Homemade Synth as Easy as Pi

Simon's new instrument, the Synth6581
(Image credit: Simon Martin/Raspberry Pi Foundation)

Guitars are 3,000 years old and the piano dates back to 1700, so musical instruments are facing a serious crisis of modernity. Why not, then, create your own, new, musical instrument, and show Mozart what for? This is precisely what design engineer Simon Martin has done, by merging forty year old home computer technology with the Raspberry Pi 400. Via the Raspberry Pi blog.  

As you might have suspected already, Martin works for Raspberry Pi, and was one of the brains behind the Raspberry Pi 400 that stuffs a Raspberry Pi 4 inside a keyboard to create something not unlike the Commodore 64, a popular home computer from the 1980s. And that’s no coincidence either - Simon seems to be a bit of a Commodore fan, having based his new synth - the Synth6581 - on the C64’s famous SID sound chip (MOS 6581, hence Synth6581) that begat a whole world of chip-tunes and is still highly sought after by musicians.

And while it may look like a pile of circuit boards stacked high on top a Raspberry Pi 4, it comes to life when you plug in a keyboard (the musical kind) and some speakers. The boards are custom designs, and each contains a single SID chip controlled via Python, C code on the Raspberry Pi 4. The code "pokes" certain hardware registers on the SID chip to produce tones / music . The sound is considerably more Vangelis than Van Halen, which is exactly what the '80s kids liked about the SID chip. 

The Synth6581 is a one-off, so don’t expect to be picking one up from Target any time soon. Instead, enjoy Simon’s cleverness and musical skill in this video.

Ian Evenden
Freelance News Writer

Ian Evenden is a UK-based news writer for Tom’s Hardware US. He’ll write about anything, but stories about Raspberry Pi and DIY robots seem to find their way to him.