I built these cases about a year ago, and as I’ve posted pictures of them in various social media forums, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about them. Here’s a loosely-detailed write-up of my process, what I learned while building them, and what I’d do differently next time. Unfortunately, I’ve lost some pictures of a few important steps, but hopefully this will still be useful to some.
Part 1 – Inspiration and Design
These cases were the 2nd and 3rd cases I’ve ever built. My first case was a 9U/104hp studio case in cherry (see picture in this article). It looked great and worked very well for my studio, but I felt like it gave me an excuse not to play out because it wasn’t easily portable. To push myself to make music in public, I decided to go with travel cases. I had recently purchased a DSI Prophet 6 synth too, and I wanted to build something that would match it aesthetically when set up in the studio. The Prophet has beautiful walnut side panels, and I chose to model my case after it.
Walnut is very expensive, so I decided to build the main box out of plywood and cover it in black Tolex (detailed in this article).
My next step was to draw up a plan in SketchUp. I wanted the cases to be able to stack on top of each other on a stand in the studio and have detachable lids that left enough room to travel with cables patched (more on that later).
One interesting design consideration was how to get power into the cases. I didn’t want to use up valuable hp for power, so I decided to mount a DC jack in the side of the case for external power bricks. I couldn’t place them on the back of the case because I wanted them to be able to stack on top of each other as shown above, so I decided to make a power-entry port in the walnut side panels (more details below).
Another design goal was not to have any screws showing in the walnut panels. To be honest, that complicated things a bit, and even the Prophet had screws showing, so I probably could have skipped that requirement. Live and learn!
Part 2 – Construction
With the design decisions made, I began construction. I constructed the main box out of high quality 1/2″ “Euro-birch” plywood joined with dowels and glue. I did a lot of research on the best way to join wood, and nails/screws into plywood didn’t seem like the strongest option.
Here are some shots of using a simple dowling rig I bought on Amazon and building up the boxes. Doweling is an art form, and I’m not going to say I did a great job, but the jig definitely made it easier.
Note that I built them as full boxes first and then cut them apart on a table saw. It’s much easier to get your top and bottom pieces to line up this way than if you build the top and bottom separately.
Next, I started on the walnut sides. I began by cutting out my blanks from 3/4″ black walnut and sanded them smooth:
For the power entry port, I used a router to cut a rectangular hole in the right-side panels. Being 3/4″ thick, I needed to mount a thinner panel for the power jack and switch instead of just cutting holes for them through the wood. I didn’t want the panel set all the way back 3/4″ in from the outside of the wood, so I made a slightly wider cutout at a depth of 1/4″ for the panel to sit in.
For routing, I made a template by gluing together strips of plywood I cut on a table saw to form the perfect size hole. I practiced on some cheap pine since this was my first time using a router:
For the power panel, I designed a simple template at Front Panel Express, and it arrived within a week or so. This wasn’t cheap, but I wanted an aluminum panel and didn’t have the tools to make clean cuts through it myself.
Here you can see the panels set into the cut-out. They’re only loosely fit at this point to make sure I got the cutout right before I started staining:
The next step was to stain the walnut panels. Since I wanted to match the DSI Prophet 6 exactly, I reached out to DSI on their forums to ask what kind of finish they used. They were very kind and gave me the exact formula! A simple coat of black walnut stain and some poly to protect it, and I had beautiful panels waiting to be mounted:
With the tops and bottoms covered in Tolex, all that was left was to mount the side panels. I bought a strip of 1″ aluminum angle from a local hardware store and cut it with a hacksaw. Since it was all going to be on the inside of the case, I didn’t bother making sure it was black or cut cleanly… it just needed to do the job. I measured and held them in place with tape so I could drill holes through both the aluminum and the side panels at the same time. This was actually a bit tricky, and I’d look for a different technique if I was going to do this again.
The previous pictures also show the rails, so I’ll explain that. I bought a 4-pack of 60″ Vector T-Struts from Mouser and cut them to length with a hacksaw and a miter box. Then I used 6U side brackets to mount them in. When all screwed together, this provided additional strength for holding the side panels on.
Next, I was ready to install the power boards. I started out mounting some Synthrotek Case Power boards that I had from my previous case, but then when I decided to sell that case, I put those boards back in the old case. For this case, I went with the Intellijel TPS80W. A couple of things I really like about those boards is that 1) they have 28 headers, which is great for a 126/6U case, and 2) they have soft-start to help avoid current inrush issues when turning the case on. I’ve never had a single issues with these bus boards, even with the cases fully loaded with power-hungry digital modules or clean-power-hungry analog modules.
Part 3 – Building a Stand
I made a simple wedge-shaped stand for these cases so they could stand upright on my studio desk. Nothing elaborate here… I ended up painting it black, but here are some shots of measuring it out and cutting it using a guide rail for a jigsaw, and the finished stand:
The Final Result
Well… not quite. I still needed to mount hardware on the outside of the case… rubber feet, handles, lift-off hinges, butterfly latches, etc. I don’t have great photos of the process, but you can see the hardware in the final result photos:
I learned quite a bit while building these cases. Would I build them the same way again? Probably not. Here are some raw thoughts about what I would change:
- Learning to use SketchUp (it’s free) and designing the cases first saved me a LOT of trouble. It’s well worth the time.
- I wouldn’t use Tolex. That stuff is super annoying to work with, and since I did this in the winter, the temperatures in my garage weren’t quite high enough for the glue to work properly. As a result, the Tolex is starting to peel from the inside and I’ve had to add staples to keep it in place (inside the case).
- Instead, I’d paint the cases with something like Duratex speaker cabinet coating.
- I wouldn’t mount the walnut side panels with L-brackets. Instead, I’d probably make the plywood box fully enclosed and then just screw the walnut panels to the plywood sides directly. This would weigh a bit more, but I think it would be much stronger. Now that I know how to use a router properly, I might also route out an 1/8″ inset at the top of the plywood sides for the rail side-brackets to sit in.
- I would make the case lids just a bit deeper. I can close these cases with a patch in place when using skinny cables, but it’s tight. I think a solid 2″ of clearance in the top lid would have been nice.
- 126hp is too wide to take on a flight. Food for thought.
- In the end, I didn’t save any money and actually spent a lot more if you count tools I purchased. But, I ended up with unique cases that are exactly what I wanted, learned a lot, and now have some handy tools too!
I hope you’ve found this useful and possibly inspiring if you’re thinking about building your own DIY Eurorack travel cases!