Paying the EE dues [long winded]

Paul Schreiber synth1 at
Tue Mar 7 05:12:49 CET 2000

The reason these types of general issues are ignored is that you are asking
the equivalent of:

"I want to perform basic organ transplants. I know nothing about medicine,
am highly interested. What's a good book to buy? Where do I start?"

This may seen like a flippant/a*hole comment, but it's close to the truth.
The answer is: you
have to obtain levels of expertise. I can sit next to a master chef with the
same ingrediants
and cookware, but guess whose cake will turn out better?

The good news is that it is possible to learn just about anything. All it
takes is
commitment. Not even straight 'A's. But it also takes *years*. And there is
an upside: you will
never lack for work. Not in the forseeable future (next 10-15 years).
Electrical engineering
unemployment is like 0.1% The *average starting salary* is like $65,000/yr.
Most companies
will now *give you* stock options worth over $100,000 in 4 years. I know 20
people under 40 years old
with each over $1 million in stock that was *given to them free* just to
work at a certain company.

EE is mostly math. You got to do the math! You also get to endure lovely
classes like Thermodynamics
(for my final, I calculated the rotational torque on a water pump for a big
fountain. ZZzzzz) and
Statics & Dynamics (calculating exciting things like forces on gear teeth).

Now, what most people immedialy blurt out is: What the crap does this have
to do with learning about
synths? The answer is: nothing at all and everything. Nothing in the sense
that last time I checked, no synths
were steam-powered. But what these classes DO teach YOU is 2 things: to
stick with hard work that
uses your brain, and to *solve problems*.

See, when you are doing mods, and you have a schematic, what you have is a
snapshot of some engineer's
way of thinking. There is no "standard" VCF, or LFO, or EG. Sometimes
designs are based on cost, or
reduced parts count, or having to use up a boatload of dorky parts the buyer
bought by accident. Some synth
designs are "bad" (like the SEM module) while others are elegant (Moog
ladder filter). So the broad
*engineering training* (notice I didn't say EE training) helps you to look
at the designs in different ways.

Sure, you can accelerate the process 2 ways:

#1: get a job, even part-time, in the electronics industry. I have designed
pizza ovens and other non-synth
stuff over my carrer, but *every* design matters because it teaches you to
think a certain way. In undergrad,
I calibrated and repaired test equipment for the Chemical Enginereing Dept
at $4.20/hr.

#2: tinker! meaning, buy some parts and start building! Build what? PAiA,
Blacet, MOTM, etc. Buy copies
of Radio-Electronics magazine. Buy broken synths and try to fix them (the
older, the better!).

There is no magic pill, no special book (all books, even the much-touted
"Art of Electronics" have
questionable circuits and most textbooks are for teaching the concepts
rather than being specific).

Also, there are many FREE publications that you can get that will have ads
for new stuff AND up-to-date
articles. College libraries will have these, and most have websites to

Electronic Design
EE Times
Electronic Products

and get the Newark, Allied, Mouser, Techni-Tool, and Digikey catalogs (all
FREE) for parts. Save $240
and get the full Electronotes set from Bernie Hutchins at Cornell U. This is
where 99% of analog synth design is

Electronics is NOT a CHEAP hobby or profession. Synth
buying/collecting/designing IS NOT a CHEAP hobby
or livelyhood. But the upside is the rewards are great, you young
whipper-snappers have the Web, but
still there are libraries all over the nation that go unused. The
non-technical Ft. Worth Public Library
has 100s of EE books, and had 4 synth books! (including the horrible
Penefold book with it's 132 typos).
A EE book written in 1975 is still valid.

I guess my point is that most real synth lovers who want to UNDERSTAND the
insides of the beasts
need to realize that there is a learning curve. It is a long one, but not
impossible. Difficult, but
not impossible. Knowledge I stuffed in my (now bald) head in 1974 is paying
the rent today, and
will pay the rent 20 years from now.

Could I have designed the MOTM system without going through all that crap?
NO! Am I gald I did?
I thank God every day I stuck it out, when I made a 5 (yes, a 5 out of a
100) on a Thermo test. The
test is long forgotten, but here I am soldering away on my own VCO designs

And don't give me the "it's too late" argument, either. I got my MSEE at age
37 with wife/2 kids
and working full time. But you know what? The company I worked for PAID
of it! And I took all analog IC design classes, op amps, and a class in
audio design. And Exxon PAID
me to do it!

Paul Schreiber
Synthesis Technology <<see the end result

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