The control panels are a major part of the synth, and it’s difficult to test the electronics all together, without having the panels available to hold all the controls and matrix.
Having attempted to make some smaller panels for other projects, I decided if a professional look is needed – my metalworking skills are just not up to the job. At an early stage decided to have the panels made by Shaeffer AG. They offer a top-quality product, and service is pretty good too. I have had smaller panels etched in the past. However, this is the first time I had graphics ‘printed’ and anodised onto the panels. Anyway, they turned out extremely well.
Yves Usson for his putative VCS3 clone created some panel drawings available on his site as PDFs. I used the upper panel as a model, as well as working from photographs.
Aside from the Sample and Hold, I am not adding any other modules to the synth – and wanted to keep the lower panel much the same as the original, it made sense to put the Sample and Hold controls on the upper panel, and relegate the output filters to the lower panel to be with the other output controls.
The panels are slightly smaller than the originals – my upper panel is 400mm wide, by 300mm tall. The lower panel is 400mm wide, by 265mm tall.
It was also necessary from an early stage to work out what signals and controls are available at the matrix – this was the first graphic element I created.
I used Inkscape for the panels – creating the graphic elements and cutting holes, and while designing the panels elements which showed the size of the controls, to make sure that text wouldn’t be obscured. Also it was necessary to print out draft versions, and overlay the controls – just to make sure everything fitted OK, and to find typos.
It’s necessary to be precise with measurements for the graphic elements and holes – referring to component datasheets and measuring the component in your hand. I found a discrepancy with the panel meter’s datasheet and physical item.
For the cutting template, Shaeffer require files in the format created by their Front Panel Designer software. I manually transcribed the cutting holes over – but subsequently found it may be possible to export a .dxf from Inkscape and load it as a custom shape – but got some errors when subsequently tried it. It’s possible to export SVG from Front Panel Designer, and to load it as a separate layer in Inkscape. I checked the layout this way.
The rear panel, with input and output jacks and the IEC power socket was designed wholly in Front Panel Designer, using etched text. This departs from the VCS3 design, in that I am using 3.5mm jacks, and have a 50 way Centronics socket for the matrix breakout.
Anyway – here are the Inkscape drawings for my panels. Some of the graphical elements may be useful if you’re creating your own: inkscape panels
Use Inkscape’s layers tool at the bottom of the screen to select, show and hide the various layers.
And the Front Panel Designer fpd files: fpd panels
Please note, the cutting template is designed for P260P potentiometers, Beckman (BI) Duodials and a Monacor panel meter. The panels are also not the exact sizes of those on the original VCS3.
Ordering the Panels
You can’t order ‘printed’ graphical panels through the Shaeffer website – it’s necessary to send them an email with the PDF and FPD files for a quote. Their initial quote to me didn’t include the graphics – which nearly doubles the price per printed panel. My panels are on 2.5mm anodised aluminium, with crisp graphics aligned perfectly with the holes. Total price for the three panels (two printed large, one smaller, engraved) was about €280 delivered by UPS.
Everything fitted perfectly, although I made the holes for the joystick screws a bit too small – so they had to be made slightly larger.