Create a Buzz with the Mini Electric Ukulele

Everyone’s heard of the “World’s Smallest Violin,” but we think it’s time for something more upbeat. [Simone Giertz] of Punch Through Design has created a mini electric ukulele using a LightBlue Bean. The Bean is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller that you can wirelessly program using Bluetooth low energy (BLE).

The ukulele’s frame is made of laser-cut plywood.  Four 1M ohm resistors are soldered to individual wire strings. A different set of wire strings in the ukulele’s neck are connected to the same ground as the Bean. In order to play this tiny instrument, a finger must be kept on the “ground” strings while the other “tone” strings are touched by a different finger. [Simone] uses Arduino’s Capacitive Sensing Library to determine which string is being touched and what the tone will be (indicated in Hz). A piezo buzzer provides the sound. There is no need to fret when the battery is depleted from using this at an all-night luau: the frame can be unscrewed with easy access to the battery. [Simone] has uploaded the Bean’s code to GitHub.

There’s no shame going solo, but we’d enjoy a show of dueling mini-ukuleles. A duet with the 3D-printed ukulele is always a possibility. Or, play this little guy while running up and down some piano stairs while the kettle fife blows off some steam.  It’ll be a musical way to brighten anyone’s day. Check out the video of the mini ukelele after the break. You can also see more of [Simone’s] work at her website.

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Light Up Component Bins and a Manual Pick and Place

[Mike] makes some very niche musical instruments, and the production volume he’s looking at means there isn’t a need to farm out his assembly. This means doing everything by hand, including the annoying task of picking resistors and other components out of bins. After searching for a way to speed up his assembly process, he came up with the Stuffomatic, a device that locates the correct component at the press of a button.

The normal way of grabbing a part when assembling is reading the reference on the board, cross referencing the value on the BOM, and digging the correct part out of the bin. To speed this up, [Mike] put LEDs in each of the part bins, connected to a Teensy 2.0 that has the BOM stored in memory. Clicking a foot switch looks up the next component and lights up the LED in the associated part bin.

[Mike] says this invention has speeded up his assembly time by about 30%, a significant amount if you’re looking at hours to assemble one unit.

If you’re wondering exactly what [Mike] is assembling, check this out. It’s heavily inspired by the Ondes Martenot, an electronic musical instrument that’s about as old as the theremin, but a million times cooler. Video sample below.

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Cassette Tape Hack Turns Scratching into Sliding

It’s common to see a DJ use a turntable as a musical instrument. Physically manipulating a record while its playing produces its own unique sound, but it takes some finesse and puts strain on the delicate workings of the player when you do it. With this in mind, [Jeremy Bell] has refreshed the notion of appropriating old technology to create new sound with his home-brewed scrubboard.

Making use of a cassette tape, [Jeremy] dissected samples from the reel and laid them out in horizontal strips over rails to hold their form. The pickup from the tape player has been hacked into a separate piece that glides smoothly over these rails, giving the user the ease of control. To produce the immediate cutting effect that is less easy to perform with his device than a record player, [Jeremy] created an on and off switch which is simply a close pin covered in foil that teeters over a metal contact (in this case a coin). The end product sounds exactly like scratching a record, but better because he’s doing it with hacker showmanship. One can only image the awesome potential for more elaborate setups having multiple tape samples and the like!

There are a few different videos of the scrubboard in use on [Jeremy’s] website. He is also running a Kickstarter right now in order to turn the project into a stand alone instrument with improved features.

Thanks Omar, for telling us about this cool re-envisionment!

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Guitar Pedal Hack via Manufacturer’s Shortcut

There seems to be no shortage of manufacturers that cut costs by using similar components across a wide range of products. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, since it makes it easier for someone with some know-how to quickly open up the product and figure out how to get more use out of it. [Lewin] noticed some peculiarities on the PCB of his EHX Screaming Bird guitar pedal, and used a manufacturer’s shortcut to turn this treble-boosting pedal into a flat booster.

Once [Lewin] removed the case, he noticed that there were some unpopulated pads on the PCB. Additionally, the potentiometer was labelled as 10k, but a 100k was actually installed. These were indications that something was awry, so after poking around on the internet, [Lewin] now believes that the same PCB was used to make at least three different effects pedals with similar internal structures.

The Screaming Bird pedal was a little harsh for [Lewin]’s taste, so he changed out some capacitors on the board to get it closer to the flat booster. There are some other things that could be changed, but now he has a pedal that suits his needs much more appropriately, thanks to the manufacturer making only minor changes across a range of similar products. Historically, guitar pedals are pretty easy to modify, but it’s nice that the manufacturer of these has made it so much simpler!

A Simple Floppy Music Controller

While playing music with floppy drives has been done many times over, making any device with a stepper motor play music still appeals to the hacker in all of us. [Tyler] designed an Arduino shield and a library which lets you get up and running in no time. [Tyler]’s shield includes pin headers to connect 4 floppy drives, which plug directly into the shield. The drives don’t need any modification before being used.

While you could simply wire a few floppy drives up to an Arduino with some jumpers, this breakout shield makes connecting your drives trivial. In addition to designing the shield, [Tyler] released an Arduino library to make things even easier. The library lets you simply set the frequency you want each drive to play, which saves a bit of legwork.

The floppy-controlling Arduino library is available on GitHub and a video of the controller is included after the break.

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The Effects are IN the Guitar? It’s so Simple…

We’ve all had that problem. Up on stage, rocking out Jimi Hendrix-style on guitar with your band, but frustrated at having to mess around with foot pedals to control all of the effects. [Richard] solved this problem in a unique way: he put a preamp and a microcontroller in a guitar that can create some very interesting effects.

For the musically challenged, electric guitars often have several sets of electromagnetic pickups that detect vibrations in the strings at different points along the strings. Selecting different pickup combinations with a built-in switch changes the sound that the guitar makes. [Richard] wired the pickups in his Fender Stratocaster to the microcontroller and programmed it to switch the pickups according to various patterns. The effect is somewhat like a chorus pedal at times and it sounds very unique.

The volume and tone knobs on the guitar are used to select the programmed patterns to switch various pickups at varying speeds. This has the added bonus of keeping the stock look of the guitar in tact, unlike some other guitars we’ve seen before. The Anubis preamp, as it is called, is a very well polished project and the code and wiring schematic are available on the project site along with some audio samples.

Illumaphone Uses Light To Make Music

Move aside Theremin,  we have another crazy instrument that relies on its musicians to frantically wave their arms around to produce a beat. This is the Illumaphone.

[Bonnie Eisenman] recently took a course on Electronic Music, and for her final project she was allowed to basically do whatever she wanted — so she chose to create a custom musical instrument. It’s fairly simple on the hardware side, making use of coffee cups, an Arduino Uno, six photo-resistors, some alligator clips and a whole bunch of cardboard — but don’t let the lackluster parts list fool you, it actually works quite well for what it is!

Each coffee cup is a different note, and the amount of light that gets into the cup determines its volume and vibrato. It even auto-calibrates to the ambient light levels when it is first setup! The light level data is interpreted by the Arduino which then sends it to a laptop standing by, which uses a software called ChucK to synthesize the notes for output.

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