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Why Vacuum Tubes are the (my) future of music production.

edited April 7 in Creations

I’ve been deep in a few rabbit holes lately, but the most fun one has been some homemade oscillators from Valves. I’d been getting interested in them for a while and got a couple of desktop soft synths that emulated them, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted more. So I looked at what was available, but they mostly cost an arm and a leg, although Trogotronic do some small ones, but that’s a story for another time 😁

I’ve been granted use of some ancient tubes a mate salvaged from a closed down electrical store a few years back, and I’ve discovered a simple design that doesn’t need high voltages to run them so I’ve spent the last week or two putting them together in between animating some Gaelic literacy work...

I’ve just today achieved bona fide oscillation and have been swapping resistors and capacitors as quickly as I can to sample different frequencies and tones.

The sounds you hear in here are:

one from a couple of days ago when I thought I was on the right track but now I think was just doubled up ground hum. I made a nice FRMS instrument from it and a sine wave.
Another which is from today, just a drone really, tuned to something vaguely harmonic and ultratapped a bit smoother.
A wonky piano from pianobook
Geoshred oboe

I’ll probably add to this thread with more rambling about tubes and add sounds and pictures as I go...

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Comments

  • Pretty cool. Post more of this.

  • @Wrlds2ndBstGeoshredr said:
    Pretty cool. Post more of this.

    Thanks, I will, I’m working I up a proposal to turn the research into an art installation, hopefully in or around the old valve production plant in my home town that at least two relatives I know of worked at and was the biggest in Europe. I’m thinking a hundred or so of these would make an incredible sound in an echoing space, maybe with photoresistors to make them interact with the motion of people through lights, but I’m trying not to project too much and keep an open mind - engagement and workshops will probably feature too, hopefully get people to make some themselves as they’re dead simple :)

  • I built my very first „synth“ as a schoolboy... abusing the family‘s small tube radio when both parents were off at work. o:)
    It just popped up in my mind to put a cable from the plugs for a 2nd speaker back into the record player input. I had no idea why, but these plugs were inviting and I had cables... so I did and slowly turned up the volume.
    That was a lot of fun - not just a constant feedback tone and it changed with the tone control, too. Pulsating basses and sequences of pitch bends, in particular after adding all kind of capacitors, resistors and coils into the feedback path, great toy... B)
    I quickly became familiar with high voltage, too >:)

  • @Telefunky said:
    I built my very first „synth“ as a schoolboy... abusing the family‘s small tube radio when both parents were off at work. o:)
    It just popped up in my mind to put a cable from the plugs for a 2nd speaker back into the record player input. I had no idea why, but these plugs were inviting and I had cables... so I did and slowly turned up the volume.
    That was a lot of fun - not just a constant feedback tone and it changed with the tone control, too. Pulsating basses and sequences of pitch bends, in particular after adding all kind of capacitors, resistors and coils into the feedback path, great toy... B)
    I quickly became familiar with high voltage, too >:)

    Ha I’m sure that stood you in great stead - it was the kind of thing I wanted to do but lacked the application and knowledge at that age, any advice you can recall would be great, I’m well up for pushing this as far as I can take it as I have a boxful of tubes to get creative with 😁

  • I had no knowledge either, but just was fascinated by radios I knew about high voltage danger, though and had already read a couple of books on the subject.
    It was this thingy: https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/nordmende_elektra_59.html
    (the full circuit diagram is for registered members only)

    I remember the sound quite well and (tbh) today I‘m rather puzzled about the variety of feedback effects it could deliver. I was tempted a couple of times to buy one on flea market just to record it. B)

  • That's a really nice track. Top project as well! Love it.

  • @krupa. Sounds very interesting! :) My own childhood explorations of vacuum tube technology took in understanding what ‘implosion’ meant when I accidentally cracked the rear of a large CRT TV set...

    Had you thought of putting out a sound pack/sample collection of these? Or, as you say, presets for FRMS or Quanta or similar? I’d be happy to drop a couple of quid on Gumroad for such noises...

  • @Svetlovska said:
    @krupa. Sounds very interesting! :) My own childhood explorations of vacuum tube technology took in understanding what ‘implosion’ meant when I accidentally cracked the rear of a large CRT TV set...

    Had you thought of putting out a sound pack/sample collection of these? Or, as you say, presets for FRMS or Quanta or similar? I’d be happy to drop a couple of quid on Gumroad for such noises...

    Weirdly my partner was asking last night if synth making was my new side hustle, but I side eyed her with the comment ‘you’ve seen the state of them, but maybe I could do some sample sets or something’ - I’ll definitely think about it. I’m not the most organised of people though so it may take some time and concerted effort 😁

  • This, for reference, is the state of it so far. On the left is an advanced insulated component wrangler, the right is a keyboard strip ripped from a child’s toy and in the process of analysis for pitching purposes, there’s also an empty mirror of the main circuit waiting for me to resolder the tube adapter’s leads - the full thing is actually dual oscillator each made from a dual triode, though wt at trogotronic reckons that if I’m clever I could adapt pentodes to the same design (just match the pin outs I hope...)

    Also for reference is the design, I came across it after much research by chance on a twelve year old post that had seen sporadic activity until about six years ago on the electro-music forum after seeing a video of a build on YouTube from 2010... the scrawled colours are my reference for the wires I’m attaching to the valve socket to keep me sane when constantly reattaching pins that have slipped out - at some point I’ll commit to a stripboard and solder but I want to get some sort of tuning working first, maybe some sort of slope adjustment to the waveform and either amplification or just voltage regulation as well...

  • @Telefunky said:
    I had no knowledge either, but just was fascinated by radios I knew about high voltage danger, though and had already read a couple of books on the subject.
    It was this thingy: https://www.radiomuseum.org/r/nordmende_elektra_59.html
    (the full circuit diagram is for registered members only)

    I remember the sound quite well and (tbh) today I‘m rather puzzled about the variety of feedback effects it could deliver. I was tempted a couple of times to buy one on flea market just to record it. B)

    That looks like a lovely set, I’ve been keeping an eye out for something like that lately, just to play classical music through really, hoping that when the charity shops reopen there’ll be a bonanza :)

    Cheers @gusgranite :)

  • edited April 7

    I’ve got a new breadboard and more components / wires to play last few days so I’ve finally been able to get two oscillators running together - sampling like a madman again, just took a recording from channel two where I keep a couple of fx to see how it can sound as I swap out capacitors and stuff...

    https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/ByESapuRgdxoRw1P6

    I think a bag of green mylars is my next purchase, maybe a soldering iron as my old gas one is definitely not the best 😆

  • @Svetlovska said:
    @krupa. Sounds very interesting! :) My own childhood explorations of vacuum tube technology took in understanding what ‘implosion’ meant when I accidentally cracked the rear of a large CRT TV set...

    They were much more prevalent when I was a kid, and if anyone ever saw an old TV being thrown out, all the neighborhood kids would rip it apart for the tubes - they made such a great sound when they broke, so we would rush to see who could get them first.

  • :) @michael_m : not just me then! I was a kid in the 1960s, so CRTs were the only game in town. And my completely non technical dad could fix the tv if it broke by looking in the back, seeing which valve had burnt out, and taking it to buy a replacement from the valve shop. I’ll say that again: the valve shop.

    And you tell kids that today, and will they believe you? And we had onions on strings because it was the fashion in those days, mumble mumble...

  • edited April 7

    @Krupa : I’m sure you know this already, but your experiments are in a noble tradition: some of the sounds used on the pioneering Forbidden Planet soundtrack by Bebe and Louis Barron, made on circuits designed and built by Louis himself, only came about because they recorded the sound the circuits made actually in the process of being burnt out by the signals they were putting through them...

    From Wikipedia:

    “Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their signature sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebe_and_Louis_Barron#Forbidden_Planet

    So: y’know... keep the DAW running :)

  • @Krupa said:
    I’ve got a new breadboard and more components / wires to play last few days so I’ve finally been able to get two oscillators running together - sampling like a madman again, just took a recording from channel two where I keep a couple of fx to see how it can sound as I swap out capacitors and stuff...

    https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/ByESapuRgdxoRw1P6

    I think a bag of green mylars is my next purchase, maybe a soldering iron as my old gas one is definitely not the best 😆

    Wow, fantastic stuff!!

  • @Svetlovska said:
    @Krupa : I’m sure you know this already, but your experiments are in a noble tradition: some of the sounds used on the pioneering Forbidden Planet soundtrack by Bebe and Louis Barron, made on circuits designed and built by Louis himself, only came about because they recorded the sound the circuits made actually in the process of being burnt out by the signals they were putting through them...

    From Wikipedia:

    “Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their signature sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bebe_and_Louis_Barron#Forbidden_Planet

    So: y’know... keep the DAW running :)

    That’s good to know, I have missed a few nice things but I’m grabbing as much as seems sensible - I think I’ve worked out that some of the best sounds I was getting last week were a result of me applying double the voltage specified to one of the tubes I’m using, I want to keep doing it as it makes them step up in frequency slowly over minutes but I’m worried I’m frying them at the same time - I’m not sure if one’s got a crack in it from that, or if it slipped and just got cracked physically...

  • @Svetlovska said:
    :) @michael_m : not just me then! I was a kid in the 1960s, so CRTs were the only game in town. And my completely non technical dad could fix the tv if it broke by looking in the back, seeing which valve had burnt out, and taking it to buy a replacement from the valve shop. I’ll say that again: the valve shop.

    And you tell kids that today, and will they believe you? And we had onions on strings because it was the fashion in those days, mumble mumble...

    Yep, that was actually one source for tubes for us - we would check the trash can for our local electrical repair store as there were sometimes burned out tubes in there. It sucked because kids who lived nearer would always get there first, but sometimes we would get lucky.

    We always though it would be cool to find an entire CRT unit in there to break somewhere (we never did), but on reflection that was probably a really bad idea...

  • edited April 7

    We did once smash a TV up, disaffectedyouth of early 1980s northern England - been paranoid about asbestos ever since, I think I was seven 😬

  • If anyone knows a decent £20ish soldering iron, do let me know - bought a £7 one and I really should have known better, the only recommendation I've currently got is a nano ersa at ~£150 :D

  • @Krupa said:
    If anyone knows a decent £20ish soldering iron, do let me know - bought a £7 one and I really should have known better, the only recommendation I've currently got is a nano ersa at ~£150 :D

    Don't do it. I suffered for many years with a cheap soldering iron and then I got a little Hakko and my life is much nicer now. Seriously, it is likely that you will end up doing more of this soldering stuff if you fall down the hole. I have the analog older model of the Hakko FX888D. The new digital version is supposed to be just as nice. It's on the order of $100 US. Well worth the money.

    By the way, if you need a cheap source of parts, I think these guys ship everywhere, https://www.taydaelectronics.com

    The warning is that some of what they sell is absolute junk, but some of their parts are perfectly good and are really cheap. They have bunches of stuff that is good for DIY audio hacking.

  • Hmm they sound good, and the price is lower than the ersa... I’ll hunt about, though might have to wait until I get some signals from the project manager...

  • A little jam with the latest model crushed glass dual osc, all new capacitors so sounding shrieky :smiley:
    the drambo on envelopes and dub delay on repeating things

  • @Svetlovska said:
    :) @michael_m : not just me then! I was a kid in the 1960s, so CRTs were the only game in town. And my completely non technical dad could fix the tv if it broke by looking in the back, seeing which valve had burnt out, and taking it to buy a replacement from the valve shop. I’ll say that again: the valve shop.

    And you tell kids that today, and will they believe you? And we had onions on strings because it was the fashion in those days, mumble mumble...

    In the US you could buy replacement tubes in drugstores well into the 1970s. There would be an entire display that included books of equivalents in case the brand on sale had a different number than the one you brought in.

  • @Wrlds2ndBstGeoshredr said:

    @Svetlovska said:
    :) @michael_m : not just me then! I was a kid in the 1960s, so CRTs were the only game in town. And my completely non technical dad could fix the tv if it broke by looking in the back, seeing which valve had burnt out, and taking it to buy a replacement from the valve shop. I’ll say that again: the valve shop.

    And you tell kids that today, and will they believe you? And we had onions on strings because it was the fashion in those days, mumble mumble...

    In the US you could buy replacement tubes in drugstores well into the 1970s. There would be an entire display that included books of equivalents in case the brand on sale had a different number than the one you brought in.

    Nowadays it looks like eBay from the Ukraine is the best bet, at least for getting the mini tubes at a decent price...

  • @Krupa hunts in his box of tubes for low voltage pentodes 😁

  • I can only repeat this: Excellent work @Krupa!!!

  • @rs2000 said:
    I can only repeat this: Excellent work @Krupa!!!

    Cheers rs, I’m insanely pleased with that last recording, way beyond where I expected to take this experiment; hence the hunt for new circuits - that filter looks monster, a proto metasonix rk4 type thing I think...

  • @Krupa said:

    @Wrlds2ndBstGeoshredr said:

    @Svetlovska said:
    :) @michael_m : not just me then! I was a kid in the 1960s, so CRTs were the only game in town. And my completely non technical dad could fix the tv if it broke by looking in the back, seeing which valve had burnt out, and taking it to buy a replacement from the valve shop. I’ll say that again: the valve shop.

    And you tell kids that today, and will they believe you? And we had onions on strings because it was the fashion in those days, mumble mumble...

    In the US you could buy replacement tubes in drugstores well into the 1970s. There would be an entire display that included books of equivalents in case the brand on sale had a different number than the one you brought in.

    Nowadays it looks like eBay from the Ukraine is the best bet, at least for getting the mini tubes at a decent price...

    I bought a whole bunch of new old stock Ge transistors from a seller in Bulgaria. He got them from an old Soviet military warehouse. Having been a teenager in the 70's, it was trippy opening up the bag and realizing I was breathing in some "behind the Iron Curtain" Cold War air. The seller was great and the transaction was smooth. The GE transistors were excellent. They generate tons of wonderful fuzz.

  • @NeonSilicon said:

    @Krupa said:

    @Wrlds2ndBstGeoshredr said:

    @Svetlovska said:
    :) @michael_m : not just me then! I was a kid in the 1960s, so CRTs were the only game in town. And my completely non technical dad could fix the tv if it broke by looking in the back, seeing which valve had burnt out, and taking it to buy a replacement from the valve shop. I’ll say that again: the valve shop.

    And you tell kids that today, and will they believe you? And we had onions on strings because it was the fashion in those days, mumble mumble...

    In the US you could buy replacement tubes in drugstores well into the 1970s. There would be an entire display that included books of equivalents in case the brand on sale had a different number than the one you brought in.

    Nowadays it looks like eBay from the Ukraine is the best bet, at least for getting the mini tubes at a decent price...

    I bought a whole bunch of new old stock Ge transistors from a seller in Bulgaria. He got them from an old Soviet military warehouse. Having been a teenager in the 70's, it was trippy opening up the bag and realizing I was breathing in some "behind the Iron Curtain" Cold War air. The seller was great and the transaction was smooth. The GE transistors were excellent. They generate tons of wonderful fuzz.

    That’s good to know, I did have a Soviet camera phase on eBay nearly twenty years past and that all went well... every time I watch an eBay listing for these things, they send me a reduced offer within a few days; maybe trade isn’t that brisk...

  • edited June 7

    Valve nonsense continues, I’ve been busy with work as well though, but been trying to get a filter circuit up to scratch, finally got the hang of it this weekend after challenging myself to make @iOSTRAKON ’s vox sweeter/scarier (depending on your point of view) - this it what happens when you put a rather basic drum beat through it...

    Edit, this is kinda noisy so be aware 😇

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