So, you want to get into synthesizers?

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My advice to you is… STOP! Run away while you still can.

I caught the synthesizer bug again, after 40 years. My ARP had been sitting under the stairs for a solid 30 years and I thought I’d get it back up and running. It was useless in its current state: transformers had gone bad, capacitors had gone bad, sliders were dirty and it needed to be tuned very badly. I found a guy mentioned to me on Reddit who was local and could bring her back to life.

While that was happening, I thought it would be a good time to get more stuff so I could play two voices at the same time. Fortunately (or not), there’s a Eurorack vendor in town who could sate my desire, Detroit Modular. I picked out a Pittsburgh Modular Move 104 case and an oscillator, ADSR, VCA and VCF and thought that would be that. But it wasn’t.


Here’s some advice if you’re considering getting into modular synthesizers.

Step 1) Join Muff Wiggler. This is the ultimate synthesizer community. Discuss, buy, sell, trade, learn. Leave a bunch of meaningful messages and reply frequently because rewards happen when you’ve reached 100 posts.

Step 2) Decide on a format. The format will determine, ultimately, how much money you will spend.

Look at this chart from

That’s 25 possible formats, officially, not to mention the DIY crowd, that just makes their own as they go along.

The format you choose will determine how much money you will spend.

For example, Buchla gear is VERY VERY expensive.

A large Buchla system, photo courtesy

You’re looking at about $40,000 worth of Buchla there. And Moog ain’t so cheap either.

Moog Music System 35, courtesy

Moog Music System 35, courtesy

That System 35 (newly reintroduced) is $22,000 and it’s not even the BIG one.

So, I went with Eurorack. It’s smaller, MUCH cheaper and there are a lot of modules of a great variety available.

Step 3) Pick a case.

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Not only that, pick a case that’s bigger than you intend it to be initially. You will buy more modules later, and you want a place to put them. Note that there are two kinds of cases or racks.

A “skiff” is small and tends to be inexpensive, but not necessarily.
skiffA “rack” is much larger, much prettier and a lot more money.

One very important note: A skiff will limit you to what are “skiff-friendly” modules: shallow, like 2 inches deep. Many of the cooler, more capable modules are quite deep and I had to get a case to hold my first deep module, a Tip Top Z5000 Reverb, which would not fit in my Move 104 case. Remember that. If in doubt, get a Doepfer case, which handles deep modules and is relatively cheap.

Step 4) Join Modular Grid. This website let’s you pick a virtual case and arrange potential modules and experiment with layouts.

Step 5) Decide what you want to do with your new synthesizer. Do you want to make noise, self-playing patches, perform, record, or all the above?

Step 6) Buy some modules. You’ll need sound makers (oscillators, noise generators), sound modifiers (filters, waveshapers, ring modulators), controllers (keyboard, joystick, optical controller, MIDI interface), transient generators (envelope generators and low-frequency oscillators), cables, cables and more cables (so you can connect all these pretty things). Optionally, you’ll want amps, speakers and a means to record all this stuff.

So, I buy gear from retailers and manufacturers, Muff Wigglers, Ebay. There are some great bargains to be had on MW and Ebay from people looking to break the synth habit, or upgrade or downsize. All the manufacturers with whom I’ve done business are great and helpful. You could also build your own gear if you have the patience.

Please note that this whole thing is quite incompatible with most girlfriends and wives. Better you should know now.

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