Making A Modular Synthesizer For Tool

Composer, synthesist and module designer Peter Grenader shared this behind the scenes look at the making of a modular synthesizer for the rock band Tool.

Grenader has a wide ranging background: studying music composition at Calarts with the likes of composers Barry Schrader and Morton Subotnick; being active as an electroacoustic composer; collaborating with musicians Miles Richmond and Steve Roach on the electronic music project POV; and founding one of the early Eurorack manufacturers, Electro-Acoustic Research.

In this video, Grenader shares his process for creating a live modular synth rig for Tool’s Danny Carey, the Toolbox.

“I recently did a huge overhaul and expansion of that system,” he notes,  “This video details that journey.”

Here’s a list of modules in the Toolbox, by manufacturer:

1010 Music: Micro Bit Box

2 HP: Grain, Pluck, Rnd, EG, ADSR, Seq, Delay, Verb, LFO, Play (x3)

Doepfer: A-148 Sample & Hold, A-180 Passive Mult

Intelligel: Mini Fold

Jones: O’Tool 2

Make Noise: Echophon

Malekko Heavy Machinery: Varigate 8, Unity Mixer (x2)

Plan B/EAR: Model 15 VCO (x3), Model 10 EG (x3), Model 13 Timbral Gate, Model 25 Multi-Tasking Audio Processor, Model 26 Multi-tasking Control Processor, Model 24 Heisenberg Generator, Model 21C Mini Milton, Model 7 Panner, Model 38 Panner, Model 41 Steiner EVI FIlter, Model 13 Mini Low Pass Gate, EAR Output (custom), EAR Model 9 MK II Mixer (custom), EAR Leveler (custom)

Qu-Bit: Nebulae II

33 thoughts on “Making A Modular Synthesizer For Tool

  1. patching a modular live in real time is super funky but it also goes back to the origin of electronic music itself when that’s what you had to do

        1. and while you repatch and adjust knobs you have to tell some jokes to the audience, so you dont bore them with the same sound forever. ^^

  2. Grenader has a wide ranging background:

    First he started a synth company called plan B, which stole tons of money from people and never delivered their products.

    Then he started a record label called Pure Destructive which stole tons of money from people and never delivered their products.

    But Synthtopia keeps giving the guy a voice and writing articles about him. Pathetic.

    1. This is Peter Grenader.

      I had a company called Plan B, After six years, yes, it had problems in 2009. That was 13 years ago. All outstanding issues have been taken care of. There isn’t a single person or company that hasn’t been repaid in full as of 2014. The process of repaying those individuals has all been publicly documented. On the FB Modwigglers page as well as other forums.

      I do not have a label. I’ve never been associated with anything called Pure Destructive. I don’t even know what it is. We got a maybe three orders on the POV record on Bandcamp after it had sold out before we took the purchase link mdown and all of it was refunded. Every penny.

      So please, if you’re going to take the time to throw your little carefully-crafted insults and attempt to defame me, be more accurate. Thanks

      You seem like a very nice person. I actually have an idea who you are.

    2. Pure Destructive Records was a label that did some vinyl releases. One of them was Barry Schrader’s Galaxy of Terror synthesizer soundtrack. I bought one of those.

      Not sure where you got your information, but Pure Destructive was run by David Gibson. Peter Grenader was not associated with them.

    3. Admin: Personal attack deleted (name calling).

      We encourage people to share any perspectives that they have, even critical, about THINGS – synthesizers, musical styles, types of synthesis, bands, company business practices, gear build quality, etc.

      But, if we see personal attacks – comments criticizing an individual, hate speech, etc – we will delete them. We do not pre-approve every comment, that doesn’t scale. So some personal attacks will slip through and we will address them as we see them.

      With this in mind, please keep your comments on topic and constructive.

    4. ??? Just read a couple of pretty in-depth bios and then also an interview on the tokafi site, none of my other searches found anything remotely related to what you posted. Accusing people of stealing money without any links to substantiate such allegations is ok on this forum?

      Earlier today a poster called someone a moron, the comment wasn’t moderated, now you can accuse someone of being a thief and Synthtopia is ok with that as well, wow…

      1. alacazam

        See my response on your other post about the ‘moron’ comment:

        It’s been addressed, but don’t expect any moderation system to catch every toxic comment on a website, forum or social media site.

        We catch the majority of spam and hate speech before it ever sees the light of day by moderating every first time commenter.

        But established commenters, with good track records, will sometimes get triggered and leave personal attacks. We are not pre-screening every single comment on the site. That does not scale.

        So we do not say we will protect you and other readers from the possibility of personal attacks or hate speech. That’s unrealistic on the Internet. We commit to addressing it when we see it or when it’s brought to our attention via the site Feedback form, which is available on every page of the site.

      2. I don’t see this as Synthtopia allowing personal attacks. They are busy individuals and as they explained, the process itself will sometimes allow things to slip their purview. I can say that compared to many other forums which do not appear to moderate anything, at all – this site has always been a refreshing exception.

        If i may go into a bit more detail on my specific situation, just to clear the record:

        The definition of the word thief is “a person who steals another person’s property, especially by stealth and without using force or violence.”

        As is stated before, I ran into problems in 2009 and i did owe individuals and one distributor product or the money they spent to purchase the product they did not receive. However, my intention was never to not deliver when the product was put up for presale. Within the first six months, i did deliver all the product i could based on the materials available. About 25 units in total. For customers in which i could not do that, i repaid every one of them.

        There was also an issue of three employees which i owed money to due to loosing our only distributor over the public outcry when the initial issue exploded. I paid them as well.

        Everything and everyone has been repaid and i have, on several occasions, issued an honest apology for my company mismanagement as i fully recognized the burden i had caused them for their good faith.

        While i understand definitions sometimes become opinions, if I apply the definition of the word as a measure – i do not see this as an act of thievery. I owned up and i made good as time and my financial resources allowed.

    5. crall

      Thanks for your feedback. Peter has already provided direct feedback to you, but I wanted to share our perspective, too.

      EAR/Plan B was an important early Eurorack company. Unfortunately, at the end, it struggled to meet its commitments. Our understanding – and I think this is documented publicly – is that Peter took ownership of this and addressed these issues.

      Whether or not you accept that he made a good faith attempt to make things right, it’s factually accurate for us to say that EAR/Plan B was an early and important Euro manufacturer, and these designs are respected by many. That’s why Danny Carey’s system features a lot of these modules.

      Beyond EAR/Plan B, Peter is respected by many for his electroacoustic work and his work as a composer and synthesist with POV and other projects.

      He took the time to make and share this video freely, because he thought it might be of interest to other synthesists. The views and comments that we see on this post validate this.

      Your comment “Synthtopia keeps giving the guy a voice and writing articles about him. Pathetic.” is veering into the territory of being a personal attack.

      Please understand our perspective on this – if you have critical comments about THINGS (synths, music, gear build quality, etc), we encourage you to share your views. But critical comments about PEOPLE are personal attacks and, if we see them, we will delete them.

  3. It’s fucking sad how toxic and gross some of you folks choose to be in these comment sections. I continue coming back thinking that it’ll be better here on Synthtopia, and you folks continue to disappoint.

    1. So True….So True….I myself keep hoping that thing will get better each time I visit this site…
      I read articles and listen to videos and then usually am disappointed by the comments section…..

    1. Agreed. Great insight into the thought process for making a stage-ready modular, some of the technical details and even ideas that didn’t work out as originally planned.

      More of this and studio/stage rig tours, too!

  4. never heard of him or the band; only module mentioned I would buy is the Doepfer S+H. other than that; I didn’t watch the video.

    1. What inspired you to leave a comment stating that you are ignorant of the band, the topic of this post and the content of the video? Seriously.

  5. From time to time, it does resemble Twitter with a synthesizer overlay. Some people just enjoy watching the world burn, awwww!

    Being piano-minded, I saw a friend’s ARP 2600 as inscrutable and goofy until I dug into it a little. I can see why people enjoy using it as an effects processor in particular. For my goals, I finally realized that my weirdness only went up to the edge of a modular, so its not for me. I know what a wave folder does, but to my ear, it mostly sounds like a metal ladle caught in a garbage disposal. Its just a minor personal problem. 😛

  6. I’d give Tool modules with road and studio quality jacks. I won’t name names but some of those modules use bottom of the barrel hardware. So much so they got sold in my system. Tired of garbage jacks and pots!

    1. If you’re speaking about the Cliff jacks found on some of my Plan B module and on the Deopfer Sample& Hold, I totally agree. But there some qualifications which need to be discussed.

      There are two models of Cliffs. One is designed specifically for their patch cables which have a larger diameter ball tip. The suck when used with almost every other plug. But there is another model however designed to work with smaller (normal) sized ball tips , and this is what’s used on all of the Plan B’s found here.

      While i used the bad ones in the first year of Plan B production (2005-2006), Dieter Doepfer made me aware they had developed a newer, more compatible model as he found out about them and it was in the pwriod affter that which Plan B got most of it’s sales.

      Around 2007 I switched to parallel PCBs in the Plan B modules which required a whole new jack and while they may look like Cliffs (plastic body) they are not and they do not share any of the potential spring tension issues. They are on the three Model 15 VCOs, the Model 37 LFO, the Model 7 Panner, the Model 21C Mini Milton Sequencer, the Model 9 MK II mixer, the M13 Mini Low Pass Gate in DC’s system. Only the Heisenberg, The three Model 10 EGs and the Models 25 and 26 use Cliffs, and the Doepfer S&H and they are all the better type

      There is however a very easy procedure for increasing the spring tension on the older ones to make them work with all models of cables.

      As far as the pots, i have always used non-sealed Alphas. They are curve accurate and most important to me – allow access to pot cleaning solution so they may be periodically serviced. The problem with most (so-called) sealed pots – unless they are aerospace level military grade (which are about $40 each), the less expensive ones STILL let dust inside. The problem is there is no access to use pot solvent – so once it’s in, it’s in – you cannot get rid of it. So i intentionally opted for the Alphas b/c of their field serviceability.

      Hope this helps!

    2. I will say that even the new Cliffs HATE the stackable cables sold by Tip Top and others. We fixed that by not using those cables and opting for the Nazca Noodles. There is also a custom stand alone “mult-bar” I made for them, which uses a 3-D printed chassis and is about 12 inches long which sit on the table table in front of the system which is not shown here. We used to use the Mickey Mouse hand type radial mults but they start failing pretty quickly. Not road worthy. That’s why i designed my own.

      Please understand delivering a reliable instrument to Danny, Adam, Justin and Maynard is my ultimate concern. I would never intentionally put them in an embarrassing situation in front of thousands of people, nor would i deliver gear that cannot stand up to the vigor of the road. I have spent many hours engineering reliability into this system for that reason.

      1. Peter, I’ve never experienced, or thought, or felt you were out to take the buyer. Like with all electronic equipment,
        Components/jacks can go south. I have Plan B modules in one of my racks. They have never given me any grief.l
        Bought them prior to 2005. These module still operate and work as designed!

        1. Ah great! It’s weird to realize, nuts actually some of the Plan B out there is 18 years old!

          The decision to go Cliff was easy: it allowed a means to neatly attach the boards to the faceplates and they looked like everyone else’s modules. Keep in mind that at the time there were were others: Doepfer, Analogue Solutions, Analogue Systems and Bananalogue – and they all used Cliff!

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