The Elektor Formant, A Rare DIY Modular Synthesizer From The ’70s

In his latest Look Mum No Computer video, Sam Battle takes a look at the Elektor Formant modular synthesizer, an epic DIY project from the 70s.

Plans for the system were published as a series of magazine articles by C. Chapman, and then compiled as a book, which is available online (pdf). At the time, modular synthesizers were too expensive for most musicians, so many turned to DIY alternatives, like the Formant or PAIA kits.

Here’s what Chapman had to say about the Formant modular:

“In the May 1977 issue of Elektor, there appeared the first of a series of articles devoted to the Formant, a sophisticated music synthesizer whose performance was on a par with that of many commercial models, but which was designed for home construction and could be built for a fraction of their cost.

It quickly became apparent that there was tremendous interest in the project. Many readers have since completed construction of the Formant, and their experiences have been entirely positive. The basic modular design concept,
which allows the constructor to build as many (or as few~ modules as his budget permits, has proven extremely successful, and despite their complexity, an almost 100% reproducibility in the performance of the circuits has been achieved.”

Battle’s video covers the Formant origin story, and then dives into an impressive example of a surviving Formant system.

Check it out and share your thoughts on the Formant in the comments!

13 thoughts on “The Elektor Formant, A Rare DIY Modular Synthesizer From The ’70s

    1. He tends to run his place with no heat on. Helps keep the machines cooler since most of the stuff he works on is 30,40,50 years old and all analog. Additionally, they tend to warm up the place a bit.

  1. I remember buying this issue of the magazine and desperately wanting to build this, but 16 year old me just couldn’t afford it.

  2. I built this around 1980 – I knew nothing about soldering or electronics but it was a great success!
    When I left the country my father gave it away to have more space in the garage – oh no!!
    Ive missed it ever since

  3. If someone could produce a version of this DIY using the latest Curtis (CME) & SSI chips, + MIDI-input, would be great. Better The PiAi.

  4. Hello.

    Well, I am now living in Arizona and I still have to “finish” this synthesizer!
    I am retired and I will have no time to do so.

    So, is anyone is interested in the purchase of the full package of:
    – pcb populated and soldered;
    – face plates populated with switches, leds, connectors;
    – power supply mounted on an acrylic board;
    – the keyboard with the Kimber-Allen contacts;
    – eventually the boxing prototype of the keyboard;
    – various cables and extension test/adjusting board;
    – ….

    Except for the PS, nothing has ever been powered.
    Just a few more details:
    – the VCO have the TO exponentiator chip (recommended)
    – I’ll provide homemade pcb designed to replace the j-fet transistors.

    If really interested, drop me a line and I will be pleased to answer any question or provide you with more details.
    [email protected]

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