Monday, 9 December 2019

Synthesizer Build part-8: 8 STEP SEQUENCER.

A simple 'Baby 8' type Sequencer made with the CD4017 chip. Easy to build and fun to use. No DIY synth should be without one of these.

EDIT: There is now a second version of this sequencer available on this website. I redid the design and included some extra features like external clock input and a CV Offset control. This makes the sequencer much better to use and it is no more complicated to build than this original design. So please go over to project 49: 8 step sequencer version 2 if you want to build a sequencer.

This sequencer is one of my earlier projects and of my own design although it's more or less put together from bits of other designs like the 'Baby 8' but it works fine for me and is really easy to make and easy to tune although to build it is quite time consuming and repetitive work because a lot of steps have to be soldered eight times. I found it rather tedious work but very worth while. 
A note for beginners: The sequencer itself does not actually produce any sound. It produces a sequence of stepped voltages (hence the name). These Control Voltages (CV) must be patched into the CV input of a Voltage Controlled Oscillator which reads the voltage and turns it into the appropriate notes. So to hear a sequencer you must have it connected to a VCO.

Here's the schematic drawing for this sequencer:


In the schematic above the on/off switch is placed after the voltage regulator to easily switch the sequencer on or off without causing switching pulses on the voltage rails. The complete on/off switching is done with the switch of the powersupply which controls the power of your whole modular synthesizer.

Here's the stripboard layout I made for the sequencer. In the schematic I drew in switches that you can add to turn individual channels on or off but I didn't include them in my build because I didn't have the space for them on the panel. In this layout I don't use any transistors either. I thought it was nonsense to make this more difficult then it needs to be. It will work fine without them because we hardly draw any current from these outputs. The CV output signal goes straight into a VCO. The layout has an extra 10µF electrolytic capacitor on the output of the voltage regulator that is not on the schematic. It's for extra noise suppression. You can get away with using a 100nF cap or leaving it out completely.
Be careful when you wire this up, note that the jumper (or wire bridge) for output 5 is connected to pin 10 of the chip so the left bunch of jumpers skips a copper trace at output 5. Look carefully at the layout! If you want to include switches to mute individual channels then put them in series with the diode!

(Last revised: 26-Feb.-2020: Minor cosmetic changes.)

NOTE: All potmeters in the layout are shown from the front side!

Use Schottky Diodes on the wipers of the potmeters. They only have a voltage drop of 0.2V instead of the 0.6 to 0.7 Voltage drop over 1N4148 diodes usually found in sequencers like this. This means you can get deeper tones from the VCO you plug it into. Because of the 0.6 to 0.7 Volt voltage drop over the silicone diodes, the first section of the potmeters wouldn't do anything until you get above 0.6 volts. So with a lower voltage drop there's more throw on the potmeter. As an experiment I also installed a 100K potmeter over the output of the Control Voltage and the wiper goes to the CV output jack. That way you can get even lower tones although, of course, this compresses the dynamic range of the sequencer. With the potmeter fully open you get the normal range of 0.2 to 8 Volts. If you close the pot half way, your range becomes 0.1 to 4 Volts so the spacing between notes becomes smaller. You don't need to include that option, I never use it and it is not included in the layout. But anyway, this is an expirimental sequencer and as a whole it works really well, If you build it you will be happy, I guarantee it. :)
A better solution, and one you should consider if you are comfortable with designing simple circuits with opamps, is to add a DC-Offset feature to this sequencer. That way you can get the lowest notes down to 0 volt without influencing the dynamic range of the sequencer. It's easy enough to do. This is not included in the layout or schematic though.

Here's a close-up of the stripboard:



Bill of materials for the layout version:


Here's a picture of the sequencer:



The sequencer is build up around the CD4017 decade counter chip, using a CD40106 to create the clock pulses which also serve as the 'Gate' pulses.
The CD40106 hex inverter is used as a low frequency oscillator giving off squarewave pulses who's frequency can be controlled by the 100K potmeter. I used a 15µF electrolythic Capacitor although a 10µF will do just as well. But a little higher value will give you slower speeds so you could even try a 22µF cap. The clock pulses can be interrupted by switch S-2 to give you a chance to tune that particular channel. Sometimes it can happen that after using the 'Stop/Run' switch that the sequencer jumps to channel one. If that happens try using a different CD40106 chip. You might have a fake one and they can be quircky in their behaviour.
With S-2 closed the clock pulses go into pin 14 of the CD4017 and with every pulse the chip will output a high signal on a different pin. The order by which the different pins go high is a bit random. Here is the right order: 3,2,4,7,10,1,5,6,9,11. Because of this confusing order, the outputs are set in the right order by the wire bridges to the copper traces underneath the CD4017. From there the pulses can be accessed in the right order to avoid confusion. Following the schematic drawing, the pulses go straight into the base of the 2N2222 transistors which are used here as switches. The Base-Emitter voltage is way more than needed to saturate the transistor and fully open it up. I chose the 2N2222 transistor because it can handle a reasonably large current and there's no need to use any resistors to connect them (although using a resistor in series with the base connection wouldn't be a bad thing because we're using the 2N2222 at near the limit of the operational specs.) From this base connection we also feed the eight LED's which indicate which channel is on at each moment in time. The LED's are connected with 3K resistors to reduce current flow and still provide a bright light.
All the collectors of the transistors are connected straight to the 8 Volt power rail and the emitters are all connected to ground.
It's better to just follow the stripboard layout and skip the whole transistor setup and connect the output of the CD4017 straight to the potmeters. I'm using transistors as a sort of buffer and to make this sequencer future proof for other experiments so I can draw some current from the outputs should that be necessary. But you can just leave them out it you want to. Makes it so much easier.
By setting the different potmeters, you can create the different tonal paterns the sequencer produces.
Because the potmeters are simply used as voltage deviders, it doesn't really matter which value they are as long as it's 50K or over so that they don't draw too much current and as long as you use the same value on all 8 channels.
You can tap the 'Gate' pulses straight from pin 3 of the Speed Control potmeter to the Gate output jack mounted in the panel. The pulses are really clean looking 8 Volt squarewave pulses with a 50% duty cycle so if you use the gate output into the ADSR, it will sound as if a key is pressed every time the sequencer switches to an other note.

A ten step switch is used to select the length of the sequence. It can be anything from 1 to 8. Btw, you can easily make this a ten step sequencer by connecting the last two pins from the CD4017. I made it an 8 step because I didn't have enough space to mount everything horizontally and because 8 steps is more natural for music than 10 steps because you normally have 4 notes in a beat. So multiples of 4 are better. The potmeters on my panel are mounted vertically and I could only fit eight of them below eachother anyway.
Connect the wiper part of the switch to pin 15 of the CD4017 and the wires from 1 to 8 to their relative position on the switch. Connect pins 9 and 10 of the switch together and connect the ninth output from the CD4017 to that. The pulse going into pin 15 of the 4017 will reset the chip and the counter will start over again.
Don't forget to connect pin 13 of the CD4017 to ground.

It is best with this build to make the panel first and connect all the components and do the essential wiring while you have access. Then make the circuitboard and connect the wires to the panel. Solder the resistors straight to the LED's and the diodes to the wipers of the potmeters. Connect the cathodes together and solder a wire from there to the CV output jack.
I used 5mm LED's and I made the holes in the panel by using a drill rather than a hole enlarger bit which I normally use to enlarge the pilot holes I drilled. The drill is usually a little bit less then 5mm and therefor the LED's will sit very tight and don't even need to be glued in place (although it is best to hot-glue them in place anyway).

Do not forget to solder a big 470µF capacitor on the input of the 7808 voltage regulator. Otherwise pulses will bleed through onto the power supply rails and you'll hear the tone sequence even if the sequencer isn't connected to the CV input of the VCO. I also included an ON/OFF switch (S-1) on the panel just to have the option to shut it down. It's the only panel in my synth build to have an ON/OFF switch.

TUNING THE SEQUENCER:
To tune the sequencer, simply set it to the lowest speed and use switch S-2 to interrupt the clock pulses and stop at each channel. Then you can tune that particular channel using a tuner or simply by ear, by turning the potmeter and then you turn switch S-2 back on. The sequencer flips to the next channel, you turn it off again with S-2 and tune that note, then you flip the switch again and jump to the next channel, etc, etc. It's very simple and very effective. :)
A note for beginners. You must connect the CV OUT of the sequencer to the 1V/Oct input of a Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO) and the oscillator makes the actual sound. The sequencer only produces a sequence of stepped voltages that the VCO turns into notes so for tuning the sequencer you must have it connected to a VCO.
Because the sequencer can produce any voltage between 1 and 8 Volt it's difficult to set it accurately to a specific note without using a tuner. That's why most professional sequencers have a built in Quantizer which automates this proces. A Quantizer reads an incoming voltage and turns it into the nearest 1/12th of a volt, that way making sure it's a pure note. 
Because most synthesizers use the 1 volt per Octave system and there are 12 notes in an Octave, each note is produced by a multiple of 1/12th of a volt. For instance note C1 = 1.000V, note D1 = 1.083V (1 + 1/12th volt), note F3 = 3.333V (3 + 4/12th volt). So the notes progress upwards in steps of 1/12 of a volt. This sequencer does not have a quantizer and because they are quite difficult to build I don't have a quantizer project on my website. You can however buy them for Eurorack systems. In my Eurorack system I have the Doepfer A-156 QNT which costs about €119 and contains 2 quantizers.
If you are good at working with Arduino's you can easily make a quantizer with that. You can program it to turn any incoming voltage into a multiple of 1/12th of a volt.

Momentary switch:
I tried putting in a momentary switch to jump channels and connected it to the +8 Volt rail but this didn't work very well. The switch created some signal bounce and one push would either not work at all or jump several steps at once. Maybe my switch is poor quality though, I don't know. But you don't really need a manual switch if you can use the slow clock pulses to switch channels for you.
There is a good way to include a momentary switch mentioned in the comments below by 'tamasgal'. The suggestion is to put a resistor and switch in series connected between V+ and ground and then run a resistor and capacitor from the high potential side of the switch to ground and also connect it to one of the left over schmitt-triggers of the CD40106. Then connect the output to pin 15 of the CD4017. That should take care of any bounce in the momentary switch.

That's all there is to say about this. It's one of the most fun panels for the synthesizer but one of the most tedious to build. It cost me 6 hours straight to design and build it but luckily it worked straight away.

Here's a little demo of the sequencer. This was filmed before I put in switch S-2 so I had no option to tune the sequencer at the time of filming. I might make a new video soon:


Okay, that's another one done. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions about this build then  please leave them in the comment section below or in the Facebook Group.

If you like what you see and would like to support these projects then you can buy me a Coffee. There's a button for that underneath the main menu if you're on a PC or Mac. Otherwise you can try this PAYPAL ME  link (which works a bit easier too).  Thank you very much!!

52 comments:

  1. Hello Eddy!
    This looking great! I have ordered all the parts and will build this when I receive everything. I run into your page when I was looking for a baby 8 sequencer. I am almost ready with my DIY modular and this will be the last module. Greetings from Stockholm.

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    1. Awesome! This will be a very cool addition to your Modular Build. Let me know if you run into any issues and thanks for the feedback! I appreciate it. :) Greetings from Holland ^____^

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  2. ik wil hem ook graag bouwen voor mijn synth als het niet lukt kanpkan ik dan jou om hulp vragen ?

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  3. Hello Eddy.

    Yesterday with great enthusiasm I built this beautiful module. I have a problem, it works correctly until step 7, step 8 is longer than the previous ones. What could be causing this problem?

    thank you very much, greetings from Argentina

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    1. Is it possible you connected the rotary switch incorrectly and that the 8th step stays on for 2 pulses. Check the connections of the rotary switch.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Hello! Love your designs and i'm looking forward to start building them (already ordered the parts for the resonant lowpas gate)
    how would you approach adding a clock/sync input to the sequencer?

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    1. I would use a socket with a built in switch to disconnect the original clock signal from the input to pin 14 of the CD4017 and then input an external signal onto that same pin and see where it gets you. If it doesn't work directly, because the signal is not high enough in voltage, you might have to use a opamp with some gain on the input to pin 14, to make it strong enough, but it's all a matter of trial and error. If you get it working I'd love to get an update from you so I can write about it in this article. Good luck!

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    2. Hey just wanted to chime in. I was working on this exact thing today. I got it working by taking the signal from pin 2 of the 40106 and routing that directly to the switch pin on a thonkiconn jack ("gate/clock in"). The output of that jack i sent to the gate out jack and also to the leg of the stop/run switch after the speed control pot. Therefore, when nothing is plugged into the "gate/clock in" jack the signal from pin 2 of the 40106 basically goes through the jack untouched. If you plug the clock signal into the gate/clock in jack, it bypasses the internal clock signal and sends the external signal to both of those areas. I've tested this and it seems to work fine. If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, I would love to hear them.

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  6. Hello. I am soldering your design at the moment and I noticed your hand drawn schematic is missing a capacitor that's present on the strip board layout. I am only asking because I'm not certain where the on/off switch between the 7808 out and pin 14 on IC1 would be placed relative to the capacitor. Sorry if the question seems inane, I'm new to the craft.

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    1. Yes, I'm sorry it confused you. The extra 10µF is on the output of the voltage regulator to make sure it's pure DC coming out there (noise repression), You can put any capacitor in. Even a 100nF would be enough.

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    2. Noise suppression not repression (just out of bed when I wrote that, LOL)

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    3. Thank you for the clarification! I'm guessing it wont matter where the on/off switch is placed, as long as it cuts the signal to pin 14?

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  7. If I incorporate the individual step switches into the module will they prevent the gate from being sent out in addition to the CV for that step? If not then how can I modify the design to toggle the gate out for individual steps?

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    1. You can't with this design. When you want features like that you soon get into Arduino based sequencers.

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    2. Wouldn't it be possible by spreading the gate signal across a series of relays that get switched on by the outputs of the 4017?

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    3. That may be possible. You could use the direct outputs of the CD4017, before they go into the potmeters, and use that as the gate signal and then you can interrupt the signals by using switches. Make sure you use diodes to prevent the signal landing on other outputs at the same time. It could work but it's not easy.

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  8. Is there a BOM for this somewhere that I could look at? I can't quite see some of the values for the diodes and the resistors.

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    1. I made a BOM for the layout version of the sequencer. The schematic version has eight 2N2222 transistors extra.

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  9. Hi Eddy, I was wondering if it would be possible to add a tempo controller to the sequencer so that the cv pot can be adjusted to certain tempos. Or a tempo sync option to follow the tempo of a drum machine- mind you, this is analog signal.. I will likely replace the cv pot with a multiturn pot to help with a finer tuning, but you still have to do it by ear...Cheers!

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    1. I'm afraid I wouldn't know how to do that but it's a good idea.

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  10. correction: the speed pot not the cv.

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  11. is it possible to insert buttons. so you could activate every note without the clock?

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    1. I'm sure it would be possible. Like a stepper switch you mean. every time you press the button the sequencer moves one step forwards. I tried that but found it very difficult to do. Maybe my switch wasn't very good but I had a lot of trouble with bounce. One press of the button and it would suddenly move two or three steps forward or it wouldn't do anything at all. I couldn't get it working right. I suggest if you want this feature, to design a circuit with a digital switch like the CD4066 so you eliminate the bounce problem.

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    2. ...or do you mean buttons that activate each of the 8 channels individually? That's easy. Just connect one end of the switch to positive power and the other to the potmeter. Then you can dial in the right note with the potmeter.

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    3. It's relatively easy to debounce a button with a Schmitt trigger and luckily you have plenty of them (inverted ones) thanks to the 40106 :) The idea is the following: The switch is connected to ground and to +V with a resistor. Between the resistor and the switch, you place another resistor which is then connected to the ground via a capacitor and also to the input of a Schmitt trigger. That's it. You can use 1uF and 1k or whatever you need. What happens is that whenever you press the button, the the voltage is pulled to ground and the capacitor discharges "slowly". Once it reaches the Schmitt trigger threshold level, the output of the trigger is instantly high (remember, it's an inverted Schmitt trigger), without "bouncing". When you release the button, the capacitor charges up and the output of the trigger will be low again.

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    4. And of course, thanks for all your schematics, it's a great source of inspiration and it of course also saves a lot of time looking things up and designing stripboard layouts :D I was excited that you use the same stripboards as I do, so I can literally directly translate your work to my hardware. ;)

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    5. @tamasgal Hey that's an excellent suggestion and should work perfectly here. Thanks for that and for the compliments. I'm glad you like the website. It is indeed handy that you use the same size stripboards. I find the 24 x 56 a nice format and perfect for Kosmo sized modules. :)

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  12. Hey Eddy,

    If swapping the 7808 with a 7812, everything should work the same?

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    1. Yes only the notes will be much higher because the CV output will be 12V

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  13. Hello Eddy,

    I'm making my own version based on your schematic and stripbourd layout.
    I'd like to change the rotary step selector for a SPDT switch to choose between 4 and 8 steps.
    I wondered what outputs should be chosen to connect to the reset input, step 4 and 8 or step 5 and 9?

    Greetings
    Sevrien

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  14. Hello,
    Like I said earlier, I took a try on making my own version.
    I wanted to make a sequencer that i could use on my pedalboard.
    I thought it would be usefull to be able to take in an external clock or gate.
    So I added a switch to select the internal or external clock.
    The "run" switch and reset switch are footswitches, the reset is momentary.
    I replaced the 10 pole switch to an SPDT, I just need 4 or 8 steps. Still wondering on wich step to take the reset signal.
    To avoid triggering a step when pushing the reset switch, I added a diode on the SPDT.
    I added a pull-down resistor on the clock inhibit pin.

    I havent tried my setup on breadboard yet but if anyone has remarks or usefull info, feel free to respond.

    [img]https://i.imgur.com/RUXo45h.png[/img]
    [img]https://i.imgur.com/6tbkn9s.png[/img]

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    1. damn, pictures arent supported

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    2. Don't worry I saw the pictures. I'm not sure I can help you with this. The sequencer was one of my first projects and it's quite basic in its setup. I do know people have trouble clocking this with external sources. I've had some trouble with that myself. I don't have a solution for that alas. But if you get stuck with some aspect of this build then feel free to post questions in the EBFacebook group or of course other synth related Facebook groups like Synth DIY.

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    3. I also tried a momentary switch to go through the steps manually but that also had a lot of quircks so I'm not sure the footswitch would work. You have to be enormously careful with switch bounce in this circuit.

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  15. Hi Eddy, i just finish my first eurorack box folllowing your projects and some of yusynth ones. Now its time form me to set everything up. I have = 8 step seq, VCO 555, Ms20 filter, Adsr, Vca, VcoLfo and some fx. Obviously, the first one i test is not working well :). The step sequencer is not working correctly : few things to notice, my cd40106 are from china, ill swapped with another one this afternoon once i get back home. Out of pin 2, i do avec a tiny triangle wave which is correct if i refer to the datasheet. The speed potentiometer have no effect on the frequency of the wave leaving out the gate out. The leds stop lighting after step 4, and i have got a solid leds at each step from the pot with apparently no clock making them move from step 1 to 4.. I checked my wiring and his fine. The only thing is i didn't put 2n2222 transistor as you said it's not mandatory. any guess ? i keep digging. CHeers

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    1. I'm sorry you're having problems with it. Looks like you have some troubleshooting to do. I can't give you specific pointers on how to fix things because I can't troubleshoot from a distance but you can post about individual problems on the facebook group. There's usually someone who can help there.

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  16. Hi Eddy, i do not have facebook account but i have a good new, the guilty one was the CD40106 chip.. i bought ten of them from china and i picked a bad one, now the sequencer works great. My fx modules and the MS20 filter are working correctly i made them over a year ago, i did read your advise about building the steiner and the AS3340 but as im running out of time and i already built the VCO 555 before you told me, i won't build those 2 before i passed my certificate. My plan is to present the modules i build and explaining what s happening in the circuitry. I take a great pleasure reading your contents about setting up each module. My next one is the VCO 555. In the same time, making a module that doesn't work straight forward is the best exercice to play with multimeter and scope. Cheers

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    1. Ah that is great news. Well, I'm glad you got the sequencer working and also that you're having so much fun with the website. That's all I can hope for! Thank you for your comment!

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    2. Hello Eddy, unfortunatly, my cd40106be seems to lock up after few start.. :(.. i have the right voltage coming to them. Im wondering if it's a problem from the fact they are cheap from china...

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    3. That is certainly possible. Could it also be the CD4017 that is not good maybe? If you have an other, try it. I wouldn't know what else could cause this issue. If you built it according to the schematic and layout, it should work fine.

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    4. It is quite frustrating as i checked everything, and i can't get it back to work again. i have got solid led light when turned "RUN" switch ON. Then they all starts flashing really fast at step 6.. i keep digging.

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    5. The CD4017 is from school supply so it should be right. Im using a 12 pole switch, do i have to wire foot 9 to 12 together ? im going to try.

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    6. Well, it's really weird... i had a short somewhere around the speed pot... i don't know exactly where but that means the cd4016 are totally rights.. :(.. small frustration yet is i don't know exactly how i fixed.. im going to the vco 55 calibration now.

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    7. Do you mean you got the sequencer working now?

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    8. Yes Eddy, it's working correctly now.. i had a short between Pin 1 and 2 from the CD40106, i could see anythng wrong with my eyes between traces around this area on the board, just in case i used a flat screwdriver to clean up and it's all good now..

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    9. That is excellent news. I'm so glad all your work wasn't for nothing. I hope the 555VCO will go smoothly too. :)

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