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 Forum index » DIY Hardware and Software » Thomas Henry designs
Thomas Henry Keyboard & sMs Integrated Keyboard Controller
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Scott Stites
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:06 pm    Post subject: Thomas Henry Keyboard & sMs Integrated Keyboard Controller
Subject description: A PCB challenge turns into a new design for building a master keyboard ....
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I'll kick off my first thread in this forum about something I've wanted to get off my chest for a long time......

There's a Thomas Henry design that I use more than any one of any other component in my synth. It should come as no surprise (judging from the title of this thread) that's it's my Thomas Henry designed keyboard. I mean, I just love this thing. It's the only keyboard I've ever used with my modular, and if you've heard any of my samples, it's more likely than not playing a major role in the sample.

The design is in his "Build a Better Music Synthesizer". Back in 2002 when I got back into Synth DIY after a brief flirtation in the late '80s, the first thing I ever soldered together was this keyboard circuit. Before the soldering, it spent several months faithfully serving duty on breadboard (surprise surprise).

At the time, I had no keyboard that I wanted to shred in order to get to the keybed, so I ordered this hideous little keyboard kit. I mean, this thing is rotten to the core - lousy action, worse than any toy and certainly leagues worse than the crappiest of casios. You may or may not have noticed, but I rarely play pentatonic scales on my modular - that's because the little black keys on this thing are just rigid little blocks of plastic that barely move, and I hate using them. But, I paid way too much money for it, and I went ahead and used it.

It's PCB had this single chip crappy sound generator (I suppose it was crappy, it must have matched the keyboard) that I desoldered with a heat gun. Each key of this thing had a separate PCB trace to this chip. I needed a matrix, so I took an exacto blade and bus wire and soldered the traces into a matrix. I then ran this matrix via ribbon cable to the keyboard circuit, and I've never looked back.

The crappiness of this keyboard I suppose serves as a litmus test to how well the circuit works. It's a membrane keybard and it works fine.

So, why do I love this thing so much?

(A) It's an easy build
(B) It contains no unobtainium
(C) It's an ingenious design (I love Thomas' approach to octave switching, for example)
(D) You can adapt any kind of keyboard to it.
(E) It's got a decent feature set.

The circuit uses a 37 note keyboard. It has an octave switch that just switches a signal in and out of an adder to provide octave up or octave down. Thus, the keyboard covers a range of over 5 octaves. There are no messy resistor strings to work with, and it's easy to calibrate.

It has a tuning control (I used a ten turn Bournes pot) that makes it wonderful for tuning things up and down. It's got built in portamento. Of course, it supplies +5V gate, +5V trigger and CV. And it's got a modulation input, which is probably my favorite feature. I can't begin to describe how useful this input is - just run a triangle out of an LFO into it, and anything you're driving with the keyboard gets the modulation. Of course, you can use this for pitch bending, etc. It's just a lovely design.

My PCB designing skills are, well, nonexistent. They've never been developed because I've always just built one-offs, and I love working with protoboard. I did make a PCB once. Well, I attempted. I cooked it too long and it came out looking like something an archaeologist would dig up at an ancient Aztec artists reject dump.

A certain Fonik I know has BABMS. Hmmmm......

Cheers,
Scott
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Thomas Henry



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Hey Scott and everyone else,

You brought back some very happy memories in your description above; I had long ago forgotten that design.

The memories are that I was working at the synth studio in the U of Iowa back in 1981. Just a year earlier I had met John Simonton on his home turf in OK and we really hit it off. He came up to visit me in IA, and we had a hell of a time not only in the studios (which really were world class then) but in my workshop at the university. Anyway, I remember showing him this design and he was impressed. But more importantly, as he played with it he came up with a way to cheaply add in velocity sensing!

Well, it didn't pan out in the long run, not because of the electronics but because of the AGO keyboard tolerances. Anyway, it was a real hoot brainstorming with John on that. He stayed the weekend and I swear we didn't sleep the entire time.

You know what I really liked about John? He's the guy who taught me, elegance comes through practice. Moreover, he's also the guy who never said "no" to me when I asked for permission to use one of his ideas in a new circuit.

And I bet you didn't know; he's the guy who encouraged me to start Midwest Analog Products, and even set me up with the hard-to-find parts for the ADV-Snare, refusing payment for them just to make sure I could get it all started! Even though we were in the same business, we were never competitors and always helped each other.

But back to the keyboard. I really hope that someone will (a) take Scott's provocation and design a PCB for this thing, and (b) suggest where the rest of us can find suitable raw keyboards to hack. Hell, I'd build one myself since I long ago sold off my prototype!

Thomas Henry
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elektro80
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2007 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Raw keyboards? Wouldn´t it be possible to by naked Fatar mechanisms wholesale or as a group buy? The mark up is usually way up there, but if synth manufacturers can buy these really cheap why cannot we?
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Wild Zebra



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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 9:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Wow , I didn't notice the new forum. Sweet. I would like to see a simple keyboard project with keyboard recomendations. I still kinda baffled on most of the design, it seems like a LOT of work. Well anyway cool to see a new addition. Things sure are blooming around here.
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 9:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
You know what I really liked about John? He's the guy who taught me, elegance comes through practice. Moreover, he's also the guy who never said "no" to me when I asked for permission to use one of his ideas in a new circuit.


Tom, yes, it sounds like you really miss him. It's nice to have fond memories. Sounds like John was a wonderful and brilliant guy !!! Very Happy

And to everyone else ........ I am delighted and honored to help out, along with Scott Stites who is such a wonderful writer and electronics technologist, and moderate this new forum! It's been a long time coming for Thomas Henry on electro-music, someone who has unselfishly shared his knowledge of synthesizer design over so many years!

Thanks again from myself and from the "Thomas Henry" forum members!!

Bill
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 10:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yes, that's a great story, Thomas. Sure would like to have been a fly on the wall during that session.

Velocity, huh? Wow! A long while back Electronic Goldmine was selling some 61 key keybeds for $40. I picked one up - it had the extra membranes for velocity. Still haven't put it to use....

I think I've trotted this old pony out before, but my one interaction with John was when I needed to order a back-issue of Polyphony. I was after an article on the NE572, and, as luck would have it, that was the same issue your quadrature function generator article was in.

I wasn't sure what postage to pay, so I thought I'd call PAiA on my lunch break. This guy answered the phone, and said "Everyone's at lunch, so I'm manning the phone." I asked my question about the postage, and he said "When you order, just say John said it was all right to forget about the postage". It then dawned one me who I was speaking with. Poor guy had just come back from the dentist, and was having a hard time talking, but it sure was nice to talk to THE John Simonton.

Stein & WZ: There was a thread a day or so ago on AH about keybeds - one person mentioned that Fatar keybeds could be ordered through Doepfer! I forgot about that.

Like Bill, I'm just pleased as punch to be moderating this forum. Couldn't ask for a better co-moderator.

There are exciting things to come......

Cheers,
Scott
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 11:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Quote:
There are exciting things to come......

indeed

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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2007 5:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yes! Excitement! & Greatness!

I was going to mention too that Doepfer (or their dealers) may be a good source of raw keyboards. Looking at the UK distro EMIS, I found them selling Fatar keyboards of 24 / 37 / 49 / 61 together with the MKE electronics Midi whatnot - the 24 option, for example, is 20pounds more than the MKE alone, so I'd have thought they'd sell the keys alone for maybe 25pounds or so - ie, not too bad, really (though it may be better to hack something else).

I'm now waiting for a couple of Build a Better - ordered one from US via amazon, so I hope they actually manage to complete the order - I've had a few poor purchases through amazon where something is listed as in stock but then the seller doesn't actually have it (ie a pretty lame bit of advertising). I'm very much lookign forward to getting hold of it and would gladly share any pcb designs I come up with (as & when of course - and maybe I should just keep sh-toom for now as I'm often lax with actually getting back with the goods - seem to have had little time to focus on building recently)

Nice to see this new forum too. I actually only picked up on its existence by reading (the wonderful) matrixsynth

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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2007 7:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Hey, cool new forum. I didn't know that all one had to do was search Amazon of all places to lay one's hands on a classy 80's TH synth tome. I amaze myself with my own density sometimes. Perhaps I'll order a copy and if the schem isn't too daunting, i'll give it a go. That is, after all, the heart of DIY right?
-justin
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 1:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

i will read through that chapter this weekend. it is the chapter following the super controller so it's nothing but natural Wink .

i really love the hardware part of SDIY. since i only have midi keyboards that would be great and tempting to build, i think. i built some wooden instruments a couple of years ago and it was so much fun to work with wood.

i'd be glad to design a PCB design. because all of that digital/logic circuitry it will be hard to do a single sided layout which would be satisfying. so we will end up with a single sided which would recommend a professional manufactured PCB as many of us (and myself too) are not able or willing to etch doublesided PCBs.

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 3:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

i just took a look on dieter d's site and he offers the fatar 3oct/keyboard for about 50EUR. i think he would allow a discount if we ordered quite a few...

someone would have to distribute them though! so the discount would probably be eaten up by these costs?

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 4:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

So where is the schem for this keyboard you speak of?
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 4:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

it could be found in thomas henry's book "how to build a better synthesizer", 1987, chapter 10, S. 97f.

in this book you will find such famous circuits as the super controller, quadrature function generator or the digital keyboard.

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 5:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Sad
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 6:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

For a source of cheap keyboards in the US, I would suggest yard sales and ebay. There's a million Yamahas and Casios people are trying to unload. Yard sales are cheaper as there is no shipping cost involved. My last purchase on ebay was a US$9 Casio CA-something but it cost another US$9 in shipping fees. Then came the real work! The key frame was actually part of the case! Fortunately we have a big metal cutting bandsaw at work that I used to liberate the majority of the case. Then I found out the 49 keys were arranged in a 7 X 7 matrix....UGHH!!! Well about 2 hours of dremel cutting of traces and resoldering using wire wrap wire and I had a fine 4 octave keyboard. So in summary: US$18 plus about 3 hours of work.

On the electronics side, Thomas's circuit is fairly large: 18 ICs! On my last analog keyboard (last used in about 1985!) I used the PAIA EK-3 keyboard encoder and their 8785 linear DA pcb's which combined are only 9 IC's. Thomas's circuit does include the glide function (1/4 Op Amp) and the octave switching (2 IC's), which are definitely worth it to me. Comparing the 2 circuits, the front ends and back ends are nearly identical. The main difference is the middle section as found in figure 10-3 which adds 9 ICs. I've read thru the circuit description, but not sure I can see benefit of the added circuitry. Perhaps the PAIA combination had flaws that I never experienced? This is possible because I didn't use the keyboard that much once Midi came into my life.

Thomas, if you're out there, could you shed a little light? I'd love to have an analog keyboard again so I'm game for whatever the group comes up with.
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 6:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

don't be sad. as soon as i have redrawn the schematic i could post it.
BTW the book is still available:
AbeBooks search result

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 6:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

fonik wrote:
BTW the book is still available


I would love to buy a copy, but I can't afford to buy anything much at the moment.

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 10:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Antman,

Curious about the PAiA design - did it supply both gates and triggers? Somewhere around here I have a PAiA design that is similar to Thomas', but (IIRC) there was not trigger output.

Right about the yard/garage sale thing. One can find keyboards in abundance through that route. Last one I bought was a Casio SK1 for one dollar (though I won't scavenge the keys out of that one).

I picked up a dual 37 note manual organ for $5 a couple of years ago.

I've got a steadily growing pile of victims.......

Still, a fresh, shiny new keybed would be great.

Fonik: You know what would go good with one of these keyboards? A Supercontroller. Man if someone would only.....oh, wait Very Happy Very Happy

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 10:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

antman49443 wrote:
For a source of cheap keyboards in the US, I would suggest yard sales and ebay. There's a million Yamahas and Casios people are trying to unload. Yard sales are cheaper as there is no shipping cost involved. My last purchase on ebay was a US$9 Casio CA-something but it cost another US$9 in shipping fees.


I was going to chime in with the same suggestion Very Happy

Boot sales- or as the Americans call them, 'garage sales' ('boot' being the British term for 'trunk') are a perfect place to look- as generally there are no postage fees involved either. I guess yard sale is another term? As boot sales tend to be rather big too Very Happy

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 10:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Oh, sure, you can find boots there too....no wait, that's not what you meant. Yep, been to a few 'boot' sales up Stevenage way.

Antman: forgot to mention - I know Thomas is pretty tied up this time of year, so I'll take a look at the schematic tonight to find the parts you're referring to. Having built it, I may be able to comment on it. Or not Very Happy

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Scott:

I took a look at both my TH book and John S's "Friendly Stories About Computers/Synthesizers" book and the PAIA design does not have a trigger out, only gate. Also, TH's uses a low note priority and I believe the PAIA was last note priority but I can't remember and can't tell from the circuit explanation. Id' rather have low note myself.

Knowing Thomas's frugal use of parts in his designs, I'm sure there's some performance enhancement over the PAIA design. The PAIA stuff was admittingly "experimenter kit" stuff by Mr. Simonton and I do recall having to put a transistor inverter somewhere in the encoder circuit to make it work the way I wanted.

v-un-v:
Yes, yard = garage = boot sale. When I was a kid, it was always "garage sales", but as people sold more and more stuff, it would spill out of the garage into the yard (garden). Yard sale implies bigger than garage sale and attracts more people if you post signs, etc.
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 3:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Scott Stites wrote:
Yep, been to a few 'boot' sales up Stevenage way.


Shocked

What??? You mean you've been to this miserable little country too?? Shocked Question

Next time you're here, be sure to drop me a line, and we can all go out for a CURRY!! Very Happy

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IST NICHT FÜR GEWERKEN BEI DUMMKOPFEN. DER RUBBERNECKEN SIGHTSEEREN KEEPEN DAS COTTONPICKEN HÄNDER IN DAS POCKETS MUSS.
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 3:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

antman49443 wrote:

v-un-v:
Yes, yard = garage = boot sale. When I was a kid, it was always "garage sales", but as people sold more and more stuff, it would spill out of the garage into the yard (garden). Yard sale implies bigger than garage sale and attracts more people if you post signs, etc.


yeah the Brits are particularly fond of their yard sales Very Happy I've been to some very good ones too Very Happy

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IST NICHT FÜR GEWERKEN BEI DUMMKOPFEN. DER RUBBERNECKEN SIGHTSEEREN KEEPEN DAS COTTONPICKEN HÄNDER IN DAS POCKETS MUSS.
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 3:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Why, soitanly! Spent over a month at Stevenage once (2003), and around a week closer to your neck of the woods (hole in the wall by the name of Chandlers Ford) in, what, 2000? Same week JFKJR flew into the drink. Excellent curry in the UK!

Liked the food better in the south. Curdled cream - does it get any better than that?

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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 4:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

About a week ago I went to a garage/yard sale and turned up literally 15mins after an SH10 went for $20! Shocked Crying or Very sad
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