Monday, December 15, 2014

Sound generation - SS30 Lives! Part 2

On Friday night I made some more wiring fixes and played around with the pitch, detune and vibrato controls.


More on the oscillators and pitch control later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sound generation - SS30 Lives!

Last night I proved that all the key switches on the K boards are working and that G boards are generating tones on all of those notes. In fact I got some sound out of the SS30!

I had to fix one wire on K2 

Then I hooked the scope to the keying circuit of C2, the first note on K1 and the 8L output of G1. 

The voltage on the key circuit rose when I connected it to earth (-7V up to 0V) and then fell back gradually when I disconnected it, showing that the sustain was working well. 

The output from the generator showed something like what I was expecting, although not exactly. It seemed to have a lot more going on that I was led to believe that it would by the circuit diagrams. It looked like a mix of notes.

G1 8U output

I tried the rest of the keys and got the same result. So far so good.

Then I moved to K2 and G2. I got the same result but this time it was unexpected. The G2 8L output should only have C#3 to F#3. On G2 the octaves are divided as part of the keyboard split option. So, keys on the upper half of the octave should not be generating output on the lower half of the generator board. 
G2 Outputs

My assumption had been that I would need to check each output from the G boards. This was my thinking because not only do the same key switches drive both the 8' and 16' outputs on each board, but also those outputs then get routed and mixed together in different combinations. Even if I got something audible at the final output for every key there might still be some missing components to the sound. 
I also assumed that because the switching controls, such as keyboard split and the mixing switches were disconnected there wouldn't be any signal making it's way to the output. 

Now that I am seeing what appears to be a mixed signal at every output I needed to check more carefully.

However rather than do that I decided instead to cut to the chase and see if there was any sound coming from the main output. And there was! 

Every key produced a tone and I could play more than one at once (no reason why it shouldn't, but.. y'know, it was nice to confirm). It sounded awful though. Partly because I just grabbed my Korg Monotron and used that as the amplifier. Also, I suspect there is a lot of noise being generated by the number of loose wires and the proximity of the audio output cabling to the power supply. However after looking at the circuit diagrams again I'm convinced that no sound should be reaching the output at all! With no keyboard split switch connected the bottom two G boards outputs should go nowhere and none of the outputs should get through if the mixing switches (Cello 1, Cello 2, Viola, Vioin 1, Violin 2) are disconnected. I can only guess that what I heard was somehow leaking through. All electrical signals create electro-magnetic radiation which can be picked up in wires, so it's possible.  I've seen stranger things happen. 

My next step will be to methodically trace the signals from the G boards through the circuit. Hopefully I will work out where the signal is getting through as expected and is not getting through .  I will also try reconnecting the switches to see if I can get some more consistent behaviour.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Owners Manual and other scans

After finding the Yamaha IC guide on the Internet Archive, mentioned here, I started to think I should share the owners manual and service manual. Actually, I was thinking it would be useful for me to have scans of them anyway. And of course if I was gong to share them they would need to be in pdf format. However, one of the things that irks me about .pdfs is when there are no links or searchable text in them. Most (all) synth manuals I've ever downloaded are just plain scans of the original printed documents and no active content. Fair enough, but I wanted to do better. So, I embarked on the task of creating scans and converting them to .pdf using Acrobat.

There are actually four documents

Owners Manual - User guide, in other words. "STRINGS SS-30 is a keyed instrument to let you enjoy rich tones peculiar to the strings with this instrument."

Service Manual - The circuit and wiring diagrams. This is, obviously, the really useful bit for the project.

Parts List - Including spectacular exploded 3D diagram

 Block Diagram & Overall Circuit Diagram - No scans yet.

 The service manual folder also contains the parts list and the block diagrams, which are printed on either side of a huge poster sized piece of paper.  I've scanned everything apart from that as I was having problems with the scanner I was using and wanted get on with the rest. It will need stitching together.

I made a start on the service manual and I'm about 80% done.

Work in progress

 It's been a huge job to add all the text though and I got tired of it and decided to knock off the owners manual quickly to show some progress.

So, here it is!

In the pdf all of the text is searchable, the contents section contains links to the relevant pages and the 'How To Use SS30' section has links for the numbered references on the diagram.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Benge Studios' SS30

From the It's Full Of Stars blog

Ben 'Benge' Edwards seems to write this blog, although he goes by the handle Zagoba for blogging purposes. It's all about his studio and anything that interests him really. The whole darn thing is a dream for anyone who loves synths and recording technology. He's a lucky devil!


This is a nice little SS30 demo he put up. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Dream Of Wires

A great film and well worth watching even if you're determined not to get sucked into that whole different mess of wires.


Also a Garry Numan song and a made up (by the NME) band.

Anyway, as I may have pointed out once or twice there are a lot wires in the SS30. A lot.

I've had a couple of sessions since the G boards were brought back to life just rewiring the K boards.

First off, two of the G boards where disconnected from their corresponding K boards.

Lots of old, seventies solder. 

Finding a good method for stripping wires as thin as these can be a case of trial and error. Luckily I quickly hit upon using these tweezers to just yank the plastic sheath off.

Strip and twist, strip and twist.
Note the wires are tied with fine string dressing.

Ready to solder

And on the other side, another 49 wires from the K boards to the key switches.

The muck was there when we bought it. Also you can see more loose wires to be reconnected. That yellow one should be attached to AT1.

I had cut all the wires from the key switch PCBs on the assumption I wouldn't need them again. It was also to make handling the whole tangle of boards and wires less difficult. Now I decided to reattach them temporarily to make it easier to test things out.

I removed the switches as they were in a bad way.

And the finished job. A keyboard (if your fingers are earthed).

Monday, October 20, 2014

More power?

The MIDI interface needs a power supply between 8 and 35 volts. The supply current needs to be 15 mA for the interface itself plus whatever is drawn by the output loads.

The loads are connected to a common positive supply switched to ground by the darlington pair drivers.

If the driver voltage is 15V I'd need the 24V rated Coto reed relay which has a coil resistance of 2KOhm. That would be a current draw of (15 / 2000) 7.5 mA each. Assuming worst case of all 49 relays being on at once that would be approx 368 mA.

That's worst case but the question is this: Can the existing SS30 PSU be used to power the interface?

The SS30 PSU has a +15V rail (this is all carefully worked out, you understand) which is rated up to 500 mA. 

What's not clear, is how much of that 500mA is used by the SS30. I know that the +15V rail is not used for the K boards (-7V) or the G boards (all voltages are derived form the -26V rail) but it is used on the LF, OR and F boards. If the interface took the best part of 400mA (absolute maximum) is it likely the SS30 is using under 100mA?

I'm going to have to get the whole thing working and then measure the current on that rail before I can decide whether I need another power supply.

Friday, October 17, 2014

G Board Restoration

Here are the SS30's main PCBs.

It's about 50% wires!

G boards on the left, K, boards at the back and the rest in the middle. During the hiatus I'd cut out a piece of MDF to fit everything to.

I'd checked the power was okay so I decided to start with G boards and see if the oscillator and tone generator ICs were all working. It's a good place to start as all the sound originates there so anything else would be hard to test until they were verified. Also a faulty tone generator chip might be difficult to replace. Yamaha said they had spares when I got the service manual from them way back when, but would they still have these chips? I;d need to find out early on.

I took everything out of the case to gain access.
Don't worry, I've got a wiring guide.
I prodded the scope probes around the G2 board, which is the top most of the stack, and straight-away found that there was a problem. Only one of the tone generator chips was outputting anything. The other IC had no input clock. I wasn't surprised, a quick look around the G boards and I could see several wires that had worked loose at some point.

-26V and -9V supply rails broken on G4
 These wires were all easily fixed, although I did have to check a few more than once on the schematic and wiring diagrams. One group of wires in particular seemed to be linked in a circular fashion. I'm not even sure what they do - something to do with suppressing noise I guessed - so I decided to move on and come back to that mystery later.

I checked the traces again and was disappointed to find that there was still no output on the tone generator ICs. Now I was worried. Damaged ICs would slow things down and a potentially be expensive. However, I've spent enough time fixing electronics to know that you need to be careful not to just swap out an expensive IC because it's appears faulty.

By the way, the SH-101 I'm also fixing does seem to have a broken oscillator chip, but I double checked everything around before condemning it. When I get the replacement I'll still be nervous until it's in and working though.

I went all round the circuit and traced the problem back to the oscillator on the G3 board. There are two identical oscillators built from discrete components, one on G3 and one on G4. This is great as I could A/B compare them to see where the problem started. The first problem I had was using my scope! I was comparing two wave forms and getting one at the right the frequency (around 500KHz) and the other was... well it seemed to be beyond the range of the scope! It was already late, so I went to bed.

Spot the mistake? (the chocolate wrapper is not a clue)
The next evening I started again and got the same problem. This time I went through and systematically worked out that the scope was not showing me the right trace if both signals were connected. I'd got the trigger set-up incorrectly. In the picture above you can see that only channel A is being used as a trigger source. The oscillators are not synced so triggering one from the other gives the problem you can see in the photo.
Once I triggered each input off it's own signal I got two comparable traces. The night before I'd quickly ascertained that the signal from the G3 oscillator was DC shifted negatively by several volts. Having excluded any other issues I was sure this was the problem. It's supposed to be between 0 and -15V, so what was causing this anomaly?

G3 Oscillator being negative.

I eventually disconnected a cable - which I'd just reconnected - that feeds the clock from G3 to G4. Now the signal was biased correctly. So, it was something on the G4 board.

There's something
 When I was fixing that cable I'd noticed this capacitor on the underside of the G4 PCB. It was obviously a modification and didn't appear on the schematic. It also wasn't present in the same position on the G3 board (where the G4 clock enters that board). So, I took it off. Now everything worked perfectly. This cap was clearly an afterthought. It was pulling the signal too low and served no apparent purpose. I suspect that once everything is running I may find out what it was for, but that bridge can be crossed if I get to it.

Test Points 1 and 2 (A and B triggering!)
So, I could now see clean, strong signals from both of the first two test points on the schematic, indicating all was well with the oscillators.

The next job would be to reconnect the wires from K1 and K2 to G1 and G2.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


It's been an exciting couple of evenings (yes, that's how I roll) as I've had the actual SS30 hardware out and powered up for the first time in years.

I had done some work a few years back that didn't make it on to the blog. I had put the power supply into a temporary enclosure. It's never going to fit in the rack case so one day it'll get it's own, proper enclosure.

The original back-panel (upside down), power switch and lamp

 Which is a re-purposed carry box

Inside you can see everything looking good

Note the Japanese characters on the PCB.

 I checked all the rails and was relieved to see them all looking healthy

But what about the synth itself?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Switching negative voltages - Concluded?

Keep it simple

 Back in this post http://ss30m.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/how-are-you-to-switch-negative-voltages.html I was talking about the issues with switching negative voltages with the simplest circuitry possible.

The guy at J-Omega recommended opto-isolators and I like the sound of that but in the interests of trying to limit the number of pins and foot-print (can't we just use three pins and keep things small?) and the price (transistors are cheap!) what, if any, are the alternatives? Also, I don't know about you, but despite studying these blighters at university I can never quite remember the exact rules governing their use. In particular there are precious few examples with negative voltages and certain factors, that don't come up when everything is above the ground rail, were obscure to me.

Transistor biasing basics.

It seems almost counter-intuitive but you can't switch a negative-ground current with a positive-ground current. The problem is that to turn a transistor switch 'off' the gate (or base) voltage must be lower than the lower end of what you are switching. This is as well as having the 'on' voltage higher.
Normally switching a positive current to a ground is a doddle because your 'off' voltage is ground. No current flows (in enhancement type FETs, anyway) because there is in-effect no bias. When you apply a positive voltage the transistor is biased and the switch is 'on'.
With a negative current to switch the 'off' voltage has to be lower that the lowest voltage. In this case it will have to be lower than -7V (or thereabouts). Because the MIDI interface drivers use Darlington pairs which themselves are driven on from TTL logic levels there is no way to generate an off voltage that is less than 0V.

Previously I mentioned analogue switches which can (in some examples) do this kind of magic. Normally analogue switches are subject to the same limitations as laid out above and the logic switching voltage must be between Vss and Vdd. I referred to the Modern CMOS Circuits Manual book which mentions that some devices - the 4051 and 4053 - have a logic level converter. In effect a 0-Vdd input logic level can be translated into a Vss-Vdd level internally. Those devices are multiplexers though and take a binary 3-line logic input to decode which of the 8 switches to enable. This is no good for this design as we have a line per switch and moreover need to be able to switch all the keys on or off independently.

In summary neither analogue switches or simple transistor circuitry can be used to switch a negative current. I'm glad I checked though as it would have bothered me. I actually spoke with a few colleagues who are full-time electronic engineers and they all initially thought it must be possible, only to conclude that it wouldn't be. It's such an unusual situation that it's easy to get caught out.

Reed relays?

Metal Vs Silicon

 So, opto-couplers it is! Or maybe not. One suggestion a  colleague gave me was reed relays. The main advantage of a reed relay would be that in electrical terms the mechanical switch contact in the keyboard would be replaced by another metal contact switch and not silicon. Introducing silicon might affect the circuit in some way. Perhaps. Or perhaps not much, but the simplicity of this solution is attractive and it might remove some possible risks.

Slim Jims

 One other nice thing about relays is that some come in narrow, SIP (single, in-line pin) packages. So you can see that they could be lined up neatly and compactly. This Coto part http://www.cotorelay.com/datasheets/Coto%20Technology%209007%20Spartan%20SIP%20Reed%20Relay.pdf is 5mm wide*.With a maximum of 13 switches per line (from the four K' boards) and assuming that I would stack the boards vertically, that would be a minimum* of 6.5cm per board, which is around the length I would want it to be.

* Actually they are 5.08mm wide which is 2 x 2.54mm, the standard pitch for through-hole PCB components and boards. At a minimum you could sit them side-by-side, on adjacent lines on a strip-board with no gaps.

Tracking out

 The only down-side of this package is that that the coil pins are on the inside (pins 2 and 3) so you can't as easily track to the outside edge of the board.

To be clear, I'm working on the assumption that the board will have wires from the MIDI interface going in one side and wires to the K boards on the other. Because both of the coil pins are on the inside of the device if you line then all side-by-side there is no easy way to get one of those pins out to the edge.

It would have been great to just use veroboard for this and avoided any kind of tracking out. It's frustrating but they all seem to be designed like this so it looks like I will still need a custom PCB.

Quick enough

 There is one potential downside - timing. This Hamlin part http://www.hamlin.com/specsheets/he3600%20revised.pdf , which is currently the cheapest at Farnell, has a maximum turn on of 1ms. The next is half that at 0.5ms. To be frank I don't think the SS30-M is going to be played at high tempos and the in-built attack and release are already quite slow. A millisecond is not going to be noticeable.


So, reed-relays it is.Is it? Am I decided?
I think so but I need to work out the PCB and think about the options a bit more before deciding once and for all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tone Generation

Whilst looking for some clues on the key switching problem I came across this.



The Internet Archive has a mission to provide "universal access to all knowledge". Amen to that!

The document seems to have come from here : http://www.loscha.com/scans
which has a number of other interesting synth related documents, including another version of the IC guide book.

The manual contains details of the two chips used on each tone generator board. Ten years ago (blimey) I wrote about the polyphony. I mentioned in passing that the SS30 has two oscillators per note. This post expands on that and, although it still isn't the whole story of how the sounds are generated in the SS30, it is where it all starts.

The SS30 tones start with a pair of oscillator circuits built from discrete parts. These are free-running VCOs with control for the pitch and detune. They share a common master tune and vibrato input and one also has the detune control input . The output frequency of these VCOs is much higher than what you will end up hearing though.They both produce 500 KHz signals.

These two signals are then feed to a pair of YM25400 Digital Tone Generator chips as the master clock input.

Each cascades of these Digital Tone Generators output a divided down clock which is passed on to next generator board for further division. 500KHz - 250KHz - 125KHz - 62.5KHz

The YM25400 derives 13 tones (an octave + 1, C0 - C1) from the master input clock. Each YM25400 then feeds a further pair of LM3211 frequency divider chips.

In summary: the G (tone generator) boards convert a pair of master clock inputs into to a pair identical octaves from two YM25400s. These octaves are then divided down further by a two pairs of LM3211s. This creates another identical pair of octaves one octave lower than the first pair. You end up with two groups of 26 semi-tones (2 x 13).Only G1 uses the extra semi-tone to give octave  + 1, the other boards discard the extra C tone and just output an octave.

The two octaves are named using the eight-foot-pitch naming convention. The initial octave direct from the YM25400's at the 8' and the one below is the 16'.

By now you may be thinking we're going to end up with not with 49 tones for the 49 keys but more like two hundred tones! And we do, but not all at once. Firstly the outputs of the YM25400s and LM3211s are mixed in pairs. Each tone that come out of the G boards is a combination of two square waves - and quite a strange combination too, which I will cover in a later post. If I can actually figure out what is going on!

So, there are actually half that number, but still double the number of keys. The reason for that is the G boards generate Violin, Viola and Cello tones. The various outputs of the G boards are split, switched in and out and combined in various ways to provide the various options selectable from the front panel. At it's simplest you can play the bottom octave, the G1 board, as violin/viola or Cello. When playing as Violin/Viola you only use one half of the G1 boards output. And when you change the split and play Cello you use the other half of the G1 board. It becomes more complicated on the other boards. G2 is split twice, so you get Cello half way through an octave at F as well as at C, and G3 and G4 don't out put any Cello. It gets very confusing in the schematic but is quite simple in the end.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five years - and then an oscilloscope

Five years is long time between posts. I'm not going to try and explain that gap. Life has it's own priorities and this project wasn't one of them, I guess. I mean, I have done other things with my time beyond work, family, home-life and friends. In fact I have done a bit of work on the project in that period, but I didn't post about it. I can't really explain why but I do know that I get interested in something, spend a lot of time on it and then lose momentum suddenly. Or more accurately, I get distracted by something more important or interested in something else.

However, this project was always intended to be long-term. It took me years to go from a pile of bits to getting a case and thinking seriously about how to progress it. So, a bit of a gap is no great concern to me, although every year I don't have the finished article is another year I could have been using it.

On the other hand I'll be forty next year and if I aim to finish this project by then it would give me a date to work towards. As I type I have around 11 months to go, so it's attainable. Finishing would also free me up to do something else. I can't think what that would be though. 

Anyway, enough of this introspection.

One thing that has held me back from continuing with the project is having a decent scope to work with. In my early twenties I spent around three years of my work-life with a scope or soldering iron in my hand. When I'm working on electronics it's a scope that I reach for to see what's happening. It's the right tool for the job. I say a decent scope because I do have a scope, a GBDSO - Elektor Gameboy Digital Sampling Oscilloscope. This project was fun to do and produces tolerably good results but it's also a far cry from the professional kit I'm used to and, whilst a bad workman might blame his tools, a bad workman usually has bad tools. The issue is that I need this to be a pleasurable experience and using the GBDSO can be frustrating. I also want to be able to see audio traces cleanly and even some fairly pricey and professional digital scopes do a poor job of that.
So I bought a second hand Philips PM 3050 60Mhz analogue scope instead.

As you can see it's dual-trace and there's a nifty LCD display to show you the current settings. The traces on screen in that photo are the square/pulse and sawtooth output of the CEM3340 voltage controlled oscillator chip on my Roland MC-202.

The 202 was modified by me with some CV inputs years ago and has always been a bit flaky. As part of a general sort out in my studio I resolved to do something about that. I also realised that an SH-101 that I have on loan from a friend isn't working any more. No, I didn't break it. Well, I don't think I did. It's hadn't been used for years so I'm not sure what happened to it. So, I'd like to repair that too. It was these repairs that set me thinking about a scope again and how annoying the GBDSO was to use.

I've fixed the 202 now. The main issues were actually to do with removing some of the battery circuitry and disconnecting the internal sequencer. The sequencer was zapped when I did the mods originally so I decided to live without it but made a mess of the way the battery state is monitored and disconnected when the mains power is applied. I also fixed the filter audio input which never worked because I hadn't realised that the 1/4" headphone jack socket re-purposed to be the input was shorting the input to ground!

The 101 is next on the repair list and then - back to the SS30-M.