course, Reaper, a fully equipped DAW.  Free for 60 days then although not crippled, $60.00. You will not find this kind of software anywhere for this price.

Both the above allows vocoder inserts and with proper manipulation are exceptionally good.


Further Reading

How Vocoders work – Craig Anderton (Paia)

The MicroKorg and other Best Selling Synth

Korg M1 - By Deepsonic, CC BY 2.0,

Best selling synthesisers of all time

Just in case you may have the MicroKorg don’t be too surprised to know that it may just be one of the best selling synthesisers of all time.  Without having the data from any manufacturer readers may not be entirely convinced but considering that they have been manufactured since 2002 reflects the popularity of this model series.

The pure versatility that digital or DSP driven synths brought to the market ensured a very quick surge in sales especially in the home and garage band amateur and pro space. Having purchased a CZ1000 in the mid 80s whilst in Yokohama it became more a showpiece until a musician friend showed me the full potential. Sadly it was stolen about two years later, possibly as a result of its popularity. 😈  Continue reading “The MicroKorg and other Best Selling Synth”

Gibson files for Bankruptcy Protection

Gibson Brands Inc files for Chapter 11

The iconic USA manufacturer of guitars , electronic audio and DJ equipment has filed for bankruptcy protection caused by losses of nearly $500m through Gibson Innovation, their consumer and DJ division. Gibson Brands Inc filed for Chapter 11 according to news reports, allowing noteholders to continue the business and replace stockholders, including Henry Juszkiewicz, the CEO for the last thirty years.

Bloomberg press release

VU Meters Vs Bargraph

Volume Units and Decibels

My first peek at a Nakamichi was in Japan.  Sparse in detail, no flashing lights, VU meters or fluorescent displays.  Just so damned gorgeous. OK, then you have the PA-7, industrial strength, industrial looks and what a beauty. But if you one needs to really capture beautiful looking amplifiers, then look no further than the McIntosh range. Black in finish, blue lit VU meters.

Mcintosh MC2300
Mcintosh MC2300 – wiki commons awgrasso

So what to do if you need that really cool look and have a budget of a few ZAR?  Unfortunately VU meters, really good VU meters are not cheap. The question about where to source comes up often on the web and besides eBay where you may not necessarily get exactly what you are looking for, Meter Sales or Instrument Meter Specialties in the USA may be your answer. In South Africa the Model 543 is going to land at about R1 800.00 ex duties and VAT.  So make sure your amplifier is worth it.

The bargraph, long being favourite for many enthusiasts is your economical solution in most cases.  Why have a VU anyway if a bargraph is a better solution in many ways?  It all comes down to vintage. In the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s most equipment was still analogue where the outputs were designed to be fed into an analogue recording device.  Analogue recorders are a lot more resilient to input overloads, in some cases even done deliberately. Not so with digital devices where the results are painful to listen to.  VU meters are very slow and don’t necessarily slot in well high with speed transients but they are brilliant for monitoring the average output amplitude.

VU meters with peak overload, monitoring the 0VU perimeter and making sure the VU meter is correctly calibrated is all part of your sound engineering experience. Continue reading “VU Meters Vs Bargraph”

A Career in Electronics – Beginning the Sequence

Fluke 117 - R7000 to R8000 in South Africa

In the beginning Steve, Steve, Bill and Paul had an idea….

Part I of the basics to electronic engineering… for the student

Many years ago most schoolboys had this desire to build something great to make them famous. It may have been a steam train, a car or an aeroplane.  Girls didn’t talk about this because it was “boy” stuff.

DSO 528

Times changed and so many boys went on to build electronic stuff, flashing lights, crystal receivers and audio amplifiers.  Some girls tried this and to the young boy’s embarrassment, were better than them.

Many years after this along came Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Paul Allen and Bill Gates.  They built and programmed computers and became multi-billionaires. Many boys and girls went on to become programmers, their soul pursuit was becoming rich and famous, unlike many Electronics entrepreneurs.

But this article is about electronics. Something which without the two Steve’s, one Bill and one Paul would never succeed. Continue reading “A Career in Electronics – Beginning the Sequence”

Roland CR 800 and BOSS – the legend continues

boss ds-1 simple block

The Rhythm Composers

Although I am not big on rhythm composers and generators the articles covering electronic music synthesis would be totally irrelevant without at least a few lines on the TR-808 and a few other “drum machines” which come from the analogue era of the 60s to 80s and dare I say, even today.

Ikutaro Kakehash founded Roland after huge success with his pioneering company, ACE Electronics. Some of his better machines using the then cutting edge technology were passed on to Roland, one machine being the TR-77 Rhythm 77.

The early 70s brought on the TR series (Transistor Rhythm) and then later, the CR where the CR-78 became the first machine which utilised integrated circuits (this I believe was the first of it’s kind).  The CR-78 was cloned recently by the French company Cyclone Analogic, named the TT-78. Although the CR-68 was limited in functionality unlike the 78 with programmable memory it was popular at the time due to it’s lower costing. The CR-800 is another classic, more known for it’s rarity however. The unit came complete with amplifier and floor mounting loudspeaker.  Great bit of kit described here with images.  Personally, I have never seen one of these units in South Africa.

The Dr-55 became a model which was most famed for stepped rhythm programmability. It was simple, it was cheap and as students we all tried to emulate the circuits as electronic students.

Big Brother TR-808

This conundrum (pun intentional) of an electronic drum generator was supposedly one of Roland’s biggest flops, an all analogue synthesiser which was designed to compete with the digital sampling Linn LM1. Although the TR-808 was marketed at nearly quarter the price of the LM1 and was initially scoffed at, it was used on more labels than any other machine in history.  One needs to remember of course that our most talented musicians and sound engineers are a pool of creativity and the only limitation to any synthesiser is really only the user. Being a highly affordable and analogue drum machine lent itself perfectly to “bending the rules”.

Although Roland continued to bring out analogue machines until the mid-80s, drum synth became hugely popular on the hybrid and digital platforms, memory storage and programmability being a huge plus.

BOSS Pedals

BOSS is a division of Roland and amongst the many achievements it can boast of, is also the proud manufacturer of some of the world’s best and unique stomp boxes,  guitar pedals and synthesisers.

Although the advances in digital technology has reduced pricing of all-in-one packages it’s certainly no surprise that most guitarists, hobbyists and professionals alike, veer towards their favourite.  And this, more often than not would be the analogue pedal, the one that screams and shouts, gives blisters and tears skin off the otic canal.  Flangers, distortion, phasers,  echo, delay, chorus,  screamers, overdrive, fuzz, modulators, tremelo, you name it, they have it.

My favourite Two (out of Ten)

OK, let’s be realistic.  Certain styles of music lends itself to guitar synth but not all. Here we single out the player and his or her style. I don’t know what a Stratocaster will sound like played clean but maybe I don’t want to. Hendrix was a great user of Wah and Fuzz.  In my mind he could have used any effects pedal and one would know it was Hendrix.  A very under-rated guitarist is Mark Knopfler.  I think he was positioned at number 25 in Rolling Stone mag a few years back.  He may just be genius – I give him full credit.  Orange Whip Compressor, Cry Baby, Volume make up his distinct sound. I don’t think any pedal will bring out his distinct sound – he was (is) never a show off.

Guitar pedals are not full of magic. In our previous articles on music synths we touched base on some of the tricks used.  All the effects used by all the musicians in one box is the big advantage of digital.  Multi-FX, used in the BOSS ME-80. At a touch over R5 000.00 this is not a bad buy. Of course there’s literally hundreds of multi-fx pedals being sold these days so one can take their pick.

boss ds-1 simple block
BOSS DS-1 – simple block

This subject to be continued – a base for effects in guitar, circuit description and how it works.


Further reading:

From FACT magazine

In 2004, John Wood stood outside Hollywood’s Amoeba Records, selling bumper stickers emblazoned with the slogan: “Drum machines have no soul”.


Electronic Kits and Synths

eti4600 - voltage controlled synth

Electronics:  Kits and Synths

Minimoog VCF

A word of thanks to Paul in Cape Town for this great link:  Minimoog VCF – interesting that one can bounce around the internet and miss some gems.

The patent 3475623

Voltage controlled filters, although covered only on a surface level is daunting at design level but is an area in which Robert Moog excelled. Of course we couldn’t write this paragraph without including Moog’s patent 3475623 – 3974461 (David Luce: Inventor)

Patent 3475623 is a very important part of electronic music, then and now – covering VCFs and termed or rather more commonly known as the Ladder Filter. An excellent article can be  found on the Sage Audio website,  The Importance of Patent 3475623 (A Celebration of Robert Moog’s Influence on Modern Recording).

Sound on Sound:  The ladder filter

Moving on to our own home front I am pleased to see that Yebo Electronics in Cape Town is now selling a Class D amplifier 20Hz ~ 20kHz  100W+100W. Sold as KIT63S for about R600.00.

class d 100wx 2 south africa
Class D Amplifier 100W x 2 at 32V DC – TDA7498  Min load 6 ~ 8 Ohms

Fatman Kit – PAIA

A remarkable synthesiser which is also affordable.

fatman 9308 analog midi
                                    Fatman 9308 Analog Midi

PAIA is world renowned for some amazing kits:  The above, Fatman Kit retails for about 200$. 9308K US version, KP international 220V, 9308FP, rack mount chassis about 35$ and 9308C, Case, 53$. Also Vocoders and tube preamplifiers.   The more expensive synthesiser kits, the 9700, sell for about 600$. Description: P9700S Series Analog Synthesizer Modules

The Maplin ETI4600 Synthesiser

Now here’s an interesting one.

Trevor Marshall

An Australian design, was it a rival to the American Moog products? The 4600  was designed by Barry Wilkinson and Trevor Marshall (Australian electronics engineer and scientist) for “Electronics Today International” in the  70s.  An important criteria for Trevor Marshall was to make his work accessible to those that could not afford the high end synths of the day and sadly, in so doing he didn’t make any financial gain out of the project.  His genius and passion will always be remembered by ETI readers of the time. (and not unfortunately his dealings in the medical profession, he was after all an electrical engineering graduate).

Complete construction details can be found on the website.  Although an exciting build for any awe struck electronics enthusiast it also came at quite a price. I do believe in South Africa, at the time, the pricing was set to about R10 000.00 for the 4600.

There are numerous articles on the 3800~5600, one being at Future Software.

With all the technological advances in electronic music, effects, computers and VST there is still a staggering amount of musicians, DIYers and professional audio manufacturers sticking to the rules of analogue.  Of course here we should always credit the pioneers, Moog and Marshall for their incredible work.

The ETI 4600 – Voltage controlled synth

eti4600 - voltage controlled synth
                                                                 Voltage Controlled Filter – ETI4600

SA Music – The beginning of the beginning

South African Music – our musicians, not really but nearly!

Manfred Mann, rather then Manfred Sepse Lubowitz, was born in South Africa in 1940.  I would hasten to add that we all like to see him as a South African,  like Elon Musc, but truth be told much is driven by influences within the musician’s host country.

Famous as a musician first and foremost, then for the hits “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Pretty Flamingo” and “Mighty Quinn”, then Manfred Mann and now Manfred Mann’s Earth Band was and still is an inspiration to many song-writers.

I have added Manfred Mann to our “SA Music” articles page because he is after all native South African, he did leave South Africa most probably due to political pressures at the time and the article that most gave insight into the Mann we know comes from an interview with Andrew Brel of Keyboard Magazine in 1993.

Oh yes, nearly forgot – Manfred Mann is known for his solo acts on the Minimoog synthesiser. Let that not be forgotten. Please read up on the series based on synth modules used in analogue synthesisers.

And of course, this could not be complete without the famous Bob Dylan track, “Quinn the Eskimo (Mighty Quinn)”

And next, moving on to our top export, “Mchunu’s Bull”. (Coming Up)