#17 How to Build a Synthesizer (And Jam with it)

Posted on Posted in Blog, Building Useless Stuff, Music, Season 1

Time: 4-8 hours

Cost: $100

Difficulty: Pretty Friggin Difficult

Ability to Annoy People Close to You: Drastically Increased

What is a synthesizer?

For those of you who know what a synthesizer is, and are saying “Hey! This is super obvious, why would he put this in here?”… that’s what I thought as well. But when I was explaining to some of my close friends what this weeks skill was, a good portion of them had no clue.

syn·the·siz·er: an electronic musical instrument, typically operated by a keyboard, producing a wide variety of sounds by generating and combining signals of different frequencies.

To elaborate, the synthesizer is responsible for some of the most legendary 80’s pop songs, some of the coolest and most confusing sounds of all time and this. It has revolutionized music, and will continue to make a huge impact for as long as music exsists. So ya…its a pretty big deal.

It also gave us the Safety Dance. I rest my case.

My Synth

For those of you wanting to build a similar synth as seen in the video, here is the schematic and list of materials you will need to make it happen.

The Schematic


Not sure what any of this means? I didn’t either, I would suggest A) Trying to find someone who knows how to read this, and have them teach you the basics and/or B) to watch this video. Both should give you a relativity quick run down on how to get started.


What You’ll Need

-A Soldering iron



-Wire (ideally with different colors so you can color code)

-1x 555 timer circuit

-1x 2.2 uf capacitor

-1x 1.2M ohm resistor

-1x 9volt battery and connector

-1x potentiometer

-1x mini speaker (or quarter inch cable output)

-1x penguin box

-Patience, and probably 4-8 hours if this is your first time doing this.

 IMG_1516 This is what the general design should look like when its all put together (on perfboard, if you’re new to this, I would definitely suggest sticking with breadboard.)

 What did I learn?

1. Simplicity is Better

Want to tackle your first electricity related project? That’s awesome, DON”T MAKE IT TOO COMPLICATED. It can be very tempting to want to tackle that crazy project you find online that involves 4 million components and connections, but chances are you’ll get frustrated and not finish.

2. Build it on Breadboard First

Breadboard is the material you saw in the video that the synth was connected to. The great thing about breadboard, is that you can test your circuits without having to solder anything together. This is great, because if you mess up, its relatively easy to fix and rearrange. Once you feel confident with your ability to put the circuit together, you can move onto perfboard. This requires much more patience and skill, but is also much more reliable over a long period of time.

3. Find an Electricity Wizard

For this skill especially, it is super helpful to have someone who knows what they’re doing to help coach you along the learning curve. This individual is the difference between accomplishing this in 4 hours versus 15 hours is. If you have any friends who are electrical engineers, its a good place to start.

A big thanks to Patrick Dobbie for helping me out with this! Would not have been able to get it working if it wasn’t for this guy.

Learning Through Failing

More then anything though, I learned the value of failing. I failed a lot trying to build this thing. Like a lot. But through failing, I gained an incredible amount of information on electricity, an appreciation for those who work with it and even stronger sense of satisfaction when it was complete. Sometimes it can feel great to fail.

We also landed an interview on Breakfast Television because of all the failing…so that’s pretty cool too 🙂 http://www.btedmonton.ca/videos/4002471742001/


Thanks for reading, and we’ll talk next week.

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