Key Secrets: Permission to Tweak Freely

Keyboard insider tips from David Battino
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Fig. 1 Sometimes the simplest upgrades are the most satisfying. Vintage Synths author Mark Vail replaced the knobs on his Teenage Engineering OP-1 synth with four vintage chickenhead knobs — $4 total from He had to file down the “beaks” for clearance, but says the knobs are now easier to turn and easier to read (see Figure 1). Teenage Engineering goes further with Bender, a rubber band-equipped arm that converts one knob into a springy modulation lever. Swapping knobs is an easy way to give mass-produced instruments personality, and often a better feel.

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Fig. 2 I’m loving my Akai Miniak a lot more since I gave its keyboard and display a tweak. This otherwise beefy synth has an extremely light keyboard action I’d always found uninspiring. After I packed some modeling clay and a 1/4-inch steel nut under the tips of the white keys, they gained a satisfying heft. I’ll probably replace the clay with more durable epoxy when I open the case to modify the black keys. After you start modding, it’s hard to stop!

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The Miniak is also notorious for its awkward LCD. Figure 2 shows how I use a prism and a small mirror to make the display visible from playing position.