Does Serge make sense for Noob?

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SonarBk
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Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by SonarBk » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:57 pm

Hi all -

I am ready to take the modular plunge and assumed it would be eurorack BUT then I found out about Ciat Lonbarde and have just acquired a Plumbutter...and so a few banana plugs later....

Does Serge make any sense for a newbie? My uninformed impression is that compared to eurorack, the Serge modules tend to be more "pure", more expensive and more versatile.

What are some of the other differences, especially in terms of sound?

Is there anything to be said for learning on them instead of Eurorack? Like could I start really small with Serge?

All perspectives eagerly awaited!

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by Muff McMuff » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:26 am



Have you seen this video? This guy has a cool youtube channel and a lot of Serge videos and is on this forum.

I am a noob on learning curve but for me its all about the sound. If you like the sounds coming out of Serge systems then why not start with one. If you are interested and and enjoying it you will learn. There is so much cool eurorack though you could mix it up with the euro serge modules and have more options. Have a look on the Elby website. Lots of Serge. https://elby-designs.com/

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blw
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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by blw » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:35 am

Serge has a more fundamental approach, in which you will mostly build up your blips and bloops and patterns from fairly basic components. Arguably, this is a better learning approach than buying the latest multi-function Euro gizmo that makes pretty digital noises. A few of the Serge modules (SSG, DUSG for example) can be patched in ways that may not initially be obvious to a beginner, but there are plenty of tutorials to explain their concepts online.

And patching with bananas rocks. :bananaguitar: :bananaguitar:

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by levelhead3 » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:45 am

I still like the term "atomic" in describing the Serge experience vs some of the other formats. It's a format which really allows you to operate at a very low level, but yet that same degree of granularity allows you to work in an as complex a fashion as you want.

And that's the difference as I see it - it's not predefined - it's totally up to you where you want to go with it. And within the same modules no less. That's the current attraction for me - it's like "OK, training wheels are coming off..." - and I'm not new to modular.

And coming from the Buchla world, I'm here to say all bananas is a beautiful thing. :banana:
Last edited by levelhead3 on Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by nrrrd » Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:25 am

Eurorack has such a wide range of modules that a system is really what you make it.
If you wanted something similar to the atomic way of working with Serge, but in Eurorack format, you could easily spec and build a system that contains no digital modules, no complex and has no menu diving.

I'd also suggest sticking to a single manufacturer. This could be:

1. Doepfer - they have lots of "basic" modules, some inspired by Serge, and lots of "West Coast"-esque modules inspired by both Serge and Buchla
2. Random Source - lots of actual Serge modules available in Eurorack format
3. Elby - again, lots of Serge modules in their EuroSerge format

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by ArguZ » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:29 am

Does anyone know is Serge CVs are buffered ?
Asking for a pitch drifting friend ;)

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by BugBrand » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:36 am

You might also want to consider my systems - www.bugbrand.co.uk/
Banana based, a bit less low-functional-level than Serge, which might or might not appeal.
Probably more comparable in price to Euro than to Serge.
Many people have happily mixed my bananas with Ciat/Serge/Buchla.
And, yes, bananas are a joy for patching - the flow & feel is important.

An important point in considering systems - systems like me/Serge pose some limitations on choice vs something as open as Euro - some see this as negative (argh, I have to miss out on X Y & Z) but others like it because you don't have to try to balance choices of hundreds of different designs. Instead you are presented more with a unified instrument - something that you can then learn through practice. And I mean unified in terms of module aesthetics and electronic behaviours (signal amplitudes etc - that's a big focus in my system for example)

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by Reese P. Dubin » Fri Jan 10, 2020 9:37 am

+1 for Bugbrand, my pal has a huge system and it gives the best of both worlds. More easily approachable than Serge
Last edited by Reese P. Dubin on Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by cyberdine » Fri Jan 10, 2020 10:21 am

Never tried a Bugbrand system but they do look nice.

I guess the first question is what you want to do and what music you want to make. Euro is insanely open ended in terms of module choice, and as others have pointed out most of the Serge modules are there either directly in the case of R*S Euro or ‘inspired by’ in the case of Eg. Maths. In a way it can be simpler, because the modules are often higher level - Eg, if you want an envelope generator, there are dozens of specific modules for that. The Serge approach is lower level, meaning that for example if you want a LFO you’ll probably be using a module that does loads of other things as well as being an LFO (and it’s not going to just be ‘there’). Many modules are not obvious in their functions, which means you have to learn more about them to use them properly. Like the DUSG which seems to be capable of almost anything.

I recently got a Serge panel from Random*Source (Mantra) plus an NTO and Triple Wave Multipliers/ResEq after many years of Buchla and Euro wiggling because I wanted to try the more atomic style of patching. So far I’m finding the approach really refreshing (and the sound is excellent). And bananas are the best, no question. There’s a learning curve which is steep if you don’t know much about synthesis - on the other hand, if you learn thru Serge you’ll have the fundamentals down in a way you might not if you start with Euro. Personally I’m glad I didn’t start with Serge b/c I might have got frustrated with learning on it- OTOH you may have more patience than me. That said I’m loving it. There’s a thread somewhere here where the community gave me some good advice on where to start, it’s worth a read. There are some very helpful people round here.

Finally - I really enjoyed the Plumbutter but that is not an easy synth to understand. The Serge panels are logical in a way CL deliberately isn’t. I love the whimsical approach of PB but it’s very different, again.

So great to have so many choices.

[edited, because I got the name of one of my 4x4 modules wrong]
Last edited by cyberdine on Sat Jan 11, 2020 10:53 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by CLee » Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:11 am

ArguZ wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:29 am
Does anyone know is Serge CVs are buffered ?
Asking for a pitch drifting friend ;)
The standard output design on a Serge module is buffered in a way that the output doesn't droop as you patch the output to more inputs. There's no need for buffered mults in a Serge system.

I don't know how DIY inclined you are, but Serge outputs have a protection resistor "inside the loop" so the outputs are self buffering, adjusting to the load. It fits with the banana stackable design.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by wavecircle » Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:36 am

My very first modular was a serge and I've always loved them. I have had moments of madness where I've sold a system and flirted with euro or buchla or wiard 300 but I've always come back to serge.

The sound is the most obvious reason, they sound incredible on a small or large sound system. The interaction is really nice, on a fixed panel that is all you have to work with, make it work, it's an instrument, there are no off the shelf magic bullets to fix your patching issues. There will be a way.

That is the final point, for me it's always an education to work on a serge, it's full of lessons and happy accidents.
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thezyg/ (lots of Serge)

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Ciat Lonbarde stuff from many moons ago: http://soundcloud.com/polska-kliknij-muzyka

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by luketeaford » Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:28 pm

When I was in your position years ago and entering modular I knew I would either get Serge or Eurorack. I went with Eurorack purely because I don't even kind of understand how 4U serge power works. But now I have a Eurorack system with the R*S modules and some Doepfer utilities accompanying them.

Lessons learned: even in Eurorack I've come to prefer single manufacturer systems and the work manufacturers do to make their systems cohesive instruments adds a refined quality (reiterating your point, Bugbrand, as a neutral party! :) )

Serge makes sense for noobs and seasoned players alike. I remember thinking a Creature panel was limited, but it's hard to describe anything with an SSG, VCFQ, DTG as limited.

Don't tell my friends in Eurorack about this, but the SSG is at least as versatile as Maths and will teach you as much or more about modular. :tu:

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by luchog » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:11 pm

luketeaford wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 12:28 pm
Don't tell my friends in Eurorack about this, but the SSG is at least as versatile as Maths and will teach you as much or more about modular. :tu:
Yeah, the SSG and DUSG are the heart and soul of a Serge system. Those two modules effectively define the Serge patch-programming design philosophy.

As others have mentioned, there are a lot of modules in Eurorack which are either direct adaptations of Serge modules (Random*Source, Elby Designs), or are inspired by Serge modules (Make Noise Maths, Befaco Rampage, Joranalogue Contour 1, Toppobrillo Sport Modulator, and many many more).

The big difference between actual Serge and EuroSerge is that the Euro stuff is generally going to be less expensive, and typically the "Serge-inspired" modules have some enhacements/additions/modifications compared to the original circuits.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by momo » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:34 pm

It’s interesting that today’s most esoteric, coveted synths were either designed to be or became teaching tools. If you read the EMS and Serge ‘Gold Book’ manuals, they are designed for beginners and explained simply. Actually I think that’s a good approach - to read the manual first - freely out there on the web.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by GrantB » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:57 pm

This video by Doug Lynner does an excellent job of explaining and demonstrating patch programming. At 1:14 he breaks down what makes the Serge approach special.


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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by the bad producer » Fri Jan 10, 2020 5:24 pm

luchog wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:11 pm


The big difference between actual Serge and EuroSerge is that the Euro stuff is generally going to be less expensive...
I’ve often found when pricing my builds that they are cheaper than a comparable Euro selection of modules, also one should consider that any full 17” panel comes in a boat, so that again reduces the start up costs...

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by qwoned » Fri Jan 10, 2020 5:39 pm

first modular synthesizer I ever used was a Serge. I had never used eurorack before, and hadn't even really seen a euro system. I definitely never saw a Serge in person before the panel arrived at my house. I obsessively read anything I could find about Serge (manuals, CGS build guides, forums, etc) and everything about the design and multifunctionality of the panels really 'clicked' with me, for reasons others have articulated here and elsewhere (e.g. the 'atomic' properties of each module and thus their 'generic' and relatively non-prescriptive functionality). I didn't want a synthesizer that would lend itself to very 'idiomatic' use-cases—tbh, most music I've heard composed with a Serge isn't necessarily "Serge-sounding" music, something I appreciate about it. whereas with an e.g. Easel or Plumbutter, one can quickly tell that such equipment is responsible for what is being heard (this is especially true for the Plumbutter, imo).

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by MindMachine » Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:32 am

qwoned wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 5:39 pm
most music I've heard composed with a Serge isn't necessarily "Serge-sounding" music, something I appreciate about it.
Funny you say this. Once I was hanging with a big city music store owner and a local Cal Arts grad composer and we had the same conversation while parking the car in front of the local coffee lab. The Serge seemed more undefinable than most modular brands. There are many more modular brands nowadays, so even more difficult to nail I reckon.
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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by revtor » Sat Jan 11, 2020 8:18 am

If this noob just wants to patch away and make sound, then yeah it’s a fine place to start. But if this noob really wants to learn the ins and outs of synthesis then in my opinion, a more standard vanilla subtractive set of modules is a better place to start. Sometimes you just want a nice square wave and figuring out how to patch that up on a serge for example can be daunting. The patch programmability maybe cool and unique, but it honestly gets in the way a lot of the time when you have an objective goal that you’re trying to reach.

A noob could start out with something like VCV rack to get a handle on patching in general. Then, jump to the surge with your basic foundation of knowledge and I think the experience will be more rewarding.

That being said, as mentioned above I love how using the serge is almost an education in itself and makes every session more of an exploration rather than a journey with a pre-defined goal.
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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by BananaPlug » Sat Jan 11, 2020 10:30 am

Does Serge make any sense for a newbie? My uninformed impression is that compared to eurorack, the Serge modules tend to be more "pure", more expensive and more versatile. What are some of the other differences, especially in terms of sound?
Those qualities are well addressed by earlier posts in the thread. You'll learn stuff. Sounds great.
Is there anything to be said for learning on them instead of Eurorack?
It depends. Serge was the first synth I purchased and I loved learning from that "atomic" way of building up functions and the freedom provided by banana plug patching. Back then kits were available (completed PCBs but lots of assembly work) or you could order up racks comprising any combination of modules. There are some trade offs (always). Great sounds are possible thanks to the flexibility and wide operating ranges but this can make it a bit touchy to play. Also you may tire of patching together building blocks to make standard functions and in a physical sense it's not very modular at all.

I bailed out of Serge after the move from Oakland. They hadn't been doing kits for ages, stopped doing custom work, would not repair older gear, raised the prices. Just in time, BugBrand arrived. Yes! Bananas and a sensible balance all around.

Eurorack is a hard way to start. Too many choices. Disparate approaches and standards. Poor ergonomics (not always). A big mess but a huge gene pool and very competitive. I'm happy with a small rack of euro, a larger BugBrand system and a bunch of banana/mini cables.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by levelhead3 » Sat Jan 11, 2020 2:00 pm

Actually that raises a really good point. Maybe the answer to the original question is a question - what does the noob want from their modular experience? Do you want the want the atomic level and sometimes arcane nature of patch programmability? Do you want the widest palette of options to choice from? Or the reverse, to minimize option anxiety? Would a densely packed user interface bother you? How much of a factor is cost? Do you foresee wanting an open-ended system for expansion or something that will remain a compact and self-contained system? And maybe most importantly when considering Euro - are you looking to stay one-knob-per-function all-analog traditional or does the wide world of digital processing & on-panel screens appeal to you?

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by teleport » Sat Jan 11, 2020 3:22 pm

For me the perhaps single greatest attraction to the Serge/4u world, (prior to becoming acquainted with the patch-programing paradigm), was the use of banana's for both audio and control. The ability to stack plugs and distribute signals to multiple destinations is key for certain approaches to patching. This certainly grows the potential complexity (and might expand the learning-curve landscape), but I think it actually removes a somewhat arbitrary restriction that exists in a one-jack-to-one-plug environment. The (relatively) recent availability of stack-able 3.5mm cables has extended this quality to the euro world, so it's less of a distinction now.

After getting deeper into the Serge lore,( esp. after getting into the DiY side) - also found that the design philosophies that Mr. Tcherepnin expresses about wanting to externalize the full possibilities of the circuitry to the operator resonated deeply. Both Serge and Ken Stone's approaches to circuits provide a tremendous amount of flexibility and implementation choices to the user (many of the PCB's contain additional tap-points that can be hooked up to configure various operational functions, coupling options etc.). Again - here the fact that the format is by-and-large very close to the metal presents both possibilities of inspiration and challenges to the new user.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by cleaninglady » Mon Jan 13, 2020 7:48 pm

wavecircle wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:36 am
My very first modular was a serge and I've always loved them. I have had moments of madness where I've sold a system and flirted with euro or buchla or wiard 300 but I've always come back to serge.

The sound is the most obvious reason, they sound incredible on a small or large sound system. The interaction is really nice, on a fixed panel that is all you have to work with, make it work, it's an instrument, there are no off the shelf magic bullets to fix your patching issues. There will be a way.

That is the final point, for me it's always an education to work on a serge, it's full of lessons and happy accidents.
I couldn't agree more wavecircle and I've been saying this for years, ever since I built my first CGS/Serge Panel in 2011. I find the entire idea that it's a fixed panel the best part. You are forced to knuckle down and attempt to learn this infinite, bottomless, boundless palette in front of you. For me it's joy and inspiration every time I turn it on.

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by SonarBk » Thu Jan 16, 2020 6:39 pm

Thanks all so much for the thoughtful advice.

Any suggestions for VCV modules that are closer to Serge style? I think I need another few months of VCV before making purchasing decisions :)

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Re: Does Serge make sense for Noob?

Post by syncretism » Fri Jan 17, 2020 11:10 am

I don't use VCV, but IIRC, the Befaco Rampage is on there. It's like an extensively-modded Serge Universal Slope Generator, and if it resonates with you in use, you'll probably enjoy using Serge.

Before VCV, I would have said that the best platform to learn synthesis on was probably the Clavia Nord Modular series (which mostly requires a Nord Modular, though the "demo" software G2 might still work), and that may still be true. Or the Scope Modular series, which is similar (but requires dedicated hardware). Me, I hate making music with a computer, so I'm in hardware's thrall.

I've learned a lot from patching in the Serge ecosystem, and there are certain old-school building blocks that really make patching it a joy. I like creative problem-solving, and the low-level stuff like comparators and logic that are (imho) essential to the Serge experience are super-engaging in that regard.

Having said that, and I know I'm in the minority here, I think the benefits of "patch programmability" are frequently overstated. The slope modules or SSG can be patched up to behave like filters, oscillators, gate delays, etc, but they're rarely as effective or efficient as a dedicated filter, oscillator, gate delay, and so on, and your simple AD envelope isn't going to become a filter without repatching (or creating an extensive, potentially very expensive, megapatch... but expensive megapatches are all too possible in Serge land!) - and that's why those other modules exist. This is not to say that they're bereft of value, and it's a lot of fun to have these creative building blocks, but I think it's good to set expectations. And of course, YMMV, just like everyone else's.

BugBrand was mentioned before, and that's a fantastic option. Read the manual for the SynthVoice and you'll see that, while the designs are very different, Tom has some similar ideas with respect to patching - he explains how to make a ring modulator with the dual mixer panel, or a lag processor (or instant-attack, variable decay envelope) with the left-side of the dual filter module. This is cracking stuff, and it sounds fantastic. I bought a SynthVoice a few years ago to expand on my nascent Serge system - the entire thing was denser and way cheaper than any pair of STS m-class panels - but it's grown into a system in its own right, and I'm way into its portability, power and Tom's overall good vibes.

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