I recently picked up an Amazing Machines Miditribe mod kit for my Korg Monotribe. Now that this clever little machine can play with the others, I’m having a blast making all kinds of quirky little bass-lines with this thing. Midifiying the monotribe is an essential upgrade that really makes this machine the usable analog tool from Korg that you hoped it to be when you purchased it.
Installing the miditribe mod kit is a snap. The most basic implementation requiring just a clean surface and a phillips head screwdriver. However, base instructions leave you with a couple wires hanging out of the battery compartment, which is less than ideal if, like me, you already have a studio with enough wires and cables hanging about already. I decided to go the extra mile and drill holes into the case and mount the midi sockets directly into the housing. Here’s what you’ll need to do this:
First thing first, be sure to follow the instructions that came with the Miditribe kit. These steps are not a replacement for the well written instructions from Amazing Machines. These steps are intended to help someone that may be considering taking these instructions a step further by mounting the midi sockets directly to the monotribe casing. Just like the manual says, you will void your warranty.
1. Miditribe mod kit from Amazing Machines, needle nose pliers, phillips head screwdriver, household drill, stepped drill bit for drilling through metal, small drill bit for drilling through metal for screw holes, and a chalk pencil or something to mark the casing that you can wipe clean.
2. Remove the rubber feet, knobs (they just pop off), and screws on the bottom of the case. Carefully open the case and detach the speaker cable. After that remove all the screws attaching the two pcbs to the case. Since we’ll be drilling into the case, you want to be sure that all the electronic components are removed to ensure that they don’t get contaminated with dust or shavings. Also removing the pcbs will ensure you don’t accidentally hit them while drilling. Just be careful when handling the main pcb, the LEDs can easily pop out.
3. Determine where on the case you want the midi sockets to live. Mark the center and a few points on the outer circumference of where you plan on drilling. Be sure to mark both midi in & out so that you leave enough room on either side for each socket’s screw holes. Drill 2 5/8″ holes with your step drill bit into the casing.
4. Fit in your midisockets into their locations and mark the screw holes with the chalk pencil. Double check that the bit you are using to drill the holes is as wide as the holes on the jack and then drill the four holes for the screws. Be sure you clean the casing really well of any dust or shavings that might contaminate the electronics after you are done drilling.
5. Now we just have to put it all back together. If you put the midi sockets in the top left like many synths do these days, you’ll want to put the main pcb back first and then bolt down the midi jacks. You’ll need needle nose pliers to hold the bolt in place while you tighten them down because with the main pcb board installed, there’s very little room for fingers.
6. Bolt down the Amazing Machines midi board to the main pcb following the instructions in the kit and reattach the midi cables. Match the colors of the wires to the labels on the Amazing Machines midi board.
7. Attach the Amazing Machines midi board to the monotribe’s serial port. Take care to follow the wire color guidelines highlighted in the instructions — blue down, yellow up. Tuck the wires into the bottom of the case, attach the speaker cable and screw back down the secondary pcb.
8. Screw the case back together, reattach rubber feet, and put the knobs back on, you’ve now got a fully functioning midi synthesizer! Piece of cake!
Overall I’m pretty impressed with how useful this little box is now that it can speak midi. I was painlessly able to map all the controls to my midi controller and had nearly double the expressive possibilities with this synth using full size keys, the pitch and mod wheels and various controllers. Using Ableton live, sequencing this thing becomes a real joy. Acid type bass-lines scream out of this thing like banshees and retro computer type melodies are a snap. Using this machine in a more musical context also makes it more flexible with effects devices. Running a sequence that’s in key through a mooger fooger pedal for instance can provide something that’s really quite usable in a mix. Basically before the midi upgrade, most often I would only build a track around the monotron parts from scratch, where now I can find uses for it in an existing mix.
Unfortunately, there’s a couple downsides. The gate on the device can produce clicks and pops while in use. This is apparently a result of the monotribe’s design and not a fault of the midi upgrade. It’s not all that noticeable in mix unless you solo the instrument. You can also try using a multiband eq to cut out most of the pops as well. The other downside of the instrument is really just more of a general truth. I’m referring to how far the monotribe goes into make an affordable analog groove box, yet it could have gone just a little farther to become legend. Playing with this machine for a few months I’ve had a lot of fun with it, but it always just makes you realize that with just a little more engineering it could have been the TB303 of the modern era. If they fixed the gate issue, implemented cv/gate pitch control control, and added a variable Attack/Decay envelope it would be that instrument. Good news is, that Korg Japan has released an update that allows for cv/gate control which is an amazing feature add-on, but for now it’s only available on the Japanese website. I’ve been working with CV for quite sometime and can recommend it as a useful protocol for getting interesting results that are not as easy to achieve with midi. I’m looking forward to the idea of integrating CV on the monotribe with my other analogue gear, I’ll have to post an update when I’ve had a chance to try it out.
Amazing Machines really did us all a service for making this midi kit so easy to implement. Ordering is painless via their website and it arrived in about 7 business days. Located in Brazil, they also offer another interesting device to add onto the Korg mono series. It’s a specially designed feedback circuit for use with the filter input of your monotron/monotribe although the website mentions it can be used with any such device with a filter input. For more information, check out their website: www.amazingmachines.com.br.
All in all, this was a fun little project. It gives you a glimpse into the world of DIY, home-brewed mods, and there’s something entirely gratifying about solving manufacturer shortcomings with your studio gear. And of course, praise to Korg for making a unique sounding product that allows us all to connect with on this level. To me it makes synthesizers somewhat more human and I think that’s a good thing.
Finally, here’s the first track I made with the Monotribe with midi and as always it’s free to download. It’s a techno acid house track of sorts inspired by the Monotribe’s sound. There’s four tracks of Monotribe happening on this one. It’s really great to hear it playing well with all the other synths. Enjoy!
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For more information about the Korg Monotribe and various modifications:
Korg’s website: www.korg.com/monotribe
Korg Monotribe Schematics: www.korg.com/monotribeschematics
Sonicstate’s review of the Monotribe:
Sonicstate’s review of the Miditribe:
Monobot’s blog is full of other mod tips and ideas: www.monomodder.blogspot.com
This guy seems to sell drum mod kits among other things: www.monotribemods.blogspot.com