Synth/studio gear, and why I stick labels all over it…

If you’re of the TL;DR mentality (like me, most of the time…) scroll directly to the bottom for downloads of PDFs and source files of my crib panels for Moog Matriarch, Audiothingies Doctor A, Arturia Minibrute 2S, Mutable Instruments Warps, Streams and Plaits, and more.

NB. Not a picture of the author…

Great-sounding, super-configurable studio gear with big feature sets – what’s not to like? Well, for one thing, user interfaces that are so obscure that you forget how they work and what everything means the moment you put down the manual. And you did read the manual, right? And you have brought it with you, to the gig where the gear starts behaving weirdly, and there’s no mobile signal, yes?

Maybe some people can memorise all their gear’s inner workings, but I’m not one of them. Instead, I stick labels on it, summarising all the stuff I want to have at my fingertips while I work. It probably looks a bit OCD to the outsider, but who cares?

Potent multimode modules like Plaits and Clouds (or its offshoots, like the AfterLater Storm here) are fertile ground for happy accidents. But what if you don’t always want your discoveries to be accidental? To remind myself of some crucial functions and features I printed out paper panels and stuck them to my Eurorack case next to the modules.

It started with Eurorack. Complex multimode modules are amongst the worst offenders. I don’t believe there’s anyone (except for maybe the designer) who can remember every detail about all the modes of a Mutable Plaits, or Warps, or even a Streams. And as for a modern Clouds spin-off chock-full of third-party firmware options – it’s a hard enough proposition even with the manual… But I could equally point the finger at’ Sqwk Dirty or Milky Way. And this just happens to be stuff I’ve used. There are hundreds of other examples.

Learning gear like this, you’re going to want to RTFM to begin with. After that you probably only need aides memoires. So for my setup I made some with Affinity Publisher or Adobe InDesign, and stuck them on my Euro case with removable paper glue, or pinned them to the wall nearby. I did the same for an Arturia Minibrute 2S, and for an Audiothingies Doctor A.

Mutable Warps with extended firmware is a right old rabbit warren. This was my map of it. [I don’t have this module any more by the way – I like distortion, but also enjoy having intact ear drums.]

Interestingly, enlightened manufacturers (with panel space to spare) have been doing this kind of labelling for years. Take Nord’s Lead A1 synth, for example (or any of its Lead family forebears, actually):

Arguably not very ‘high tech’, but the panel graphics make working with the little red display of this fun and rewarding synth easy and straightforward.

No such nicety on something like the Roland/Studio Electronics SE-02, sadly. That thing takes the potential for confusion and live cock-ups to (almost literally) dizzying heights, combining a minuscule display with cryptic labelling for its microscopic buttons that includes two parallel numbering systems (one for patch recall, another for sequence steps).

The SE-02: a beautiful sounding synth, perfect for Leprechauns with 20/20 vision…

Then we get to synths and the like that offer hidden or secondary feature sets and have NO DISPLAY AT ALL. I mean, come on! Moog is good at this: Minitaur, Mother, Grandmother, Matriarch… and often there are really useful parameters hidden away, not just once-in-a-blue-moon global settings. Basically anyone without a photographic memory has no chance. Time for more InDesign…

For my Matriarch I printed out these strips, which fit on the empty panel strip above the keys, and condenses 9 pages-worth of manual. I completely renamed several parameters – some of Moog’s descriptions really go round the houses.

The latest effort – 9 user manual pages of global parameters boiled down into a strip measuring 550x21mm

If you’ve read this far, and can use some of these, please download the PDFs or source files below and go for it! I can’t vouch that everything is 100% accurate, but it’s close, I’ll try and keep them up to date (for the gear I still own, anyway), and perhaps you can annotate or add if you find any mistakes. And just so no-one tries to sue me, my recommendation for attaching these to your gear is to put down some strips of proper removable tape (the kind that’s used for analogue mixing desk scribble strips) and then glue the labels to that using water-soluble paper glue like Pritt Stick. If you need to get it off you just pull off the tape in a second, leaving no residue. Super glue, PVA, epoxy etc – obviously not.

At the end of the day, even a small hi-res display is always welcome. ALM’s Pamela’s New Workout is a lesson in what can be done with one of those, a single push-encoder, and some really smart thinking about interface design. It looks like navigating this complex module’s interface hierarchies should be a nightmare, but it’s not.

Synth Crib Panel Downloads

Moog Matriarch global settings

Arturia Minibrute 2S key functions (fits on the strip between transport controls and faders)

Mutable Instruments Streams, Warps, Plaits, Clouds (or extended third party versions like AfterLater Storm, anyway)

Strymon Magneto functions and feature recap Milky Way and Squawk Dirty modes overview

Audiothingies Doctor A operation summary