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Building Analog Module Kits: Questions

Discussion in 'GEAR Talk Forum' started by Piano Pete, Dec 5, 2017.

  1. Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

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    Jan 5, 2017
    This has nothing to do with virtual synths, but I do not think anyone will mind.

    I have a limited budget set aside to add to my modular synth, and in the effort to stretch my dollar as far as it can go, I have been investigating some of the DIY module kits.

    What equipment is needed to put this stuff together efficiently? I have a nice soldering iron, but since I have never messed with building synthesizer modules and it has been ages since I have messed with circuit boards, I want to make sure I know what I am getting myself into. I am assuming that I will need some way to test the board to make sure everything works.

    Any suggested resources, equipment, and vendors for me to look at?
     
  2. synthpunk

    synthpunk Senior Member

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    Mar 3, 2015
    Hi Pete, this post would usually go in the Gear Talk subforum but no worries...

    Here is a good list (although I cannot agree with lead solder because of heath reasons).
    https://aisynthesis.com/diy-electronics-tools-you-need/

    I recommend a good Weller iron with multiple tips, as long as you keep it fairly clean it will last you a lifetime.

    You can cut a couple corners to begin with like using Desoldering wick instead of a solder sucker and visitng your local Harbor Tools outlet for cheaper tools.

    Despite things being fairly safe these days I recommend you still have good ventilation.

    Good Lighting, magnifier, etc.

    and SAFETY FIRST!, when dealing with electricity adhere to all safety rules, common sense, keep your work area clean as possible, etc.

    Make friends with a experienced or master electrician or electronics expert. If you get stuck you can have someone to help your troubleshoot without having to ship the unit to a tech or the manufacturer.

    Please let me know if you have any further questions.

     
  3. OP
    OP
    Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

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    Jan 5, 2017
    Feel free to move this then to the Gear Talk. In hindsight, that would be the better place.

    ---Thanks for the comment! That video was literally the thing I was looking for. Muff Wiggler and the Modular reddit were also really helpful.


    2nd Edit--- Thanks for moving the thread!
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2017
    synthpunk likes this.
  4. OP
    OP
    Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

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    Synthpunk, do you know if these kits-- when offering the purchase of just the PCB and panel-- have a list of the specific components? Having crunched the numbers, it seems like it is cheaper to grab bulk components via places like digikey and elsewhere. Is there going to be a large difference in performance going this route vs using bundled components? Are there wholesale/discount retailer of synth components?
     
  5. synthpunk

    synthpunk Senior Member

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    Mar 3, 2015
    Yes, in almost all cases you will receive a parts list or find one on Muffwiggler, forums, etc. Saying that I would almost always try to source components from the vendors if available as a option. Most places like Mouser & Digikey the prices will be much higher for 1's & 2's than bulk.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  6. wst3

    wst3 my office these days

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    Hate to pick nits, but sometimes the devil is in the details. Of course these are my opinions, and worth about what you paid for them!
    I have a couple of Weller bench type soldering irons, and a Hakko. The Hakko is every bit as good, and reliable, as the Wellers. It doesn't look as cool<G>, because it isn't Weller Blue, but they are good products and will save you a few bucks.

    Also, the key to keeping a soldering iron tip for a while is to clean it before each use, and by each use I mean each joint you are soldering. It also helps to match the tip to the job, don't use a tiny tip to weld, and don't use the big tips for surface mount work.

    Pay special attention to working quickly - too much heat for too long will damage parts and the tip. Lots of heat for just a very short time is the trick.

    Solder Wick, mechanical solder suckers, and pump operated solder suckers all serve different purposes. I have a sucker with the built in pump, wouldn't tackle most projects without it. But if you aren't recapping a 48 input console you probably don't need it right away. Get the wick and the little mechanical sucker and you'll be all set.

    Having gone through a few cheaper tools over the years I'm afraid I do disagree with this. Good tools last forever, cheap tools don't. You don't want to skimp on the tools, it makes the job more difficult, and especially when you have to run out to buy another set if diagonal cutters right in the middle of things.

    ABSOLUTELY! Although I will continue to use lead based solder for as long as I can get it, even the lead free solders give off nasty fumes. Ventilate!

    Speaking of, there are some rational arguments for using lead based solder. There are unintended consequences from using the lead free stuff, you can find lots of arguments on the net.

    Again, ABSOLUTELY! I now have one of those headband rigs with the magnifiers that flip down, wish I'd bought them years ago!

    And again, ABSOLUTELY. Don't get zapped.

    There are still a lot of qualified technicians around, and they love to help out. Seriously. Also, if you can't find an audio engineer with great building chops look to your local amateur radio club, guaranteed you'll find more than a couple great kit builders.

    All in all, have fun!
     
  7. gsilbers

    gsilbers Part of Pulsesetter-Sounds.com

    These are a couple of companies doing the diy
    https://www.seventhcircleaudio.com

    http://www.paia.com

    and for more challenging project:
    http://www.deckardsdream.com
     
  8. oks2024

    oks2024 Member

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    Nov 22, 2017
    Hey,

    I've built several modules (and have the parts for more, but not enough time), so I might be able to help.

    For the parts I use mouser. It's cheaper to buy the parts yourself, but it's less straightforward than buying a complete kit.
    Building your cart is time consuming. Even if you have a mouser BOM, chances are that some items won't be available, and you have to find a replacement. I don't know much about electronics, so it's sometimes tricky. Also, you want to order the parts for multiple modules at a time to save on shipping (for mouser canada you need at least 100$CAD of parts).

    And most of the time mouser (or Digikey) will not be enough, you will also need some parts from https://www.thonk.co.uk/ (jacks, potentiometers).


    For full kits you can look at thonk, modularaddict and synthcube for example.

    Also, you will find that there is two types of builds, "through hole" and "surface mount".

    Surface mounted components are really really (really) small. It's possible to solder with a soldering iron, but it's more advanced, it's not something you want to try as your first soldering project, so I would recomment you to try a classic through hole build.


    And as mentionned before, you will need good tools, nice soldering iron, good solder, magnifier, etc.
    I would also recommend to buy a fume extractor if you plan to solder a lot. It's a bit expensive, but you really don't want to breath the fumes.
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

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    Thanks for the comment OKS. I just determined that Mouser is one of the primary developers of the ICs used by searching the Bill of Materials on several of the different manufacturers' products. Even by clicking on the pre-populated shopping carts from some places, it is still cheaper than buying the complete kits. I have also gotten lucky in that some friends have suggested some sites that sell wholesale components, just not the Mouser ICs.

    I was wondering about how to determine substitute IC's for when they are no longer made. Erica Synths has some chips that they use that, from my research, are no longer sold; however, there are newer versions or alternatives. If the voltage, pins, and chip function match, does that make the IC's interchangeable? What is the best method for determining if a component is an acceptable alternative?
     
  10. oks2024

    oks2024 Member

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    For basic parts I use the "Show similar" button on mouser, but for IC I don't know. Sometimes google helps with common replacement.
    However in this particular case, I think the "PCB + IC" kit sold by Erica Synths already contains the rare parts.
     
  11. OP
    OP
    Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

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    Jan 5, 2017
    Ya, in that specific case, I think it is worth paying the extra for the IC parts. I'll dive into that a bit more in the future (exchanging parts), but for now, that extra cost is minimal to get the non-negotiable components.
     
  12. OP
    OP
    Piano Pete

    Piano Pete Senior Member

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    Jan 5, 2017
    Well, I think I have a nice list of modules to build, but I was wondering about the PSU. Are there any that are capable of handling both MU modules and Eurorack, or is it best to keep these separate? I have been scratching my head looking for some calculators to see it would be feasible. Thoughts?

    -- Mostly have just used some MU stuff up until now, so I have not mixed eurorack gear.


    2nd Edit--- I'll just use separate Power supplies for each system. The room is wired as such that I'll also be able to give each their own dedicated lines.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017

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