Is a FatMan Synth Right for You?
I have two of them and I love the way they sound. I've personally
not heard any horror stories,
except from one or two people who simply cannot solder or were
completely lost with respect to correct part orientation. (IMHO,
this is very well covered in the manual, however) It does
require that much skill. Other than that, the instructions
are flawless and PAiA is more than generous with help
and free replacement of any parts delivered in bad or non-working
- Price. You won't find more bang for the buck.
- All parts and instructions are included. (not the solder).
PAiA is one of the few companies that provides an
absolutely complete parts bag. I understand that a few other kit
makers also supply all parts and even the solder, but they are
also in another price league. The others require you search around
for one thing or another.
This is one aspect that makes it an excellent choice for those who
are just starting out in this.
- MIDI capable, out of the box.
- 2 versions: rack (no enclosure, but my favorite) and desktop
- Very easy to modify. I have many mods installed and most, if
not all, are published on my website.
One thing though: the desktop box is already cramped, not good
if you think you want to have a lot of mods which means more
knobs, so panel and interior space becomes an issue. The rack
version is standard 19 inch, so additional panels can be added.
- The stock kit comes with enough 'stuff' to make cool sounds
- In the event that you *cannot* make it work, PAiA will, for
a small fee ($25 I think), fix it for you. This is not true
of most other kit companies, (here again, there is at least one
other kit maker that also does this for the kits they sell).
- It's well known and there are many people who can and will
help you with problems. Many of them are on the synth-diy
email list. There is also a FatMan email list.
- The parts from which it is made are not rare and are still
commonly available from electronics supply companies. They
are also still reasonably priced.
- I don't know about others, but my two FatMan synths are
extremely pitch stable. I've been known to leave it off
for a few weeks, turn it on, only to find it in perfect
tune with the digital synths I have.
- The FatMan is an analog synth, but it is not patchable
(though it can be modified to be patchable fairly easily,
there is information on this site regarding this subject).
It comes with an internally wired patch.
The configuration is set in a traditional basic two VCO to VCF to VCA setup.
This is how modulars are
used quite often for tonal and melodic music. It doesn't do well for clicks, pops and
many sounds normally used in non-tonal noise-scape work.
It is possible to add stuff to the FatMan to get it to make more
of these kinds of sounds.
- Pitch CV is linear, not expo. As such, it does not interface easily
with most vintage modulars or vintage synths. It is also true
that most of the projects and module kits done by people on the synth-diy email list
are expo based, so these projects need to be modified to work with
a FatMan. However, a pleasant side effect of linear CV is that
add-on VCOs are often easier and less expensive to build since there are no
transistors to match (or to buy prematched which can be expensive)
and no temperature compensation issues to deal with.
- It is MIDI triggered. That means it won't work with a keyboard
that outputs only a control voltage and gate signal unless you modify it (possibly
extensively) to do so. However, I think these days, a MIDI studio
is quite popular anyway.
- Odd power supply voltages: +8/-12 (+5 for the uC). This won't
be a serious problem, since it's usually pretty easy to convert
circuits. All of my mods and all of the ones others have published
that are specifically designed for the FatMan are already designed
for this, so it's not a big deal.
- Wall-wart power supply. It is an adequate and noiseless power
supply for the FatMan. Mods which require very little or no power
can be done without modifying the existing supply or adding a second supply, but larger
mods may require an additional supply. The easiest way to do this
is to copy the simple and inexpensive FatMan supply, but it means
two or more wall-warts instead of one. It hasn't been a problem for me.
- The kit requires installing a lot of jumper wires and has a
flying wire front panel. This is really only a building issue
and to some extent, an asthetics issue.
- Although I've taken mine on car trips to jams, I would not call the
rack version of the FatMan completely road worthy. More care would need to be
taken with this than professionally constructed equipment that is designed
for club gigs etc. It's not that it will fall apart by looking at it cross
eyed, but it's easily more delicate than others. I've not seen the desktop
model, but I would guess that it's better for the road than the rack model.
As you can probably tell, I'm kind of a FatMan
whore. However I do not work for nor have any business connection with
PAiA other than being a very satisfied customer.
Mine took about 10 to 12 hours each to build. I've heard that
some people do it faster, others slower.
One more thing, I didn't know a whole lot about analogue sound
generating and processing circuitry before building the FatMan
and joining the synth-diy email list. There is a pretty good 'how it works'
section at the back of the FatMan manual. I've also learned a whole
lot from the people subscribed to the synth-diy email list. It was and continues to be a
great learning experience for me. I now understand a great deal more about
voltage controlled oscillators, voltage controlled filters, voltage controlled
amplifiers, transient generators, noise generators, current sources, signal
processing and many other types of circuits typically found in an analogue
synthesizer. I am now able to design my own versions of many of these
and I can also now easily modify the designs of others for my own purposes.