Saturday, April 05, 2008


images via this auction


Ribbon controllers provide a means of adjusting various aspects of a synthesizer's sound in real-time as you play. I find them especially useful in adjusting the filter cutoff frequency in real time, but they can also control pitch, amplitude, and other parameters in some cases. Ribbons provide an expressive input device that allows you to perform trills, tap-tempo effects, swells… you name it! I got spoiled with the ribbon in my Multimoog, and I thought it would be nice to have a small-footprint ribbon that I could use with my other synthesizers. The problem that I ran into was that there are simply not many options commercially available in this space.

I wanted a ribbon that was small enough to attach to one of the end-bells or front panel of the synthesizer. Also, some of my synthesizers do not have a means of powering a passive ribbon controller; consequently, I wanted a self-powered unit. It became obvious to me that I really had no choice but to design and build my own ribbon controller.

Quality was my primary objective. It was important to me that the ribbon be extremely durable yet sensitive to touch, in order to be expressive enough to capture every nuance. I selected the materials that I felt would accomplish this goal best, without regard to build time and cost. As a result, I am very happy with the outcome, and I am certain that you will be as well. Using the supplies I had leftover after building my own units, I’ve decided to build a few more of these powered ribbon controllers, and offer them to other musicians who may be looking to fill a similar need for a durable, yet relatively inexpensive, small-footprint control voltage (CV) ribbon controller.

My ribbon controllers feature:
* Hand-made wooden (birch) enclosures, with durable polyurethane stained finish
* Quality 3M products to ensure longevity of the ribbon assembly
* Heavy gauge, copper-clad base-plate - providing an extremely rigid structure for the ribbon assembly
* Unique combination of sheer woven metal and nylon textiles covering the ribbon assembly - offering a durable yet smooth, tactile ribbon response
* Dedicated power Supplies featuring in-line transformers, making connection to a densely populated power strip a breeze
* Maximum 0-15VDC control voltage output, to ensure compatibility with most manufacturer's analog equipment
* Capability to swap power adapters, in order to support any potential alternate power requirements (the ribbon accepts a standard 2.1mm DC power plug)
* High quality Switchcraft ¼” phono plugs for CV connections
* Velcro base with included adhesive-backed strips for ease of monting on equipment

A video clip demonstrating some of the possibilities of my ribbon controllers can be viewed here:

Ribbon Controller Demo

YouTube via 12T0NE
Update: The previous video embed in this post by 12T0NE appeared to have been pulled. I added the video above which was previously posted here with a different description. The following is the description for the original video and was part of the original post, so it stays up.

"Operation of the ribbon controller is easy. Simply plug in the included power adapter, connect the power adapters plug to the corresponding plug on ribbon controller’s harness, and finally plug the ¼” phono (TS) connector into any CV input on your synthesizer that you wish to modulate. Once everything is connected, there is around 6 feet of slack on both the CV cable (between the ribbon and synth) and the power cable (between the ribbon and the power adapter's transformer), making many placement options possible.

I use my own ribbon controllers with keyboards from several manufacturers – including (vintage) Moog, Oberheim, Sequential Circuits, and Yamaha. I have not yet run into any compatibility problems. Obviously, I can’t guarantee compatibility with keyboards I have not yet tested against; however, given that the units supply their own power, and output a control voltage in the 0-15VDC range, they should function within acceptable operating parameters of most analog equipment. That said, please do your research and make sure it will work for your intended application before making a purchase. I assume no responsibility for incompatibility or damage to equipment that may occur thru improper use."


  1. Perfect! Now if you could do the same thing, but stick a MIDI jack on it :)
    I love ribbon controllers - it was one of things I adored on my K2500. Nowadays with XY touch plates, it's hard to just control parameters with one axis. Are there any CV XY touch plate controllers?

  2. The inherent problem with using midi with a ribbon on a modern day keyboard would be that the note values move in exact values. You would have to set some sort of glide up so you wouldn't hear the note intervals changing. There are ways around it, but it's dependent on the host synth and parameters of the cv to midi conversion, which explains why it costs $400+ for a ribbon with midi capability.

    1. DIY Ribbon with MIDI...

      And, yes, you're totally right...Getting a smooth pitch slide via MIDI is hard to do in general. But, if you're DIY'ing a ribbon for yourself, you don't have to solve the problem "in general". Instead, you just have to get something that works decently for your own synth(s) I did in the video above for my Prophet 6. Getting a workable solution to a specific problem is way easier than solving a general problem.