The world of modular synthesis is incredibly fascinating. There are so many different modules from so many different vendors which allow one to mix, match and manipulate sounds and signals in unlimited unique ways. Each modular synthesizer can be an individual design limited only by the builder’s imagination, capabilities and of course…. cash ; )
For me, building modules from scratch is as much fun as buying them as complete units. Fortunately the modular world has divided itself into various form factors permitting the artist to chose which size, Frac, Eurorack, MU (Moog Unit) and MOTM, they wish to pursue. Many DIY vendors provide boards which can be installed in multiple sizes. Personally I prefer the Moog Unit used by Moog and Synthesizers.com.
One vendor who’s modules I quite like is Oakley Sound Systems in the UK. Not only does Oakley provide top quality PCBs for a variety of very cool modules along with excellent documentation and support, they also provide graphics which can be submitted to Front Panel Express for quick and (reasonably) cost effective panel creation. As I discovered though, the panel graphics are suited for MOTM rather than Dotcom panel sizes. While the panels are 8.75″ tall the MOTM panels are 1.75″ wide versus the the 2.125″ for Dotcom and Moog. The upshot of this is that a gap will exist between modules when they are installed in a Synthesizers.com cabinet along with other Dotcom modules. While blank space fillers can be used to bridge the gaps I was looking for a more visually appealing solution.
I decided that the best way to ensure the panels adhered to the Dotcom specification I purchased several blank panels from Synthesizers.com. After looking at various options for labeling the panels including stick on labels and engraving, neither of which were very appealing I came across a synth-builder named Jeff from guitarfool.com. He had built and modified a variety of modules which he then fitted into Dotcom panels which he silkscreened the graphics onto. The result was exactly what I was looking for!
I created a template of the Dotcom panel from the specifications so kindly provided by Roger of Synthesizers.com. For this I used an old copy of Visio I had lying around. Once I had the template I overlaid a JPG image of the Oakley graphics which I output from the Front Panel Design program. Using this image on its own layer as a template I created new graphics using the fonts recommended by Roger for the Dotcom modules. Now things started to look the same.
Placement of the drill holes was the critical factor. Because Oakley modules use special mounts on the potentiometers to fasten the PCB to the panel (if you choose to build that way) the holes must be placed in exactly the correct locations. Further, Oakley provides PCBs for easy wiring of the I/O sockets. Like the potentiometers the user can opt to choose their own method of wiring them to the panel but I opted for the PCBs (the SOCK4 and SOCK8 panels). Once again the holes must be perfectly aligned or the sockets will not fit correctly.
For my first run I found a local printing company who was up to the task of screening my metal panels. While they did a very good job at the screening process the cost was very high. So high in fact that I could have purchased all the screening gear I required and done it myself with screens left over to do more panels. Well, everything costs the most during the prototype phase so I chalked it up to that. In any case, the panels look good and despite a minor numbering error that I overlooked after they re-did my artwork the modules look great.
So now I’m in the process of obtaining the gear to do it myself. As I plan to build a few modules and sell them I figure it will drive my build cost way down.
For now though I’m happy that the Oakley modules that I’ve built fit perfectly in my Dotcom cabinet!