DIY Synthesizer Kits #1 – Atari Punk Console

While I’m definitely a big music fan, I’ve never made much of an effort to learn how to play it (and given how bad my singing voice is, that was never an option).  I played violin in fourth grade, and clarinet in fifth, but that was it for any formal attempts.  I suppose I could read music at a basic level at one point, but that skill has long since disappeared from my brain.  Later I owned a little Casio keyboard and an electronic drum pad, but never got anywhere with them.  I wouldn’t say I’m incapable of learning – after all, at one time I could play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the violin.  But the older I get, the less likely it seems.

Then a few weeks back I was doing something online and ended up coming across an article about DIY synthesizers.  We’re not talking keyboards here, but various electronic components that you can build and use to make sound.  That was an incredibly fascinating revelation, and after a few hours going down an internet K-hole I emerged at the website for Rakit, a UK-based company that makes a variety of these DIY kits designed for a range of skill levels, even first-timers like me who had never built anything electronic and in fact have never even used a soldering iron.  So what did I do?  I ordered six different kits from Rakit, that’s what I did, along with a soldering iron and some angled wire cutters from Amazon.  And yesterday I sat down in the garage and made my first attempt at building a synth.

A quick disclaimer here.  The folks at Rakit don’t know I’m writing these.  I bought my kits from them at full price through their website – I didn’t get any freebies or discounts by offering to write about their stuff.  I’m writing about them because I bought them and have been having fun with them.

apc1

I started with the Mini APC, the “Atari Punk Console”.  The reason I began here was simple – it was the smallest kit and had the least number of pieces.  I figured there was less to screw up, and since the APC only has minimal functionality I wouldn’t be too bummed if I screwed it up.  The Rakit kits are great – everything you need is right here in this one bag, and the instructions are available online.  You can even order the solder they recommend you use (which I did), plus add-ons such as a small speaker for the APC and connectors for hooking it up with some of their other kits, like the Baby 8 (which I also bought, but haven’t yet built).  The kit comes to about $20 US (plus shipping) and the APC runs on a regular 9-volt battery.

After unpacking all the parts and spreading them out, this didn’t seem too intimidating even for a newbie like me.  Only 15 things to attach to the APC board.

apc2

As a complete and total novice, this took me about 45 minutes to assemble.  It would have been much faster had I displayed any common sense as to the order in which I mounted the pieces – a few times I found myself with some hard-to-reach soldering because I’d mounted other pieces around the spot I was working on next.  Mounting from inside to outside would have made it a bit quicker.

apc3

I didn’t attach the little external speaker and instead tried to connect it to an old Mac laptop, but couldn’t get any sound.  Oh man… did I mess something up?  But then I plugged some headphones into the jack and it worked like a charm!  There isn’t a whole lot to the APC – just pitch and depth knobs.  That being said, it was a lot of fun to play around with, and while I don’t expect to make any hit songs using just the APC I know I can take some of these sounds and run them through some of the other Rakit kits to create something interesting.

All-in-all it was a fun experience building the Rakit APC kit.  I learned some new skills and even as a middle aged guy I felt a sense of accomplishment in having put something like this together for the first time.  I’ll be posting about other Rakit DIY kits as I put them together.  If you’re interested in checking these out for yourself, visit the Rakit website HERE.  Maybe you’ll find your next project.  There are also some YouTube videos by various folk about putting together and using little DIY synths like the APC.  But watch out – you might get sucked in.  I sure did.

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