This week we are turning our Spotlight towards our Sgt. Voltor! He grew up in Waukegan Illinois, the oldest of two kids. They moved to Gurnee IL. in 1991, but he moved back to Waukegan a couple years ago. He works at the James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center as an LPN on the psych ward.
Sgt. Voltor when did you join TSU?
I found out about the TSU while searching for steampunk stuff on Google. This was 2008, or so. I didn’t sign up to be a Toy Soldier until 2009, though. TS29176 reporting! I stayed for the friends I made and continue to make. I love being a Toy Soldier!
So what got you interested in electronic modification/creation?
I took electronics classes in high school and college. I have always been fascinated by circuitry and everything that goes along with it. I always found it fascinating how components move voltage around in a circuit and make something that is fully functional. I was heavily influenced by Dr. Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog analog synthesizer, as well as the work of Edison and Tesla. My electronics background actually started at the age of 5 when I took apart my first car stereo. I was building and fixing electronics starting in seventh grade, when I was an A/V assistant in the school library, fixing record players and setting up 16mm film projectors, because I was the only student in a school of 400 to know how those work.
What kinds of things do you make/modify?
I not only make and modify things, but I also repair broken VCR’s, radios/stereos and televisions. Things I make are mostly circuits that others have designed, then I put that circuitry in a housing I’ve designed myself. I prefer the steampunk aesthetic, so my designs can get very costly very quickly, seeing as how quality components and old components can be very expensive. The perfect example of that is my 10 step analog sequencer. I could have bought the kit for much less than I paid for steampunk components like switches, knobs, and decoration. Right now I’m building mostly synthesizer components for my ever changing synthesizer rig. The Light Box is kind of a break from that.
Where do you get the parts you use from?
Parts, right…I either salvage them from old TV’s, stereos, VCR’s, etc. or I buy them new from science supply stores, Amazon, hardware stores, specialty websites like MFOS or PAiA, as well as Chester Electronics (a local electronics boutique larger than Radio Shack). The awesome thing about Chester’s is that it’s owned and operated by a guy who helped build the first electronic computer in the 1940’s, and he carries all kinds of stuff, from the mundane to the impossible to find anywhere else. He’s been in business for 50+ years, and carries New Old Stock dating from the 1960’s through the early 90’s, as well as some newer stuff.
Is this a grand hobby or something you want to do for a living someday?
Grand hobby, yes. I tried to sell my stuff through TSU under Voltor Enterprises, but that kind of died, sadly. Part of the problem is that I don’t have the proper tools to make quality looking things. For example, the holes for the speakers in my Bass Cannon were cut using Dremel tools and a power drill. No jigsaw, you see. Even though it doesn’t look bad, it’s really rough around the edges. I’m happy with the way it turned out, but I would rather not sell that low of quality product. I don’t think it would be fun if I had to do it day in and day out, either. Electronics are an amazingly fun time killer, but would I do it for a paycheck and be happy? Probably not.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on a few projects. The biggest one is my steampunk Synthesizers.com modular. I’ve been working on it for the better part of four years. It’s a 32 space modular synthesizer with a red velvet covering and brass accents. It has a MIDI to CV converter I built myself, a steampunk style transparent bronze multiple module I also built, and some custom bits made by Kevin Lightner. I’m also making the cables for it…really big project. I’m also working on my Light Box and 10 step sequencer.
If someone wanted to get into creating electronic things like you do. Where is a good place to start?
The library. Read all the books you can…start with the books that are 30-40 years old, so that you are able to get a good idea of how electricity flows through a circuit. The old books are awesome for learning the basics of transistors, capacitors, resistors, diodes, etc. They don’t teach that stuff much anymore, and without that knowledge, you can’t effectively create your own designs. An op amp from 1970 works the same way as an op amp from 2010, just not as well. Learn the basics, and go from there. College courses on DC Fundamentals, AC Fundamentals, and instrumentation as well as algebra help, too. There’s some very basic trigonometry involved, but the old books will teach you that. Practice soldering…A LOT. Buy a dual heat Weller, or two soldering irons: a 40W and a 90-120W. Know what type of iron to use when and ALWAYS use 60/40 lead solder and a 40W iron, unless you are working on a high voltage circuit…use low lead or lead free solder and a hot iron for that. Also get a good multimeter…expect to spend $200 on tools when you first start. Screwdrivers, socket wrenches, wire cutters and strippers, stuff like that, you can get at Radio Shack to start with. Most of all, HAVE FUN!
Thank you so much for this interview Voltor! It was great finding out more about you and your craft! *salutes*
If you would like to check out some of Sgt. Voltor’s work here are the links:
Voltor’s Flicker album
Voltor’s Light Box video on Vimeo