ETI 4600 Owner Val Starr's Page
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My name is Mr. Val Starr
from Canberra Australia aged 63 and an old muso from way back. I was
quite surprised to find this website regarding the ETI 4600.
I vividly recall when at the end of 1973 Electronics Today International first published the circuit and constructional details of the ETI 4600 synthesizer. At the time being a great fan of electronic music it was like a dream come true, I just had to build the unit. Being a young married man with two young children, money was not flush. However, I was playing in a band so was able to gather some funds each week to start the project. By the end of 1973 I purchased my first Voltage Controlled Oscillator kit from JayCarr Electronics who provided the complete project in kit form. I waited so eagerly to receive the kit and started construction on the night after it came. I justified my purchase as a Xmas present from my wife Jenny. It was in early 1974 that I next purchased the power supply so I could test the VCO. What excitement it was to hear the first sound when I hooked up the PSU and output of the VCO to my guitar amplifier. I must have turned the controls a hundred times just to hear the sine and square wave sounds. Mind you it was all new then. Further down the line and again with a very understandable wife I purchased a VCF and VCA kit, they were a bit cheaper being smaller kits. Its all coming back so vividly particularly now that I downloaded the articles from the ETI4600 website and nostalgia just took over my life seeing all those circuits and constructional details again. By the end of 1974 another VCO kit, keyboard controller, and keyboard, followed by the mixer arrived. These were purchased by some music gear I had sold, I needed to save my marriage.
At the time all the construction was being done on my work bench with the boards just laying around with no case and panel. I was about to do further testing of another VCO but then came the crunch, no sound what-so-ever. My ego deflated slightly so I went back to basics using just the first VCO purchased and PSU but still had no output. Although I had built numerous circuits over the years I could not find the problem. I then discovered through JayCarr there was one other person in Canberra that was also building the ETI 4600 whom I had contacted, he was much further advanced in construction than me, (hey he was single with no commitments, and living at home with mum so money was not option). I arranged to meet with this Electronics Wizard taking over just the one VCO and PSU, he only took a few minutes to discover my PSU had an open circuit resistor and not providing the required voltage. I had never even thought about checking the outputs of the power supply, it was too simple, and why the resistor died later is beyond me but I suspect it was because everything was loose on my bench with boards sitting on top of nuts and bolts that something may have shorted out.
It was now early 1975 and as things were getting a bit messy in my shed I decided to do a lot of the project on our lounge room floor and it was so much warmer than the ole tin shed. I do at least recall veneering the case I built then using my wifeís iron to heat and glue the veneer with our young kids watching on. I was now able to at least mount the keyboard. Due to the fact that the front panel was very expensive I decided in the interim to make my own from aluminium. The panel took considerable time in marking out and drilling the holes but didn't have to be perfect as I was intending to purchase the real thing at the end. I must admit at the time I thought the end would never come due to so much more to go. The attached photo found by my wife shows the 4600 in our lounge room with the home made front panel, you may be able to recognise some of the aluminium knobs I used taken from past projects. I recall the date as June 1975 the cake and three candles in the photo were a celebration for my sons third birthday at the end of June 1975. And note the wires for testing the unit hanging loosely at the front.
It wasn't long before I assembled everything I had finished so far onto the panel, I had enough to fire it up and test as a real synthesizer and not just oscillator sounds. I hooked the output of the unit into our HMV stereo HI-FI and I recall I had goose bumps on my arms when I was first pressed a key juggled a few knobs and heard some real synthesizer controlled sounds with the filtering etc, etc. At the time I thought all my problems in the music world were now solved forever, what I could do, and will do with this fantastic ETI 4600 when I finish it. My life was now back in order, I needed nothing else this was truly exciting. Encouraged even more by the sounds and my dreams to come, I gradually completed the whole kit with a real front panel by the end of 1975. The front panel knobs were the last purchase which were on behalf of my parents in law who gave me the money for my birthday in Sept 1975 thatís how I remembered the date . Waiting for the over 90 knobs to arrive was like waiting for a new born baby to be born, my priorities were a bit mixed up in those good ole days. Once the knobs were installed the birth of the ETI 4600 was complete. And yes it was given a simple name, ''SYNIE" , probably not original but my wife and I have lots of memories of Synie, good ones for me some not so good for her. It took just on two years. I know there may be a photo somewhere of the completed unit but my wife and I have hunted high and low without success at the moment [webmaster - now found and included in the photos].
Mind you in between the time of constructing the unit it wasn't all smooth sailing. I remember reading all the nasty things that could happen to the CMOS chips by static electricity and despite my care in making sure everything was grounded and I wasn't struck by lightning I still destroyed a number of the chips. I did later start using chip sockets to give myself more insurance in Chip Safety. I still have various spare CMOS chips from those days in my parts box.
Setting up the unit wasn't too difficult following all the instructions in the mags. I borrowed an oscilloscope from my father in law and was quite excited when I saw the sine and square waves on the display. Within a short time the VCO's became unstable and frequently needed adjustment. I found the unit drifted a bit and became a little too unstable, although I discovered a lot of this was due to the cheaper variety trim pots provided in the kits the main problem may have been due to my music room being situated in a tin shed in the backyard with many cold damp and frosty days and nights followed by extreme heat in the summer. I gradually also built a new brick music room which did solve many of the damp problems. I must add that a few years after having built the unit I upset a fellow muso and discovered one morning my music room had been broken into and amongst other items the synthesizer was severely damaged to the extent that the perpetrator swung open the front panel and ripped out a lot of the ribbon cable from the boards. Although upsetting, I soon had the unit going again.
I had many a muso come and view and play the ETI 4600. I myself spent hours and hours just twiddling knobs and trying to emulate instruments and sounds. In 1975 I had an uncle visit from Germany and in preparation I set everything up to produce the sound of a train including the choo, choo, and whistle, fading in and out, I even had the clank clank, it was very realistic. Probably my main use of the unit was just that, trying to emulate different sounds. I did a number of original recordings with the ETI 4600 the recording which gradually deteriorated on those cold damp and frosty reel to reel tapes I also had stored in that old tin shed music room. It was some ten years later in the 80's that the 4600 was put into the background when I purchased the new Roland DX7 FM Poly synthesizer which cost not much more than the price to build the ETI 4600. I still have the DX7.
In conclusion, despite any drawbacks that may have been, the ETI was an amazing unit for its time and I always give credit to the designer and to ETI for producing the unit, and lets not forget JayCarr Electronics in Australian for being brave enough to provide the complete kit. JayCarr are still around to this day. The old ETI would have been so much more improved if at the time we had the more modern, smaller and reliable components, but thatís the nature of everything these days. Something else just came to mind. I also recall a short time after having built the 4600 someone somewhere was designing a board where you could use the 4600 digitally through a PC but whatever happened is beyond me.
What became the
fate of my ETI 4600. Almost 30 years later my wife and I moved
residence in 2001 and having a much much smaller music room, space
was a premium. From our new house, I think it was in 2002 that I
sold the ETI 4600 for a pittance to a young muso. This young guy
never even tried out the unit but was so impressed with all the
knobs, his statement was "Wow