OK...I've written a few of these educational essays about why you might want to get into modular, the best ways to do this, what a typical build consists of, and so on. But this time out, I really would like to make some points about why a user should NOT get into modular synthesizers.

Of course, there's some very obvious points off the top, such as not having sufficient capital to sustain a build, not having a basic knowledge of how synthesis works, and the like. But there's actually some value in explaining a lot of these “disqualifiers”, and how you as a prospective user might fit into their various categories and thereby avoid a lot of headache and pointless spending. If you fall into any of the following categories of users, then modular is NOT what you're looking for.

1) “I need lots of presets!” No. You're utterly screwed on this one. While there are certain modules that can store preset states, and there's certainly the example of the Buchla 200e and its storage/recall abilities, the core principle of modular architecture involves making extensive manual patches. So, even if you had full setting recall, getting just one patchcord out of place will render that preset capability pointless to varying degrees. Modular is NOT for the preset crowd that's looking for loads of factory patches, and it's NOT for anyone who has any trepidation about sound design. Modular is for explorers, individualists, people seeking new and different ways of pushing a creative envelope. There will be no piles of presets out there for this, so if you need your hand held where patch creation is concerned or if you're unwilling/incapable of learning the ins and outs of creating them from scratch in whatever architecture your own build gives you to work with, you really shouldn't be thinking about going modular.

2) “I don't know how this works, but lots of cool people have modulars!” ...and you will also notice that those cool people know what they're doing with them, for the most part. True, there are a few electronic musicians with more money than sense who have their twistenknobs und blinkenlichts as stage props, but these people aren't going to be the ones anyone will be listening to in a decade's time...if even a year's. DO NOT get a modular synth and expect that you will be buying a ticket to instant cool. Like anything else in music, no amount of windowdressing will disguise your lack of capability in the long run. This is sort of the inverse of the unprofessional dumbshit behavior of blaming the equipment for your failure of talent, and it will work just as badly as that moronic blameshifting tactic will.

3) “Lots of people are getting into modular!” This is sorta-kinda true...but only sorta-kinda. It might seem as if the whole electronic music world is going bonkers for knobs'n'wires these days. But keep in mind that, back in the mid-1980s, everyone thought that digital synths with only one or two programming interface controls were the shit. The fact that a lot of people are “getting into modular” has more to do with fashion and trends, and not quite so much to do with music. People always gravitate toward what they think is the newer/shinier/faster thing, even if doing so doesn't make a helluva lot of sense in the long run. If modular fits your idea of where you want to go musically, then sure, dive on in. But if you haven't thought that idea out carefully yet, you might want to consider something a lot simpler first, then hit the inherent limitations of that and by doing so, come to comprehend what the user-definability of modular is for.

4) Polyphony. Remember what I said above about “more money than sense”? Modular synthesizers are notoriously NOT polyphonic. This isn't to say that you can't do that, though...because you can. But it's utterly insane. Consider a present-day polysynth, such as the Moog One. So...each voice on that synth has three VCOs, two VCFs, three EGs, a ring modulator, a source mixer, a stereo VCA, and we've not even gotten into the LFOs, the sequencer/arpeggiator, the controller and its layer/split capabilities, and the effects processing, plus MIDI and a whole bunch of other crap I'm forgetting at the moment. $8k ets you sixteen of these voices, plus the aforementioned crap. This comes out to FORTY-EIGHT VCOs and EGs, THIRTY-TWO VCFs, SIXTEEN VCAs and mixers, and so on. If you thought eight grand was spendy, try adding all of the above up on ModularGrid. Now try cramming it into the same space as the Moog One (not happening). Then try and apply a recall/storage system...which, as I noted earlier, you really can't, so each new patch will require retweaking all of those individual modules and changing bushels of patchcables. Utterly...insane. But you CAN DO IT...if you've lost your damn mind already or are looking to do so in the near future, and you also own an investment bank.

5) “I don't know where I want to go with my music, but modular will help me define that!” No...no, it won't. Nor will any other piece of equipment you happen to be able to afford (see #2 above). And in all truth, modular will wind up frustrating you even more as a musician if you don't have a clear vision for your work. It offers near-limitless sonic possibilities, but if you've not developed a sense of direction and the discipline needed to follow that direction, having the ultimate sonic sandbox at your disposal is just going to screw you up. When you look more closely at music and those who make it successfully, you're more apt to see people who work within defined limitations, either by chance or choice. So until and unless you've gotten used to the idea of having musical limits and staying in an artistically-successful comfort zone in those, introducing a limitless device into your environment will probably result in something more disastrous than revelatory.

6) And lastly, “I haven't researched this, but I want/need one.” No. Do the research first. It is what sites like ModularGrid (and many others) exist for. Ask dumb questions, because when we're talking about the possibility of dropping thousands of moneys on hardware over longish periods of time, there are ultimately no dumb questions. And whenever you're contemplating the purchase of gear, whether that's a stompbox or a Steinway, there are two main questions you need to be able to honestly answer of yourself: “Does this purchase make musical sense?” and “Is this the most effective way of accomplishing that musical goal?” If you cannot formulate an answer to BOTH of these questions each time you consider some new device, then DON'T BUY IT. The inability to answer those key questions is the indicator that you've not done your research up to the level of information where you understand the point of your decision. Until you can come up with those two answers, don't even think about whipping out the Magic Plastic.

Basically, it's not a simple decision to dive headlong into the modular synth world. Hopefully the above points will help some of you reading this to get a better idea...for yourself, by doing your homework...of what this sort of equipment and its working paradigm can do, and to avoid making costly mistakes that'll have you kicking yourself for quite some time afterward.


Great post. Great post indeed.

Can I add a seventh comment:

7) Time. Like with any instrument, it takes time... a shitload of time to get good at it. Every module you add is another layer of complexity. In order to get the most out of your set-up, you'll have to dive DEEP into every module, even the simplistic ones. You'll have to create a TON of test patches to get a feel for different attributes. The more complex the module, the more time you'll invest. Even if you have years of experience with software synths or polyphonic synths, you're still going to have to put in a ton of work.


Great post Luigia.

Reading this 6 months ago before I dove in might just have deterred me, not that I have regrets per se. #5 hits hard.


5 "No...no, it won't. Nor will any other piece of equipment you happen to be able to afford (see #2 above). And in all truth, modular will wind up frustrating you even more as a musician if you don't have a clear vision for your work."

I wish I had read this years ago. I would highly suggest to those who are in financial straights to steer clear of modular altogether.

Five years will go by, and you will have sacrificed many important things in your life to spent thousands of dollars on a modular rack.

When things hit rock bottom, you will realize that you are not special or talented in the realm of music, no matter how beautiful you personally think that patch is.

The truth is that your work is just mediocre, like most things modular, honestly. It hurts to admit that to yourself, but sometimes we have to accept facts that will help us become better in this world as opposed to fantasies that will only destroy us.

If you can afford to purchase a new car every year and not worry about it, feel free to get into modular. If you barely make ends meet, stay away from modular. You will be better off throwing your cash into a fucking bonfire, because at least if you did that, it would be something people would talk about and remember for a little while, unlike your eurorack based music.

And then one day you'll find
Ten years have gone behind you

Don't make the same mistake I made. It doesn't matter how much you love music. Not everybody should be a part of it. Don't waste your life away chasing something you have no business being a part of.

Save your money. Become financially responsible. Live life and experience the great things this world has to share. Make and keep good friends. Spread love. Having a modular by itself will bring you none of these things.


But its OK to do if...?

You simply enjoy it.
You like the experimentation.
You occasionally make something that sounds good.
You can cope that you can never get back to that ace patch you did a while back.
You sell other things in your life that you don't use to fund your modular.
You can cope with not buying everything at once.
....and you don't have to be good at something to enjoy it.


But its OK to do if...?

You simply enjoy it.
You like the experimentation.
You occasionally make something that sounds good.
You can cope that you can never get back to that ace patch you did a while back.
You sell other things in your life that you don't use to fund your modular.
You can cope with not buying everything at once.
....and you don't have to be good at something to enjoy it.
-- wishbonebrewery
Yep!



I'll add that not only does it take time to learn, it takes time to figure out HOW to learn. When I started, I was completely frustrated because dammit, it took forever to find a quick resource re: how to make a simple patch. And even once I found it, I quickly realized that the wonderful semi-modular I bought didn't teach me much about what was happening under the hood...because I couldn't see the connections! Over time, I found my "teachers." The select handful of people whose Patreons and YouTube pages I subscribed to and who, through the process of my listening to literally everything they put out and learning through osmosis and practice, have taught me how to get going with modular. There is no beginners book that says "Ok, step one. Patch this from here to here. Now do this. Now this." etc. etc.

In other words, it's not enough to set aside time to learn. You have to set aside an enormous amount of time to learn HOW to learn.

And this is a language no different than English, Spanish, or Japanese. Be prepared to watch/listen to videos you don't understand. Look up words you don't know. Attenuverter?! You'll have to look that up. Ring modulation? Same. It takes time to learn a language. BE PREPARED FOR THIS.


I was big into photography once.
I did a LOT of research into what to buy.
I learned that that my needs would not be met with buying 7000 dollars of
camera bodies and lenses. What if I spent six months or two years and did
NO photography? I ended up with a good Prosumer camera that I still love
but can put down with no guilt.

If your that person. Modular is not for you.

If you decide that your modular is a Spiritual Ham Radio and are going to use
it on a daily basis? Buy in hard and deep. If not, get a Neutron maybe?


Ahem.. speak for yourself, I think my modular music is excellent hehehe

I did enjoy reading, thank you!!

My take on it is simple, if you can afford it and you have an itch to scratch, then do it - and I wish you good luck!!

If you can't afford it, then don't, and get VCVRack installed on your computer instead - seriously that whole world of awesomeness is not exactly the same, but it is damn close and getting better all the time e.g. MI Ripples emulated recently - WOW!!

I am taking commissions for synth builds. UK ONLY for now. DM for details :)

You can find my modular synth album here https://kel-audio.bandcamp.com - enjoy!


Brilliant caution to newbies. I recommend the book Patch & Tweak as well as using the free software VCV Rack before spending a penny on modular gear. For me, I learned subtractive synthesis on Moog Sub 37 which I still own and love and moved into DAWs with Ableton Push and software VSTs then Elektron gear for live performances. Now been using those and west coast Make Noise 0-coast to experiment with patching. Several years later since then, I am looking into building a basic modular rig for sound exploration and creating weird background sounds to supplement my studio.


I completely agree with just about all of this except #5. I think modular is absolutely stellar if you have don't have a clear direction or idea of what you want to do musically specifically BECAUSE it is a sandbox. The caveat to that, of course, is that one must be comfortable with experimentation. Maybe that's what you mean by having a developed direction, I am not sure, but modular is definitely not for you if experimentation is not something that appeals. Besides, how does one develop or come to recognize limitations without experimentation? Modular, to me, is one of the most suitable milieus for this.

Yes, it is expensive, but, as you say, with a little research one can learn synth basics and start small, and let the system grow organically along with one's musical/artistic direction. A professional-level bass or guitar, amp, and minimal pedalboard can add up to several thousand dollars. If you're a drummer you know how much a good set can cost, especially when add quality cases. As an upright bassist, I can assure you that quality student-level instruments can routinely cost upwards of $5k. So, put into context, modular isn't actually that expensive unless, as mentioned, you want to replicate a Moog One. Which I would agree is utterly insane.

Inscrumental music for prickly pears.


Agree it is a sandbox and learning fun too. One reason I want to build a setup is to explore the lego building blocks of synthesis- VCA, VCF, VCO, EG and so forth. Plus unique sounds. No presets so complete freedom. The challenge is so many modules so research the tones and features is time consuming.


The thing about that sandbox metaphor is that you can do literally ANYTHING in a "sandbox"...but that carries with it the problem of "what do you create in this totally-open environment?" And without a sense of discipline and a suitable background, the likely things that'll be created will be "bleeps", "blips", "drones" and/or "nothing". So the failings there aren't with the tools...but the user, which is sort of the corollary to another maxim: "Equipment doesn't create success...success is up to the musician alone".

And believe me, it is VERY easy to get lost in modular patchwork to a point where you've lost any creative momentum that might've been present before you busted out the patchcables. This gets right back to self-discipline and technical/musical knowledge, both of which I think are essential to cultivate before stepping into modular for that exact reason. Not saying that you need a music degree and all of that, but if you intend to pour several grand into a modular, you need to know why you think you need one in the first place. And that means that, yes, you know your work well enough to say where it needs to go AND you know the gamut of tools for that work well enough to make ample use of one. Otherwise...well, it's worth knowing what depth of the pool you're jumping into, as you don't want to swan-dive into the wading end, nor do you want to casually hop into the deep end and expect that bottom to be right there...when it's NOT. Most people know what to do in that situation...but when confronted with the "modular or not?" choice, the default seems to be to start chucking attractive (and expensive) modules into a box. And to quote Rocky J. Squirrel, "That trick never works!"


This is why I started my journey very slow and easy with a semi modular Make Noise 0-coast and the free software VCV Rack. Learning the basics at low to no cost and ability try try hundreds of modules and patterns at home is wonderful so when I do buy a case/power and modules, I know what I will actually need without going bankrupt. I think a lot of folks end up with cases and thousands of dollars wasted because they did not grasp that fundamental point.


I think some of this convo ignores that people mostly get into modular cause it's cool and fun. I have aspirations to actually make music with my gear but I kind of think most people just want to make noise for themselves, or that they're at least happy with that, and hell if nothing I make ever gets any attention I'd still be fine with it, I'm having a blast, and in ways I never did with digital. The only real question from my POV is "Can you afford it?" and if so I say fire away. Just one noob's two cents...


I think some of this convo ignores that people mostly get into modular cause it's cool and fun. I have aspirations to actually make music with my gear but I kind of think most people just want to make noise for themselves, or that they're at least happy with that, and hell if nothing I make ever gets any attention I'd still be fine with it, I'm having a blast, and in ways I never did with digital. The only real question from my POV is "Can you afford it?" and if so I say fire away. Just one noob's two cents...
-- troux

I absolutely agree. One doesn't need to set out with the goal of becoming the next Subotnick or Ciani or EDM giant. You don't need to have any goal at all beyond wanting to check it out. There is an air of gatekeeping here that I don't think is necessarily intentional but is present nonetheless. Curiosity as a starting point should never be discouraged.

Furthermore, most of the artists I follow, and the few I know personally, pretty much universally agree that being in a place of discomfort, trying something new, is one of the keys to artistic growth - is one of the ways to know you're onto something. So, I think being in a sandbox with infinite possibilities is a great place to be. If you get frustrated, well, that's something different that could maybe be worked on outside of the context of music.

Inscrumental music for prickly pears.


All points are relevant besides it is next to impossible in this day and age to make a viable living just as a musician of any form and type. Most pro level musicians either end up teaching to pay bills or work day jobs as engineers, lawyers, doctors, plumbers or whatnot. I know super talented musicians both on guitar and also with synthesizers who are not connected to land huge paying gigs or residencies at big clubs that pay well and have to work day jobs. That is the reality that nobody wants to admit or talk about. Look at Youtube for example. Only a handful make any money off it. Yeah we have a few celebrities like DivKid and Andrew Huang and Loopop who make bank on modular for a living.

I have music training but I am just a hobbyist and use it to create weird sounds that may lead to a soundtrack to accompany my novel/screenplay that I am working on. I cannot afford to pay bands like Metallica or Infected Mushroom to use their music in the movie screenplay so I learn to do it myself. It is a fun journey but not cheap.


While I'd agree with most points, aren't people overthinking their music-making a little too much?
It makes the assumption that every musician's goal should be becoming successful or having some kind of mystical experience out of it...
I don't know, some of us just make music because it's our favourite thing to do in our spare time. I learned decades ago that my music is nothing special and is going nowhere, yet precisely because that wasn't my goal, I'm still at it 35 years later, and enjoying every minute of it. For the sake of it.
For the present I'm just getting some Eurorack modules to expand my DFAM explorations, but knowing myself I know I'll get deeper down the rabbit hole, but always within reason.
I'd say, yes be aware of your budget and measure how important things are to you, but don't overthink it. It's just a hobby like any other. If you lose interest after a while. Sell on and move on.


@Mazz
That's too healthy an attitude to get into modular. Sorry, mate! ;)

(Oh damn, this is a sticky thread! Should have contributed something more profound. Next time.)


I absolutely agree. One doesn't need to set out with the goal of becoming the next Subotnick or Ciani or EDM giant. You don't need to have any goal at all beyond wanting to check it out. There is an air of gatekeeping here that I don't think is necessarily intentional but is present nonetheless. Curiosity as a starting point should never be discouraged.

-- baltergeist

While I'd agree with most points, aren't people overthinking their music-making a little too much?
It makes the assumption that every musician's goal should be becoming successful or having some kind of mystical experience out of it...
I don't know, some of us just make music because it's our favourite thing to do in our spare time. I learned decades ago that my music is nothing special and is going nowhere, yet precisely because that wasn't my goal, I'm still at it 35 years later, and enjoying every minute of it. For the sake of it.
I'd say, yes be aware of your budget and measure how important things are to you, but don't overthink it. It's just a hobby like any other. If you lose interest after a while. Sell on and move on.
-- Mazz

I'm glad this thread popped up again because I remember reading last year and being put off by it. I think Mazz and baltergeist have it dead on - for most of us, modular and music making is a hobby. If it's enriching your life in some way and you can afford it, then go for it. You'll probably make mistakes, get frustrated, spend too much money, and make mediocre music, but if you enjoy the journey, I think it's time well spent.

I think Lugia's original post is a useful discussion on the limitations, misconceptions, and general pitfalls of modular. I think if this post was called "Things to be careful of before you start your modular journey" I wouldn't have such a problem with it, but unfortunately as it stands it reads a lot like "modular is very serious business and is for a certain type of musician". It seems to minimize the many different reasons one might take the modular plunge. I hope thats not the intent - I hope its just a veteran trying to compile and share their wisdom with the community they so obviously love. I certainly wouldn't be where I am without the thoughtful contributions and feedback from the more experienced folks around here!

I got into modular because one day the YouTube algorithm showed me Rings making beautiful sounds next to some succulents and I just HAD to learn everything about it. I had never thought much about synthesis, but as an engineer and hobby musician, I discovered that the modular world (especially patch programming and generative music) really scratches all sorts of itches I didn't even know I had. I jumped in and spent more money than my partner wanted, but it's been an incredibly rewarding journey.

Ultimately I think if you approach it like you would any hobby everything will be fine - do your research, have reasonable expectations, understand what you're investing into, and do it for yourself.


Right...the idea behind the original essay came from a period where everyone and their pet goldfish was WAAAAAY overhyped about modular for some gawdawful reason (probably YouTube-related), and I was trying to pour some icewater on that with a more realistic look at "why modular in the first place". And while I will say that it's best suited for a "...certain type of musician...", that musician in question is one who's gotten comfortable enough with their musical direction that they know what a bespoke system of their own design will allow them to accomplish. Oh...an EXPENSIVE bespoke system. That's important here.

See, this stuff's expensive. People routinely drop thousands on these boxes of circuitry. And just as routinely, you've got people who put these systems together then wonder WHYYYYYYYYYYYY it doesn't sound like the skiff they saw on [INSERT YOUTUBE INFLUENCER HERE]'s channel. And this goes right back to that inexperience. It's sort of like college: people think nothing of dropping tens of thousands on tuition, room, board, and books while, at the same time, coming into that future debt with ZERO idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives. And naturally, these people either have to figure themselves out PDQ, or they get a clue and get out...or they buy all the way in and get a degree that's about as useful as mudflaps in the Sahara.

"Ultimately I think if you approach it like you would any hobby everything will be fine - do your research, have reasonable expectations, understand what you're investing into, and do it for yourself." And I'm with you there. But I just insist that people really be sensible with this process, so I'm trying to get people to STOP and to THINK before they watch a few YT clips and then decide they're 999% SOLD on this without comprehending that there ARE pitfalls here. And sometimes, that takes a hella WHACK with the modular synth keisaku to snap people out of that mindset.


Well said Lugia,

I was fortunate to have friends with large modular setups that let me try them out and do lot of research and a small semi-modular before I dove in last year. Now I have lots of modular gear now and just scratching the surface. I can finally create some tracks and fun music on modular but it is a steeper learning curve and higher cost than say what I can do easily on an Elektron Analog 4 for example. That said- for experimental music and my goal of creating soundtrack stuff, it is perfect!


I would like to add:
- Productivity: a Modular is by far the least productive thing you want to use if you want to make music. You tend to get entangled while finding a sound or simply by patching. You may end up with something interesting, but it possibly is not what you wanted or needed for the composition you had in mind (if you had one).
- Especcially if you are not sure if you are an ADHS type of person, it could be problematic to have so many options directly in front of you.
- And you should think about how your workflow will change. You should get used to having one patch in one moment that will not persist. So you have to record it. The Octatrack will come in handy if you like to build up a set based on small pieces of audio. Or you want to record your composition straigt to a multi or 2-Track recorder.
Some people also try to integrate their modular system with their computer/DAW, but I think that is even more overhead that needs to be managed before making music and most people use a modular system to get away from the screen.


  • Productivity: a Modular is by far the least productive thing you want to use if you want to make music. You tend to get entangled while finding a sound or simply by patching. You may end up with something interesting, but it possibly is not what you wanted or needed for the composition you had in mind (if you had one).
    -- suomynona

Actually, this only seems to be a problem with people starting off in modular, while they still have more of a sense of exploration...which, frankly, is good. Modular synths allow for lots of that. But I wouldn't call any of this exploratory effort unproductive...rather, it's just the electronic equivalent of figuring out what all of the keys on a sax can allow you to play. But after several years of living with modular synth gear, it's actually QUITE easy to patch up what you need once you've got the instrument(s) sorted out...and exploration is the key to getting there.


I'd agree with this

If you only ever played a piano and try to pick up the guitar or trombone or whatever, there is a learning curve - and productivity will take a nose dive until at least a certain level of skill has been attained

the same with modular - it's like just like learning a new instrument - except this one is often constantly evolving