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.

This sequencer is one of my own design although it's more or less put together from bits of other designs like the 'Baby 8' but it works great 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.

Here's the schematic drawing for this sequencer:

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.
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!

(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:

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. 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 then 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.

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 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. :)
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. 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.

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 and I will answer them asap!


  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.

    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 ^____^

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

  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

    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.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.