Very Close… Added Sequencer Display, Firmware Updates via USB, Silicon Caps for the Benders, Knobcon, and Whats Next

First off, ever heard of the Ninety-ninety rule?


“The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

— Tom Cargill, Bell Labs

It is a jokingly humorous saying amongst software developers which can also be so very, very real 😅. Getting the DEGREE to the finish line has been a real grind…

OK I am done complaining, now onto some updates:

Sequencer Tracking / Display

Yeah, this changed the look of things a little bit… but super necessary.

I have been pondering how to do this for a really long time now - ever since I wrote the code to record touch sequences and play them back in real time. Prior to this design decision, the sequence progress was getting displayed through an alternate UI by holding down the SEQ LENGTH button, which would then illuminate the channel LEDs based on sequence length for each channel. It was a crafty solution given what I had available in those early prototypes, but IMHO a sequencer should have constant visual feedback - so having the sequence length and sequence position hidden behind an alternative UI was lame and really confused the performance aspect of this thing 👎.

So now, via the increasingly popular “led-through-the-panel” effect (originally adapted by Make Noise?), the DEGREE has a grid of 64 LEDs (16 per channel) which only illuminate when a channel is playing back a sequence. If there is no sequence being played back, they kind of just go away... You can still obviously see the tiny remnants on the panel where the LEDs shine through, but I find this approach provides minimal visual distractions from what is important (the touch pads) while giving a clear indication of each channels sequencer state.

Touch Plates Have Arrived 🛬

Deciding which material to manufacture the touch plates out of is something my wallet and I wrestled with for a while. I had samples made up of gold-plated aluminum, ENIG aluminum, anodized aluminum, ENIG copper, and pure brass, all of which could have worked for the design.

I ended up going with with Pure Brass. Not only does it look really cool and “steampunky”, but it is one of the few metals that is both bondable via solder as well as resistant to corrosion.

That being said, in order to maintain the the aforementioned requirements, I had to avoid any type of surface treatment to the brass. What this means is, due to the oxidization properties of brass, if you want the touch pads to shine bright gold you will probably need to polish them up every once in a while.

I have had DEGREE prototypes with brass touch plates installed for over two years now and the touch plates have certainly showed signs of oxidation, but the oxidation is minimal. To be honest it could very well just be dirt left from my fingers, as it rubs off quite easily.

It will be more of a personal preference to shine them up or not. I like the way mine have slightly changed colour from the oxidation, but maybe you don’t, idk.

All that being said, the final manufactured touch plates that arrived last week had the machining rings removed from the top which gave them a real nice golden glow. More golden than I envisioned, but not complaining.

Better LEDs


I couldn’t find an LED manufacturer via Digikey or Mouser that provided a “White 3mm flat-top through-hole LED”… All the previous prototypes used a round domed LED shape which never really fit snug with the Touch Pads. This worried me for a while because dirt from your fingers and/or the environment could eventually get lodged between the LED and the inner-cavity of the Touch Plates and would be pretty difficult to clean.

I finally found a manufacturer out of China which sells the 3mm flat top LED I desire, so that was a nice win. The LEDs now sit just a hair below the top of the touch pads, flush with the inner chamfer.

Silicon Caps for the Benders

I don’t know what was harder 🤔. Designing the actually Bender component or designing the stupid caps that go on top of the bender component 🤦‍♂️.

Regardless, after spending a ton of money on a mould just to get 3 samples made up (I ordered 20 so I would at least have 4 for my prototype, but I guess the manufacturer just… felt like making only 3? 🤷‍♂️) they came out OK.

They are friction fit, and have a really nice matte texture to them.

Kind of addicting to touch.

As you can see, I left a whole near the top of the bender in case anyone wants to get fancy and make their own caps.

USB Firmware Updates

Ideally no firmware updates are needed, but I will feel a lot better shipping the DEGREE with a micro USB adapter just in case I happen to miss some fantastic feature or whatever… I haven’t done the programming yet, but essentially you will be able to plug in any regular old USB cable from your computer to the underside of the DEGREE and drag-and-drop an “.elf” file from your desktop to the USB mounted device (the DEGREE).


Whats Next?

The only thing left to be manufactured are the bender components. I unfortunately had to switch manufacturers for these at the very last minute. It was not an easy decision, but after receiving sample after sample of questionable quality I felt that the risk of shipping faulty components was way too high, and would only delay things further.

I am working with a much more capable manufacturer now which I have a lot of confidence in. It would be nice if they were manufactured in the next 30 days, but who knows at this point. Hopefully not much longer than that.


*** My target right now is to ship all the pre-order units by the end of October.

PS. I Got a Booth @ Knobcon

I figured it is time to probably show this thing off a bit, so I impulse got a booth at Knobcon 2021. For anyone interested in hanging out with me and the DEGREE + an amazing line-up of actually established synth makers 😅 - Knobcon takes place in Chicago the weekend of Sept. 10th - 12th.

I will be just sitting there I guess ahah. So come hang out!

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