1. Overview
  2. Installation
  3. Controls
  4. Usage in Ableton
    1. Plugin Window
    2. Saving Presets
    3. Recording Automation

Abacusynth: User Guide

This page details how to use the Abacusynth plugin by Elias Jarzombek

Download it here

Found a bug or have questions/comments? Please send me an email at ejarz[at]pm[dot]me, or find me on Twitter or Instagram -- Thanks!


The Abacusynth is a polyphonic synthesizer plugin for Ableton Live. It employs a combination of additive and subtractive synthesis, where you create the sound by adding and filtering oscillators, as represented by shapes in the interface.

The plugin window
The plugin inside Ableton's device view


Ableton User Library

To get started you can simply drag the Abacusynth.amxd file into Ableton Live. Ideally you will also want to save it to your User Library. To do this right click on "User Library" in the Ableton sidebar and select "Show in Finder/Explorer". If you don't already have a folder there for Max Devices, you can create one and place Abacusynth.amxd inside.


Interface overview

Build your synth sound by placing shapes on the rods and manipulating them. The shape type corresponds to its waveform, the rods represent harmonics, and the horizontal placement controls a low-pass filter.


Center panel

When the plugin loads it will default to one of the built-in presets. You can load a different one using the dropdown menu, press "Reset" to clear all shapes, or press "Randomize" to generate a random arrangement. The oscilloscope shows the synth's output.


Shape buttons

The shape buttons allow you to change which shape you are placing on the above rods. Each shape you add represents an oscillator, and the type represents its waveform:

  1. circle = sine wave
  2. square = square wave
  3. equilateral triangle = triangle wave
  4. right triangle = sawtooth wave


Click to place a shape on a rod. Double click to delete it.

Click to Play/Pause. Hover to unmute.

Moving a shape up or down changes the oscillator's harmonic, so shapes on the lowest rod will oscillate at the fundamental frequency, those on the second rod will oscillate at twice the fundamental, etc.

Moving a shape left or right on the rod adjusts the cutoff frequency of a low pass filter so shapes on the left sound "darker" and shapes on the right sound "brighter". This effect reflected in the UI by displaying the rods as a gradient from dark to light.


Hold SHIFT while dragging to control a shape's volume (size) and stereo pan effect (rotation).

SHIFT+Drag up to increase volume, down to decrease.

SHIFT+Drag right to increase auto pan, left to decrease (Most noticeable in headphones)


Hold CMD while dragging to adjust a shape's vibrato, as represented by a ruler of varying length.

CMD+Drag right to increase vibrato depth, left to decrease.

CMD+Drag up to increase vibrator rate, down to decrease.

Usage in Ableton

Managing the Plugin Window

You can use the tab control on the device to control the plugin window. "Auto" means the plugin window will open when the track is selected, "Close" will keep it closed when switching tracks, and "Open" will keep it open.

Saving Presets

The device allows you to load several pre-installed presets. If you would like to save your own, you can use the built in Ableton Preset system. Click the save icon in the top right of the device to do this.

Recording Automation

All UI changes can be recorded as automation. You can record them live or edit the automation by clicking the "Edit Automation" button which will show the editable parameters. For each parameter, Right click to show the automation (or select from the track dropdown).

Click "Edit Automation" to toggle the automation view

Changes to the ADSR envelope are also recorded as automation, however they must be accessed through the main plugin window.