WhySynth Controller
Part 5 - Construction

Now that I've described the design and operation of the control panel, this final post will show you how I went about constructing it.

In most cases, synthesizers are built largely from either folded sheet metal or molded plastic. Labels and panel graphics in general are screen printed. These are effective, tried and true construction methods when making multiple units. Since this controller is a once off, I wanted something simpler that didn't have the initial setup time and tooling production costs of these production techniques.

Plastic Fantastic

Acrylic resin, although not a strong as sheet metal, does have the advantage that it is easily cut and engraved with a (relatively) low power laser cutter. Panel graphics can be produced by keeping the protective paper on the acrylic before engraving it, leaving a good quality mask suitable for spray painting. The small setup times also makes laser cut acrylic a good choice for small once-off control panels.

Larger panels, such as this one at 19 inches, can flex noticeably. This, combined with the brittle nature of acrylic makes this particular panel somewhat prone to breakage, but is something I can live with considering the ease of construction. Future revisions may use a stronger material such as steel or aluminium.

Paint & Peel

This first image shows the panel after being cut and engraved by the nice folks at Ponoko. Masking tape has been placed over the holes for the LEDs and faders, keeping paint away from edges that will be visible in the finished product.

Panel before painting

Panel after painting

After painting, the protective paper that serves as a mask is peeled away. This isn't a one step operation as many little bits of paper will be left on the inside of letters. These images also give you an idea of the quality you can expect when engraving with a laser cutter:

Panel with small bits of the mask still present

Panel with all of the mask removed

After these are removed, we're left with a panel ready for population:

Panel ready for population


Manually soldering all of the controls to the Livid Instruments Brain via individual wires would require quite a bit of manual soldering, so I designed a simple mounting PCB for the potentiometers. Each board can hold four potentiometers and has cut-outs to allow them to be easily subdivided by snapping the boards to the desired length. Each board has a pin header that matches those found on the Brain such that a simple ribbon cable is all that is required to connect the two.

Potentiometer PCB panel front

Potentiometer PCB panel back

Wrapping up

The remaining components were mounted and connected to the Brain individually. The wiring is a bit of a mess as I made it up as I went along, but this is the first revision, so it's not worth designing custom PCBs for the LEDs and buttons just yet.

Panel partially populated

Panel completed, back, showing wiring

And finally, the completed panel:

Panel completed, front

This concludes the Whysynth controller series of posts. Next up? I think I'll need a sampler to go with that synthesizer...