Thursday, January 29, 2009

Waiting Game

I took the final designs down to Plasticare on Monday, and have been waiting for a quote before they formally get started. Caled yesterday and Randy is out sick, so the project is on hold. Hopefully it can catch back up because i just took a week of vacay mid-february to find time to finish building the device.

Also, i started practicing soldering, and i sucked at it. went and got some alligator clips to help hold things down and hopefully make it easier, and also switched to rosin core solder. both these steps help immensely, but i still have some practicing to do before this becomes easier.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Time is Nigh

The final potentiometers arrived today, and i spoke briefly with the plasticare inc guy Randy to get some final questions out of the way. making sure they could use the .FLA file format, trying to figure out what to do with the pot notches, etc.

for the pots, there is a very small notch on each side that is designed to wedge into the panel and keep it from turning. Randy believes he can make this with the laser cutter, and if not, can do very small cuts manually.

Another issue was the countersinks. smaller ones no sweat, but the larger ones to fit the 2 and 4-inch knobs were problematic. turns out they have a 2 inch countersink for the large volume knobs, but there is no 4-inch countersink. not surprising. this will be fine - i have a single pot that has an extra long shaft for the mega knob. should be case closed.

Once i get the design to them, the lead time is about two weeks now. So, i will try and get it to them first thign next week.

Slightly related note, i began designing a DJ-style mixer for my good friend James who provided the etch graphics below. pic below - its in a triangular shape. sort of interesting, and with all the spare parts i am likely to have, i bet i could build it after Colossus for not much more than the cost of a couple plexiglass panels:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Etching on the Panels

Okay, so this thing is extremely close to construction time. I've had my buddy James working on a graphic to etch into the plexiglass panels, and this is what he came up with, with the panel buttons view super-imposed over top of it.

Planning to put the final touches on sizing (already got the mount holes in the floor panel for the UMC's set exactly) and get it to the plastics company ASAP, maybe as early as tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

UMC Madness

The UMC circuit boards arrived today (as well as additional buttons and LED's for the illuminated pushbuttons):

This evening i endeavored to connect a couple controllers to a single UMC device and i am tickled pink to report that it worked after some fidgeting and what not.

I ran a single pot and a single button to the first two control points on the first header, with DIP1 set to off, all others on (except 10 which is an additional function thing). Plugging it in, the WIN XP machine identified the device quickly and easily, and then Ableton v5 saw the device and it seemed to be receiving data from in (MIDI IN flashed). the red LED on the UMC also flashed when pressing the button or turning the pot.

But it would not "learn" the data at first. i tried a couple different ideas, unplugged the button LED (which didn't work to begin with) and had no success. i then took it back upstairs and plugged in the UC33, which worked fine, and then restarted with the UMC back in the same place where the UC33 had just worked.... and it worked great. i assigned the button to a mute, and the pot to a send channel. BOOM.

Ken would probably trip that i plugged this in like the pic above, no solder or mounting, just running some cables. but i had to know that i could do it. ;)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Misc Updates

Got some advice on how to test the slide pots and others to determine what pin is what, so i have solved that issue. Thanks once again to Ken of Hale Micro

Speaking of Hale Micro, Ken sent the devices Friday, so they should arrive MON or TUE. he programmed each with unique device names and MIDI channels so that hopefully they boot up seperately each time and i can use MIDI learn and they will never cross paths.

finally, ordered all the other pots i need, they are enroute. and have decided to replace the pan knobs, although i really liked their look. this is the new knob that will be used:

the pots these will attach to have a center detent so that will work well for pan knobs.

All Plexiglass All The Time

A visit to Plasticare Inc in Englewood with a guy named Randy helped me clarify lots of things, and i am on the path to starting construction very soon.

The biggest pain has been finding the right pots to go through 1/4" of plexi - there has been a distinct lack of cheap pots with 3/8" bushings.

however, this problem is definitively solved by countersinking. i was not sure it could be done, but randy showed some clear examples with their tools (i CANNOT do this with what we have). in the pic below you see the countersink. this will allow the pot bushings to come up through the plexi just fine:

Next, i discovered quickly when i had the large pieces in front of me and in hand that even 1/4" is too thin when spread across several feet. it will bend. and the machines they have on site to etch and cut can only handle max sizes of 18x32". this means i would have to have multiple panels horizontally in the old design.

So, i have switched to 3/8" thick, and gone with single vertical panels, all at 60degrees incline - rather than multiple horizontals at varying degrees. this also required some retool of where knobs and buttons would go. that new design is below:

Still hoping to put an etched design in the top-middle section where you can see the blank space.

Also considering an even bigger step - the entire enclosure in plexiglass, clear specifically, rather than just the face panels. Randy helped with some ideas for bracing the underside with plexi, and then it was a logical next step to say why not do the walls in plexi as well?

Finally, the giant master volume knob WILL be done in plexi after my convo with Randy - this will be an easy step apparently, and i have already given a basic design (will post JPEG from visio later).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Most Materials Arrive

I have lots of updates that i hadn't posted through the last week, but let's start with the buttons. All of them have arrived, and here is a smattering of them:

Here is a closeup of the switch assembly on them:

I also ordered several samples of pots to try and get ahold of this outlier in my materials needs:

So a few notes here.

First, the knurled shaft pot in the pic above (the one with teeth and a cut down the shaft) is EXACTLY what i need for the smaller knobs with black on top. they fit nicely, and they constitute the majority of the pots needed. therefore, i have gone ahead and ordered all of them from Mouser. the outstanding issue was the length of the bushing, and that has been resolved (a seperate update on that later today).

The other pot in the pic above was with a "D" shaft for the aluminum "hat" looking knobs you see below - they do not fit at all, and i have to go with another knob type. I broke a pot trying to force it on, even though the measurements suggest it should work. the easiest way to get aroudn this is to pick standard round 1/4" shafts and then knobs with set screws to get them on just right. i will post later on my selections to replace them. disappointed, as i liked that design, but whatever. we are so close to construction that i just want to move on.

Second, the LED's were not included with the illuminated pushbuttons. this is annoying and lame, but whatever - i have ordered them to arrive in a week or so.

Finally, the joystick is cool looking and i'm going to use it, but it is switch based only, meaning it has an on/off trigger in each of the four primary directions - it is NOT a potentiometer in each direction as i expected and hoped. turns out those are more rare than i thought anyway. here is a closeup of the joystick:

More later on remaining parts, and especially the plexiglass panel and enclosure. Colossus version 2 is at hand....

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Waiting Game

I've got at least 5 different packages en route to me right now, including a couple samples of different potentiometers to try and get this sorted out. its all so much i am really kinda lost.... there seems to be a couple possible solutions as mentioned below, but i need to get them in hand and also go see the plasticare samples to be sure, before i commit to so many more.

On a high note, i found a really great local shop that sells tons of electornics components, that no one else had suggested to date - called JB Saunders in Boulder. it was exactly what i needed and they even had some of the gear i have been seeking and bought online. definitely need to get up there if i decide on what pots to use finally.

Gave up completely on the CTS parts below - no sellers were helpful (i should note that both Arrow and Avnet Electronics, both local Denver distros never even bothered to call back with estimates/quotes), and after going direct to the manufacturer they seemed to give the run around as well, so screw them. another brand will get my business.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Complexity Abounds

Latest version of the Panel layout is here:

You will see i have cut the two rows of illuminated buttons for some smaller, standard contact buttons - the other ones became too expensive with LED replacements for each. these ones will be fine, though. added the fader back in on the top panel, and a few more contact buttons in the master section.

Also, i've been conversing with my buddy Soaringbrain about a graphic that could be etched into the panels. originally i thought we could only fit something small in the top right corner, and that may still be the case depending on how the cutting tools work - but then we thought maybe it would be cool to etch something across the entire thing in the background behind all the knobs. James is presently working on some ideas for that. I will contact the plasticare inc guy this next week to talk about how this could be done and if its possible/affordable. will post some drafts of that graphic when comfie with it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Learning Curve Gets Steeper

I've made some breakthroughs today, thanks in part to a couple sources - the dot com mailing list on yahoogroups and a local plastics company here in Denver.

The backstory - after struggling a lot to find the right pots that would extend beyond the plexiglass panels, i had placed requests for quote with several local and online companies for the parts below, or open requests to find ANYTHING that would match the specs i had. Very little luck - two quotes came back astronomical, and i won't be capable of paying $75 per pot for 100 pots any time soon.

I opened the question up to the dot com group, thinking there were probably DIY lurkers there. the back story to that is that I've been on that list for half a year or so, after lusting after the dot com synths for a loooong time. figured at some point there would be a convergence of a good deal and extra money.

Anyway, glad i went there - first someone sent me to a relatively obscure website that had pots made in very strange measurements, but the prime thing was that their bushings were just barely long enough. this is the site: - not very familiar with weber audio components, but they do have a 10k linear pot which is most of the battle - and its under $2/pot.

But then after chatting with my wife, i went and looked for a local plastic fabricator, after still getting no answer whatsoever from ridout plastics. spoke to a guy named Randy - and not only did he give me a pretty decent estimate of time and cost on the spot, he is also a musician and had some inkling of what i wanted to accomplish, which is nice. my wife and I had discussed the idea of a countersink already several times, but did not think it was very doable with the difficulty of drilling in plastic. HOWEVER, for about 20-40 cents a hole, the fabricator will do the entire hole and angled countersink for us with professional tools, laser cutters and cooled lubricants, etc! that's a pretty fair tradeoff for the shoddy job we'd probably be able to do at home, even with my wife's extensive tool collection.

Planning to burn the latest version of the visio/DXF design onto a CD or flash drive and take it to him early next week.

This is their website, and Randy was really helpful:

This is a huge leap forward because not only is it a much easier solution to the panels in general, and ultimately not that much more expensive, it ALSO negates the need for any special pots - now they are all pretty much the same as anything sold in the basic catalogs.

Ultimarc shipped the buttons out yesterday, so they are enroute - and the illuminated square buttons can be powered by USB if the bulbs are swapped out for LEDs - confirmed this with a Suzo-Happ rep this morning.

Finally, Ken with Hale Micro (another shameless plug for this guy and his product) is finishing the build and custom firmware for my UMC's and will ship next week. that's really awesome that he is willing to go that extra mile.

EVIL EMPEROR VOICE: Everything is proceeding exactly as i have foreseen it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gear Updates

Contacted Ultimarc about the arcade buttons/joysticks, etc. they are still working through holiday backlog, so thats disappointing - but their website did say they were closed until Jan 5. No big deal, but those are the last pieces i really needed to figure out the cut positions on the plexiglass, so i took my best guess.

Speaking of plexiglass, it took a couple days back and forth with them, but i did get the format to them that they wanted, a "DXF" file. the visio didn't work, but visio would save as this format, which is some autocad format i think. still waiting on their quote, but i expect it by week's end.

Made the UMC32 purchases yesterday, so i expect they will ship by the end of the week.

And i think i know exactly what i need for pots. i went to manufacturers data sheets rather than through the websites of the sellers, and have part #'s, so i will now go find the seller who can provide them.

in case anyone cares, the part numbers are from CTS Electronics:
12 x 270T320D103B1A1
12 x 270T320X103B1A1
80 x 270T320K103B1A1

the difference of the single letter in the part number represents different shaft types, the first being flat edged or "D" shape, the second is solid round, and the final is "teeth" - i am still worried that the "teeth" on is not exactly what i need, so i may order one to test it.

then there are the slider pots, or faders:
Panasonic 3 x EVA-JQKR15Y14

these should be panel mountable (albeit from above, i haven't found a good solution other than that) 100mm or nearly 4 inches long slide area. i will need to check if the above mounting, which will require drilled holes very close to the cut position for the fader knob to stick out, may cause issues.

Will load the new visio diagram later, as the design has definitely changed a bit.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Weekend Updates

Journeyed to Radio Shack grudgingly because there really isn't much else in Denver for whatever reason, but was pleasantly surprised. i picked up some tool accesories i still need (a solder gun holder, some wire strippers), lots of connecting wire, some resistors, and a couple sample LEDs and a neat little LED holder/mount that i might be able to use on my panels.

Also picked up a 7-port powered USB hub that can mount to the side of my internal wood enclosure. and the wife and i stopped by home depot to see what sort of woods and stains were available. no purchase yet, as i want all components to arrive before we begin construction, but we did create scale diagrams of the side view and exact angles of the panels. it will also include a shelf on the top of the device that is however long the length ends up being X 8-9 inches. nice holding area for other devices, beer, what have you.

I also made several udpates and mods to the VISIO design (and a buddy has suggested i call the project COLOSSUS, which i kinda like the sound of) to accomodate the larger than assumed knobs. essentially i have removed the two aux channels and extended the length of each channel bank. as well, i have removed the cross-fader, but may re-add it in a different position. i've had a difficult time finding info on cross-fader pots that will fit what i want them to do in the size i want, and i generally don't use my more DJ-oriented controls anyway. but you never know, and i want that flexibility, so we shall see.

Finally, this AM i delivered that VISIO and some notes to ridout plastics to get me quotes on the materials and the prefab cut/bore holes if they did it themselves. that request for quote is still outstanding. I also sent the final specs for all my pots to about 3 different surplus companies to see what they can do. will go with one of the big dogs (mouser, alliedelec, digikey) if nothing comes from it, but i had hoped with the sheer number of pots i need that i would only have to spend $1-2 each. it appears i may have been a little optimistic on that.

the specs are, all 10k ohm, .25-.5w, panel mount, linear, solder lug or similar, single turn, no fancy options or power off or whatever. bushing needs to be 3/8" to clear a 1/4" panel (which is limiting my options), and shafts should be 1/2" long x 1/4" diameter. the shaft tips are three different kinds, however: about 10 solid for set screws, 10 "D" shaft, and 80 "teeth" or "fluted" or whatever that is called.

One thing is for sure, the point of DIY controllers is usually cost - this monstrosity will NOT be for the purpose of saving money.... but i'm not complaining.

Friday, January 2, 2009

All Knobs Arrive

All of the knobs for the entire project arrived today, here they are:

After measuring them and lining them up in the expected configuration for a single channel, two things stick out:

First, the smaller knobs with black tops are larger than i measured for. the size was there when i ordered, but i guess i mentally skipped how small the space between them should be. they need to be spaced out more to be able to fit a finger in between them without bumping the one next to it. this means i need to rethink the size a bit, although not by much. either i could cut out a couple channels which would free up a lot of room and actually shrink the whole box, or i expand the whole box by a few inches. have to think about that one.

Second, after putting them up against the frosted plexiglass, i am no longer convinced thats the right color - it just doesn't look quite right with white. it looks a lot better with a dark color, perhaps even black - but then that changes the opacity and what light can get through, which i had hoped to backlight the whole face of the controller.

then there is clear plexiglass - a cool look but i am still skittish that my novice subpar work will then be on display for all to see... but i am reconsidering it.

Plexiglass Samples Arrive

Received the samples of plexiglass from ridout plastics dot com. We asked for three types: one to demo different colors, one to demo different shades of white/frost/whatever you want to call it, and one to demo the thickness:

While the thickness ones are important, and it helped somewhat to see and touch them (and try to bend them), it's still not clear to me how various thicknesses would stand up when they are 4 feet long (especially in the center when jamming out and slamming buttons in a drunken fury). the samples we got were 4"x6". nonetheless, i think i want to stick with the full 1/4" thick panels. they seem really sturdy. as for colors, i am leaning toward the generic white or frost colors with moderate opacity. i tested some LED lights being under the plexiglass and it actually causes a very cool effect, which would also double being easier because we would not have to mount the LED's in holes drilled in the panels. simply mount them directly under the panel where you want and you get a weird diffused glow.

Going to call the ridout plastics company next week to get a more accurate quote of what it would cost for the full size and if i sent them the specs and had them drill all the holes in advance.