Sean Costello costello at
Thu Apr 8 08:10:35 CEST 1999

carlray at MIT.EDU wrote:
> hi, I am new to this posting group, and I would like to ask a general
> question. What would be the fundament book to look to in starting out in
> designing synthesizers, modules, filters,  and so on... just something so
> that one can begin. I am not looking for "the end all  book" but something
> close to it would be nice : ) I am not sure what is out there so any help
> would be appreciated.  I would like to build a few simple units and then
> move to more complex components. I am just beginning  so I need a bit of
> guidance. I do not know if what I am asking is completely unreasonable but
> would appreciate any help.  thanks in advance

Well, before you build stuff, it helps to truly know what you want to
build, and what the function of each module is (for all I know, you
could own a 20 panel Serge system, so you might know all of this stuff
anyway, but just in case...). I would recommend tracking down a copy of
"Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques and Controls" by Allen Strange. 
Out of print, but by far the best book on analog synthesis techniques I
have ever seen.

For a good overview of the technical side of synthesis, both analog and
digital, "Musical Applications of Microprocessors" by Hal Chamberlin is
great.  Some circuitry is included - not enough to really make a synth
from scratch, but rather as illustrative examples of how the things
work.  Chamberlin's book manages to explain technical concepts in a
non-technical way, which is nice for people like me who still have
problems with calculus. Also out of print, and also well worth tracking

As far as collections of circuits, as well as in-depth articles of the
theory, there is only one true source: Electronotes.  Bernie Hutchins'
name has some bad associations on this list, for some good reasons (some
poor responses to orders, hassling of people over copyright issues). 
However, Electronotes is THE place to begin if you want to know the
theory behind a 4-pole Moog-style filter, or if you want a super-stable
VCO. I would highly recommend purchasing the following two items: the
Preferred Circuits Collection (PCC) and the Musical Engineer's Handbook
(MEH).  The PCC has enough quality circuits to build all of the classic
analog modules, and then some, while the MEH has the theory behind the
various modules.  After you buy these two volumes, you'll probably want
to own the whole set, which I would highly recommend.  

Even if you don't end up building a ton of circuits, the theories you
will learn in Electronotes will prove to be immensely useful.  I just
completed a Csound orchestra for a frequency shifter, which I am going
to code into C to use as a unit generator; the orchestra is a DIRECT
translation of the Hutchins frequency shifter design into the digital
realm.  For my C code, I plan on having the coefficients for each stage
being calculated at the beginning of the synthesis, so I can use more
stages in the Hilbert transformer - the equations for doing this will be
taken directly from the MEH.

(I should also add that at least a few list members were among the
original contributors to the Electronotes newletter.  Bernie was the
editor, and wrote the majority of the articles, but people like Tom
Henry, Terry Michaels and Ian Fritz also contributed great articles and

Hope these suggestions help.

Sean Costello

P.S. The above recommendations only apply to books - there are tons of
great sites out there with lots of great circuits. However, the
Electronotes info will really teach you what is going on in those

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