[Richard] recently rediscovered some files from a hack he did back in 2004. He was experimenting with exciting piano strings via electromagnetic fields. The idea shares some elements with the self tuning piano we saw back in 2012. Piano strings, much like guitar strings, are made of steel alloys. This means they create electricity when vibrated in a magnetic field. This is the basic principle upon which electric guitar pickups are built. The idea also works in reverse. The strings will vibrate in response to a modulated electromagnetic field. Anyone who has seen an E-bow knows how this can be applied to the guitar. What about the piano?
[Richard] started with the Casio CZ-101, a classic synth in its own right. The Casio’s output was run through a Peavy 100 watt amplifier. The amplified output was then used to drive custom coils mounted on a piano. The coils had to be custom wound to ensure they would be compatible with the 4 – 8 ohm impedance expected by the amplifier. [Richard] ended up winding the coils to 28 ohms. Six of these coils in parallel put him just over the 4 ohm mark. The coils effectively turned the piano into a giant speaker for the synth. In [Richard’s] write-up (word doc link) he mentions that the strings basically act as a giant comb filter, each resonating strongly in response to frequencies in its harmonic series.
The results are rather interesting. The slow attack of the magnetic fields coupled with the synth’s patch results in a surprising variety of sound. The three examples on [Richard’s] blog vary from sounding like a power chord on a guitar to something we’d expect to find in an early horror movie. We would love to see this idea expanded upon. More efficient coils, and more coils in general would add to the effect. The coils on various string groups could also be switched in and out of the system using MIDI control, allowing for even more flexibility.