RIP Stanley Lunetta

I hate when this happens. I was just researching an article about synthesizers when I typed Stanley Lunetta’s name into google and got an obituary. He died last month at 79.

Who was Stanley Lunetta? He was a rare bird. He was the kind of guy I’ve tried to be- adventurous, open, always learning. He was a musician/percussionist in Sacramento, California. He taught percussion at UC Davis and Chico State. He played with Sacramento’s Music Circus for 54 years. He had his fingers in a lot of avant garde musical projects through his life but what put him on my radar was his work in sound sculpture and circuitry.

These were some earlier experiments.

When I started studying electronics it was with one goal in mind- to make an unholy racket. I had guitars and drums and keyboards to make pop music- I wanted to create something unique. I started off with Forrest Mimms’ Stepped Tone Generator, AKA the Atari Punk Console. It made fun sounds- as long as I twisted the knobs. I wanted something that would play itself. I tried mechanical and optical solutions to create the right balance between order and chaos. There were a lot of blind alleys and false starts. Then I found CMOS logic chips and the disciples of Stanley Lunetta.

As my electronics knowledge increased, so did my  confidence. I was ready to find electronic solutions for my self-playing synthesizer dreams. I bought a few CMOS CD4017BE Decade Counter ICs. This is a chip that turns a row of outputs on and off, one after the other, over and over again. If the outputs are connected to LEDs, they will flash in order repeatedly. I played around with this chip and started looking into more CMOS chips to try out when I found the Lunetta forum.

Here was a community of DIY music enthusiasts. They were building these crazy modular, open patch synthesizers using cheap CMOS chips and simple circuits. This idea was pioneered by a guy named Stanley Lunetta and some of his students decided to name this type of DIY synthesizer after him.

Lunettas use CMOS logic chips to create patterns and tones. CMOS chips are digital logic gates, the basic building blocks of computers and other digital devices. These individual chips are used in simple circuits that can be connected with jumper wires in different configurations. This allows for complex, evolving sounds- from melodies and rhythms to abstract soundscapes and avant garde noise. This open patch wiring set up also encourages exploration and experimentation- you don’t write a song with a Lunetta synth, you discover it.

My first Lunetta.

This was exactly what I was looking for! The cool thing about Lunetta synthesizers is that you can’t really buy one- you have to build it. This encourages custom designs and new innovations. ‘Lunetta’ also covers a wide range of ideas and concepts. Some folks limit themselves to CMOS chips, op amps and passive components. Others throw in Arduinos, analog filters, effects processors or even circuit bent Speak’nSpells. You can use quality banana jacks, brushed aluminum panels and professional panel labels or you can use old cigar boxes and recycled parts. It’s really accessible. I ordered some chips on Ebay and got busy. I’m still busy!

I’ve been improving and adding to my Lunetta synthesizer for a few years. It has over 40 modules that combine to create very complex musical patterns. I used this as a framework for my own electronics education, learning new skills as I needed them. Now I use CMOS based synth circuits to teach young people. The Lunetta modules are simple so they give early success while teaching the basics of electronics and circuit building.

So there it is- Stanley Lunetta was a musician and educator in Sacramento, California who lived an awesome life and was well liked by his peers and colleagues. He had a successful 60 year marriage. He left behind a list of experiences and accomplishments that anyone would be proud of. That makes him a good man.

He also shared an idea with some young people and sparked their imaginations. They took that idea and shared it again. That idea spread and grew and evolved into a community of folks sharing designs and ideas in creative ways. That makes him a great man.

RIP Stanley, thanks for the spark.

Here’s a recent track from my Lunetta and a drum machine.


One thought on “RIP Stanley Lunetta

  1. Jerry Pritchard says:

    Stan was an amazing musician. I played with him at Music Circus one summer and he held everything together in the pit, with flawless sense of time, dynamics, and color. Also, worked with Stan in the Sacramento Symphony and with the UC Davis New Music Ensemble. My first memory of him is his great ears: in music theory at Sacramento State University, where, when we were asked in Aural Skills class to write down the melody from a four-part piece being played, and Stan wrote down all four parts–in ink! And his turned me on to Spider Man.


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