John Valentine
Surge sound design

Surge synth is a free and open source synth plug-in for AU and VST audio workstations. If it weren't free, it would still be among the best. It's versatile tool that can create a wide range of sounds.


The patches in Surge XT that I designed:



  • Cicada Forest
  • Fireworks - Bang And Fizzle
  • Fireworks - Launch
  • Fireworks - Screamers



Plucks & Guitars


  • Folky High Pipe*

Violin 2021

This patch simulates a string using the Karplus-Strong algorithm, excited by a bow, and supported by body resonances typical of a solo violin. It's responsive to the macro controllers that define the characteristics of the violin:

MacroMIDI CCNameDescription
141Bow speedAffects how often the bow slips and grips the string. Use a slow speed, along with Grit and Bow direction to add detail to the bowing action.
242Bow forceSet above zero to make a sound. 60% is good for a resonant note without introducing inharmonic sounds.
343Bridge muteDampens the sound. The lowest setting is unnaturally rich in high frequencies, but you might want to use this effect creatively.
444Bow directionExperimental: changes the tone of the sound.
545Finger vibratoManually modulate the pitch of the note, which also slightly affects the loudness of the sound
646Open stringExperimental: allows the note to resonate without finger damping.
747GritAdds the scraping sound of the bow before it settles into an even excitation of the string. Use for changes of bow direction or aggressive bowing.
848ReverbControls closeness and room ambience.

Typically, you'd configure and macros Bridge mute and Reverb once at the start of a performance, and adjust the others during the performance.

Configuration and playing hints

  1. The important controllers are Bow force and Finger vibrato. Introduce more emotion with Pitch bend, and embellish with playing mechanics with the other controllers.
  2. There is no vibrato control like you typically find on synth sound patches. When I developed this instrument, I found that a single vibrato control was a poor substitute for the range of expression that is possible by controlling Finger vibrato directly. Increase the modulation of pitch, if the current setting does not offer a wide enough vibrato range (0.3 semitones, a typical maximum for solo playing).
  3. Increase OSC1: Excitation to introduce the 'hollow body' inharmonic noise of very slow and gentle bowing.
  4. Use Pitch bend to slide between notes. Usual violin playing hints apply when doing this: reduce Bowing speed as required, if you don't want glissando to be prominent.
  5. Introduce Grit when changing bow direction or landing the bow on the string. This resonates through the bridge and body to give the characteristic mechanical noises that you hear during energetic solo performances.
  6. The FX section is configured for A (air), B (body), and a couple of other resonances of a violin. You can change these to give your violin the characteristics of a preferred orchestral violin or solo violin.

Demo 1: Massenet's Medetation from Taïse

Typically a grade 7 or 8 piece for solo violin, this demonstrates most of the controllers of the Violin 2021 patch. It also uses Grand Piano 2021 and Cello 2021, but Violin 2021 is given prominence.

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Cello 2021

The Cello is based on the violin, with some parameter tweaks to customize the sound. See Violin 2021, as the controllers are mostly the same.

Nylon Acoustic Guitar

The instrument can be played with some of the variations allowed by the physical original.

You can use multi-track techniques to isolate expression control of more than one string, or enable MPE in Surge and your DAW.

MacroMIDI CCNameDescription
141MuteLowers the high-frequency components of the guitar.
242Soft pluckSet low, this gives a hard pluck with sudden excitation of the string. Set high, this rubs the string with a finger pad as it is released, for a soft excitation.
343Play at bridgeWhen high, the sound is harsher with more high harmonics and body resonance for the pluck.
444BanjoIntroduces specific body resonances for the banjo drum, and decreases the ringout.
545Dual stringAdds a second string to the mix, which you can detune in the oscillator parameters.
848ReverbAdds a room ambience.

Demo 1: Cavatina

This is the start of Cavatina (Theme from the Deer Hunter) by Stanley Myers. It uses vibrato on the modulation wheel, with expressions of Soft pluck and velocity. The pitch wheel controls any transitions between frets.