Homebrew MIDI Companion Controller for my Launchpad Pro

I have bought a Launchpad Pro, and am still trying to figure out how to play a synthesizer with this thing. (More on this in another post.) It’s like starting over with keyboards, only with a better understanding what this is getting at. Simply great.

One thing I don’t like about the Launchpad is that it may give you velocity and per-note pressure sensitivity – provided your synth is capable of interpreting it – but takes away the traditional performance controls of a synth keyboard: the good old pitch bend and modulation wheels we have seen as our goddamn right as keyboard players ever since they were introduced with the Minimoog.

So I decided to build my own simple Launchpad Companion Controller, based on an Arduino.

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„We apologize for the inconvenience.“

Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent - still from the BBC series

You may know these two gentlemen. If not, grab your VHS player, rent out the BBC’s „Hitchhiker’s Guide“ series, watch. Hurry!


If you have tried to send a message, or use the shop, you may have noticed that it did not work in the last two days – or, you didn’t notice, and are still waiting for an answer. A conflict between the Contact Form 7 plugin, which I have rediscovered, and the WP Cerber security plugin made some readjustments necessary. It should all be fine again now.

On the plus side, I had the opportunity to overhaul my shop pages, so if you are interested in an update for the Akai AX-80 or Kawai SX-240, it is easier to find and order. Concerning the Matrix-6, there is news: A very old bug in the firmware has finally been found and eliminated; it made it impossible to set negative DETUNE (parameter 12) values. Oddly enough, nobody except Gregor from Stereoping ever seems to have noticed, so there is no harm in continuing to use the firmware V2.14.

There is a new version V2.15 though – Bob fixed the bug – so if you feel that you need negative detune values, you may order that. Or you may take the opportunity to buy one of the V2.14 firmware PROMs extra cheap – while stocks last.

Gut zu wissen, Thomann! TIL… dass man die Luftkissen auch zerreißen kann

Wer einmal etwas bei Thomann bestellt hat, (und haben wir das nicht alle?) kennt die Luftpolster-Kissen, mit denen die wertvollen neuen Spielzeuge verpackt werden. Da Thomann aus gutem Grund übervorsichtig ist und gerne riesige, halb leere Kartons versendet, bekommt man meist eine ganze Menge davon.

Die nehmen zu viel Platz in der umkämpften Mülltonne ein – also bedeutet jedes Paket Fronarbeit: Um es mir mit mit den Nachbarn nicht zu verscherzen, bringe ich die Beutel immer alle zum Platzen, damit ich sie problemlos wegwerfen kann. Nun ja, flache Hand -> Stirn: man muss sie nicht zerstechen – die sind offensichtlich so hergestellt, dass man sie auch einfach in der Mitte zerreißen kann, alle auf einmal.

Fiel mir heute beim Entrümpeln eines Synthesizer-Kartons aus dem Keller auf – und ist ganz klar in der Kategorie „Nutzloses Wissen“: Das mit dem Platzenlassen der Luftpolster übernehmen schließlich in der Regel meine Kinder.

An Unreachable Quantum of Waldorf

Yes, it’s there. The first ever Waldorf Quantum can be admired at Musikmesse Frankfurt. Admired from a distance, that is, because they put the prototype under cover. „It’s our only one, and it still has to reach Superbooth, so we are a bit reluctant to have end-users play it“, the developers told me when I asked whether I’d be allowed to touch it.

Waldorf Quantum prototype, spotted at Musikmesse Frankfurt 2017

So what can you gather from some minutes of unabashed gloating in front of a Plexiglas shrine, and a few friendly words with the developers, that hasn’t been said yet? (Sort-of-super-Wave with granular synthesis and resonator banks on top of the standard wavetables, 8 voices, analog filters, destined to be ready in time to be bought for Christmas, for something around $3000, etc.?)
Here are some observations:
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Blofeld encoder fix revisited – a correction. (And apology.) 

In which I have to admit that I have been wrong: the encoders in my Waldorf Blofeld synth do need a special lubricant; by cleaning all the grease from them I might have done more harm than good.
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What the digital Prophet missed – iPad control for the Creamware Pro-12 ASB

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a controller for every aspect of this thing?

Creamware Pro-12 ASB Synth Module

A brilliant virtual-analog recreation of Sequential Circuit’s Prophet-5 – unfortunately, some important parameters can not be reached from the hardware.

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A love letter to Jenny: Tremolo and Key Tracking Mod

This JEN SX-1000 belongs to Stéphane in France, who wrote to tell me of the three mods he did. I have never seen two of them before – a Tremolo control, and variable filter tracking. Which would make Gordon Reid very, very happy.

So here is Stéphane’s letter:

„Hello, here are some modifications for the Jen synthetone SX1000. Nothing is disconnected. Components are added.“

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Serious GAS warning: Stereoping is building a new Matrix controller!

Stereoping Matrix 1000/6/6R controller, preliminary visualization Oct 2016. Source: stereoping.com
Ah, yes, GAS, Gear Acquisition Syndrome. It happens to the best of us. So if the thought of a new hardware super-controller by Stereoping is giving you sweaty palms, especially as you learn that it will also be available for Microwave, MKS-80, and Rhodes Chroma, you’d better not read on. The specs I’ve got for you would only make you GAS much, much worse.
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A new glide pot for Jenny

A bit of TLC for my oldest synthesizer: Jenny is getting a new potentiometer. As the synth’s pots were rather cheap, open types that gather dust, and are 40 years old now, they have become all scratchy and jumpy. As I have mentioned before, I am not the greatest fan of Kontakt spray and similar solvents/cleaners, so I bought replacements. But I never found the time to actually replace them.

JEN SX-1000's

This knob is a good place to start: The „glide“ potentiometer is in charge of portamento, and it is one of the first things that might make Jenny fail (see Neil Johnson’s site). A faulty glide pot means that the synth will only ever play the same note regardless of which key you press. So I did replace that pot, which is pretty straightforward – you’ll find some pictures in this gallery. (It is a 2.2M linear type BTW.)

Overview of potentiometer values

This is an overview of the potentiometer values, some of them are linear, some logarithmic, a few antilog. The most obvious candidates for replacement, apart from the glide pot, would be Frequency (100k) and Resonance (100k) for the filter, and Tune (10k).

Whitening Jenny’s smile: Bleaching old synth keys

Jenny – my old 70s monosynth – is a beauty, and I love her knobby face. Her smile, though, has yellowed over the decades. So to make Jenny even more attractive, I decided to try and bleach the keys with hydrogen peroxide.

TL;DR: Effect has been minimal, so it’s probably not worth it. But it was fun. If you try it, make the Retrobright bleaching gel, don’t use a hydrogen peroxide bath. And have a good UV source.

Old keys with a slightly newer key on top of them

Jenny’s keyboard compared to a key from a mid-80s Roland JX8P synth

In School, I used to hate chemistry. Did I mention that I used to hate chemistry? Okay, I did (when successfully reviving Jenny’s keyboard contact springs by cooking them)

So here’s what I did.

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