Dissembling Innocent Toys
My interest in electronics kicked in about a year ago after watching some circuit-bending videos on YouTube. I became curious about how toys like these pictured are put together. I was also eager to understand how they hold and generate sound.
While I’m not really interested in circuit-bending, I am now inspired to make my own devices from scratch. After much more YouTube searching, I found a project that seemed doable: a “synth” made with something called a Schmitt Trigger. Using a breadboard and some very cheap parts, I began trying to make (and house) my own sounds.
First Homemade Synthesizer
The idea of repurposing old/unwanted electronics still appeals to me, but the most amazing thing about this first project was that it actually worked. I’m proud to say that with almost zero background in the hobby, I was rather quickly up-to-speed enough to be making THE nerdiest sounds imaginable and annoying anyone who would listen.
Other Experiments Followed
The next thing I wanted to make (starting with a speaker as a piezo… ) was a rudimentary spring reverb unit. I also made a second synthesizer with slightly different characteristics.
Then, by around February, I had an idea for a 4-oscillator synth that was configurable with RCA cables. This device, unlike its predecessors, remains intact and is still fun to play.
This device could be powered by battery or by a headphone-jack-sized adapter and sent audio out through another jack – generally, to some kind of amplifier. I puttered around throughout the summer and finished it around October. By then, I had learned tons and had become somewhat better at physically putting solder onto wires.
Ensuing Instructive Failures
Hastily I tried another one – this time, building in two stages of stereo amplification. It did not work as planned, but I think I understand why. For the most part, I think I was trying to get things too close, too small, too fast – and with not enough knowledge.
Now, a year into the hobby, I have a lunatic workshop in the basement. I took a second stab at the spring reverb (it worked!), built a fourth synth around a phase-locked loop IC and inside a gum package (it worked!) and have continued to learn like crazy. I stall have so far to go, but I dare say I am starting to feel confident about a few of these sciences.
One vital key to getting it right, as one might imagine, is research. Eventually, I admitted that I needed to learn to read and understand (and create) schematics. All the details matter. And finally, if you go in without a clear plan for yourself, you will definitely waste materials.
My Latest Endeavor
Currently, I am making my next synthesizer. If all goes as planned, it will feature a variety of oscillators all feeding into each other, all configurable via a volume/EQ array salvaged from an old cassette player radio, and playable via a built-in 24-key tunable voltage control keyboard – again., salvaged from a toy piano.
As it is, I usually go to sleep thinking about what I will need to do next. In the morning, I almost always wake up with the next insight – and it is usually a very basic task. But hopefully, the finished result will be fun. I intend it to be a unique-sounding synthesizer with keyboard. Stay tuned for future updates and more insights into related projects!