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These $70 DIY synthesizers are a hobbyist's dream

Moogfest's Circuit Bending Challenge invites anyone to build a synth on a shoestring budget.
Billy Steele
05.22.16 in DIY
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For me, one of the most interesting parts of Moogfest is the Circuit Bending Challenge. Sure, the performances and tech demos are great, but it's always a treat to see what a community of tinkerers can come up with on a tight budget of $70. I've seen everything from a wearable helmet instrument to creations that look more like a compact analog machine. This year's finalists offer some of the most polished exterior designs I've seen over the last few competitions and all three have unique sounds to match.

Gallery: Moog Circuit Bending Challenge finalists | 16 Photos

The Vola V-System Sequencer functions much like a game console, allowing the user to insert cartridges based on the kinds of sounds they want to make. Built by Vola Noisy Stuff from Finland, the instrument can be a beat machine or a more traditional sampler depending on which cartridge is being used at the time. Due to its ability to easily add new sounds, the V-System is perhaps the most versatile of the bunch, pulling noises and effects from different children's toys. It doesn't skimp on the traditional synth controls either, as there's a patch bay and two low-frequency oscillators.

What can you do with a $9 Yamaha PSS-140 keyboard from a thrift store? Well, Mike Sisk added a LTC1799 oscillator to control the pitch and speed of the original instrument's sound bank. He then tacked on echo effects from a $5 Barbie karaoke machine and a low-pass filter and a main panel that offers knobs and switches for pitch, effects and voltage. All of that fits inside a wood frame reminiscent of classic synths, including the recently revived Minimoog Model D.

Last, but certainly not least, there's another modified Yamaha PSS-140 from Chicago-based artist Mike Tewz. For this DIY instrument though, the keys and the control panel were separated to make room for a patch bay and additional controls. Tewz also added an LED sequencer for the PSS-140's built-in drum sounds, an additional control panel and an LTC1799 oscillator module for those pitch and speed tweaks. This hacked PSS-140 rests inside a $5 poker chip case -- you know, if he needs to take it on the road to a music festival.

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