Chiptune instrument from NES

[Jarek Lupinski] wanted an instrument that would let him play chiptunes live, without a need for pre-programming a cartridge for playback during a concert. His preferred hardware is an original Nintendo Entertainment System because of its familiar nostalgic sound. After picking up a lot of 5 broken NES units he set out to build a midi-compliant device.

The five NES units he bought had nothing wrong with them other than the 70-pin cartridge connector. He fixed them all, then de-populated the board on one and tried to build out a circuit on a breadboard. After much trial and error, forum searching, and conversations with others who were familiar with the hardware he got the circuit working. He’s posted a schematic and had a board fabricated which takes the transplanted chips and transforms them into an instrument. Check out the test notes being played by an Arduino Mega after the break.


  1. IX says:

    Gah! I was working on pretty much the same thing.

  2. embedded says:

    aha.. 2A03 Nintendo chip :)

  3. Dan says:

    A nice start, but I want to see the finished project back in the NES case. A good goal: MIDI-in right next to the mono audio-out with no other connections required. That’d almost be something you could sell to people…

  4. zool says:

    this is great news

    but i’m wondering why he would use the 2A03
    but then wants to make a cart with it?
    i thought it was going to be it’s own thing

    wonderings: if you can just make something like that that accepts midi
    or something like that where you can change the parameters of the sound
    do you have to use arduinomega

    i want to do this
    i’m glad he’s documenting everything and making it open source

  5. jarek says:

    i started with the 2A03 because the original idea was to stuff the entire thing into an electric keyboard to have a synthesizer you can play anywhere. It was only after discovering that 2A03 chips were scarce, and people don’t like tearing open their beloved NES’s that I decided to port it to a cart form factor.

    I only used an Arduino Mega for the proof of concept, the final will probably use an STM32 with multiplexers.

    Have fun! The underlying theory is really complex XD but with a bit of reading at you can figure it out too.

  6. blue carbuncle says:

    dejavu. I was at They have midilines but a possible 8 week wait lol. Neat item though.

  7. zool says:

    @jerek i remember seeing a high res image of the midines board somewhere
    i can’t remember where but i’ll keep looking
    dunno if it would help at all though

  8. P says:

    Time to combine this with my Midibox SID…

  9. R4 says:

    This is just great! While you can “emulate” a chip tune sounding instrument or istruments, there’s nothing quite like the real thing!! Hats off to you buddy!

  10. Conner says:

    It seems that the lower the pitch, the higher the distortion.

  11. TechnoirBard says:

    Would it be possible to use an NES Powerglove as the instrument keys for a chip-tune NES? I think that would be perfect. The Hexadecimal buttons and full nes pad, right on your arm. I love the Powerglove, it’s s… oh nevermind.

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