Building an arduino synth

Okay so I’m starting a new project. I kind of got sick of the whole server thing as it has been done before and will have limited functionality. I may finish the server down the track sometime.

What it is

It’s basically going to be an arduino synth inside an old tape player a bit like this except in a tape player:

The enclosure

The enclosure for this project is going to be an old Technics tape player from Dolby Systems. I got the tape player for $5 from here:

The tape player

The tape player

Tiny’s at the moment is booming with a lot of cool gear like old servers and purple computer motherboards. And it’s all dirt cheap. If you live near Canberra I would strongly recommend going.

Now normally stuff from Tiny’s doesn’t work. Which is why it is all so cheap. But this tape player worked perfectly when I plugged it in which is pretty cool. I don’t have much use for an old tape player so I’m going to take out the original electronics and put in an Arduino to produce the synth sounds.

What I’m going to do

  1. Take out the original electronics and put in an arduino to read the knob values and generate sound.
  2. Write a program to mix the sounds and respond to input
  3. Put in a raw atmega328 chip instead of an etherten board once I get one from little bird electronics.
  4. Play.

Pulling it apart

So to start off with I have to unscrew the case.

So to start off with I have to unscrew the case.

This is what it looks like with the back off.

This is what it looks like with the back off.

It is interesting to note that the whole tape operation is mechanical. All the stop, forward, rewind, pause, eject and record buttons are mechanical. The design behind these is fascinating even to someone who is not that interested in mechanical design. They have notches and pins to prevent pressing certain combination and they are all linked up to motors and brakes. It is really cool.



Better not touch any capacitors.

So I’m not going to touch any of the tape mechanism because I think it’s kind of cool. What I am going to take apart is the knobs and the circuit board because I need that section for the synth. I noticed that someone has already removed quite a few of the screws inside the tape player so it has been meddled with before for some reason.

After taking away the shiny silver backing plate I found one of the strangest PCBs known to man.

It’s strange because the PCB tracks are drawn in wonky lines and everything is ridiculously crowded. Normally PCBs have cool rails with dead straight lines. This one looks like it was drawn by a 5-year-old playing join the dots. Very weird.


The gap between the PCB and the front panel

This is exactly what I am looking for. Now all I have to do is cut free the circuit board so I can wire up the knobs to the arduino.

The separated circuit board

The separated circuit board. It's messy but has quite a few useful components.

The back of the front panel

The back of the front panel

Okay so I nearly have the tape player how I want it to be. There is one last thing and that is the circuit boards that the controls are soldered to. I want to get rid of those because they get in the way. But before I do that I think I’m going to give the front panel a bit of a clean.





So with everything now looking nice I can get to work on the electronics tomorrow.



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