Completely analog electronic music box

For the Ottawa Mini-Maker Faire this year, [Steven Dufresne] created an electronic take on the classic mechanical music box.

A typical music box uses a sequence of bumps on a rotating drum to pluck the tuned teeth (called lamellae) of a metal comb. Steven ditched the drum and comb and replaced them with a strip of paper and a single 555 timer.  The timer is configured as an astable oscillator with a fixed capacitor and charging resistor.  The discharge resistor is selected via a series of 13 shaped wires that drag along the strip of paper.  When a wire drags over a hole, it is connected to a copper pad below that is soldered to a specific resistor.  This completes the circuit and generates a tone specific to the resistor selected.

While the electrical aspects of the project are fairly simple (not even requiring a circuit board), the mechanical parts are much more sophisticated.  Steven had problems getting the dragging wires to make good contact and keeping the paper roll pulled tight.  He outlines all of these challenges and how he solved them in his very thorough video summary (embedded after the break).  With all of his incremental improvements to the design, the finished music box stood up to a whole 14 hours of abuse at the Faire.

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A 555 player piano


From simple buzzers to an Atari Punk Console, the simple 555 timer chip is the foundation of a whole lot of interesting lo-fi synth projects perfect for beginners. [Steven] put together a great tutorial for using the 555 timer in a rudimentary synth, and even went so far as to build a simple electronic player piano able to play a song from a sheet of paper with punched holes.

The basic 555 oscillator circuit is very simple – just a few caps and resistors and powered by a few batteries. [Steven] built the simplest 555 circuit, but used a line of graphite drawn on a piece of paper for the resistor controlling the frequency. It’s basically a drawdio built on a breadboard, and easy enough to build for even the most neophyte electronic tinkerer.

Going one step further, [Stephen] drew a long thick line of pencil graphite on a piece of paper and mounted eleven wire loops attached to the circuit over his improvised resistor. After cutting a few holes in a piece of paper, he was able to create a simple player piano with his 555 synth. It worked well enough to play Greensleeves, and is the perfect project for the budding electronics hacker.

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555-timer charges lead acid batteries


[Kenneth Finnegan] took the focus of a great design and redirected it to solve his own problem. What results is this lead acid battery charger based on the 555 timer. It’s not a top-of-the-line, all the bells and whistles type of charger. But it gets the job done with a readily available IC and no need to code for a microcontroller.

The original idea came from a solar battery charger entered in the 555 timer contest. The main difference in application between that and [Kenneth’s] application is the source. A solar array or wind turbine is limited on how much juice it can produce. But mains power can push a shocking (har-har) amount of current if you’re not paying attention. Herein lies the alterations to the circuit design. To control this he’s using a Laptop power supply as an intermediary and only implementing the constant current portion of the tradition 3-stage lead acid charging profile (those stages are explained in his write up).

He did a talk on the charger at his local radio club. You can see the 90-minute video after the break.

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monoPong: A CMOS 1-D Pong

We’ve seen a few 1-D pong games recently, and they’ve all be controlled using microcontrollers. Inspired by some of these hacks, [mischka] built the monoPong using a handful of logic chips.

The monoPong has four major components. A 555 timer in astable mode provides a clock source which is fed into a 4510 decade counter, which connects to a 4028 BCD to decimal decoder to drive the LEDs. Finally, a 4011 NAND gate IC is used to deal with the button presses. Two of the NAND gates form a RS flip-flop, and the other two NAND each player’s button with the last LED on the player’s side of the strip. If the player hits the button when their LED is on, the RS flip-flop toggles and changes the decade counter from count up to count down mode. This makes the ball bounce back.

[mischka] finished the project off by putting it in a wooden box and drilling holes for the LEDs, buttons, and a power switch. The final product looks pretty good, and is a great example of how you can use a couple logic chips instead of a microcontroller.

After the break, watch a quick game of monoPong.

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Blinky headgear

This hat has a chasing LED feature thanks to our old friend the 555 timer. [BananaSlug] even built in the option to change the speed at the push of a button.

His design starts out with a costume hat. Each of the 25 LEDs is soldered to a 2×4 hole chunk of protoboard. The LED package is pushed through a slit in the hat, but the protoboard remains on the inside where it can be sewn in place. From there [BananaSlug] soldered one negative bus around the circumference, and an individual positive lead from each module back to the control board. They’re addressed by a set of CD4017 decade counters which are clocked by the 555 timer circuit.

This is a great little analog/logic project and the style is perfect if you’ve got the coat to go along with it.

Remove Function Lock Key with a 4016 and a 555

Many companies today try to simplify life by over complicating the keyboard. Microsoft has been doing it since 2001. If you love your ergonomic keyboard, but hate that “function lock” key, there are plenty of options out there for you to try.

The least complicated way is to either modify some XML or just set macros up in the MS software, but who wants to do that every time they re-install Windows? Reader [Elco] didn’t so he added a simple little 555 circuit inside the keyboard, that automatically re-enables the Flock after three seconds if he happens to hit it during fast and furious typing.

Now no matter what system the keyboard is plugged into he does not have to worry that if he hits F7 whether the system is going to spell check his document, or reply to an email, or that F2 is actually going to rename something and not undo his work silently.

Light up your workshop with this arcade button light switch


[Pete Mills] was browsing around online when he came across an arcade button light switch and immediately wanted one. He didn’t however want to pay the $35 asking price for the switch, so he decided to build it himself.

He says that his solitary arcade machine doesn’t warrant its own room, so he figured he would wire the switch up to an extension cord in his workshop instead. The switch was made with parts he had on hand, so seeing as he didn’t have any triacs, he opted to use a relay in its place. He thought about how he would construct a simple flip flop circuit for the switch, and settled on using a simple 555-based circuit instead of a pair of transistors.

The end result looks every bit as nice as the version available for sale online, and it works great as you can see in the video below. [Pete] has circuit schematics available on his site should you want to build your own, so if you do, let us know in the comments – we’d love to see different variations on the circuit design.

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