Retrotechtacular: The Hammond Novachord

Just when we thought we’d heard of all the cool early synthesizers, a tipster rattled our jar with news that someone completely restored a Novachord. These spinet piano-shaped prototypical synthesizers were made by Hammond for only four years. About a thousand of them were built before sales sagged and parts became scarce in 1942. It is estimated that only 200 or so are still around today.

The Novachord’s sounds are generated by a bank of twelve monostable vacuum tube oscillators. Each one is tuned to a pitch of the chromatic scale in what is called divide-down architecture. [Hammond] and his co-creators [John Hanert] and [C.N. Williams] used the property of dividing a frequency in half to generate the same tone, but one octave lower. This design means that all 72 notes can be played at the same time. Adjustable formant filters shape the often otherworldly sounds, which are then passed through flexible tube-based envelopes.

[Phil] knew it would be a big job to restore a Novachord in any condition. Thousands of passive components all had to be replaced. The cabinet bore all the hallmarks of a well-used parlor instrument—water rings from cocktails, scratches, and cigarette burns galore. [Phil] says that woodworking really isn’t his thing, but he did an outstanding job nonetheless of sanding every nook and cranny and applying several coats of stain. There are tons of drool-inducing pictures on his project site, and several clips of [Phil] really putting it through its paces.

Thanks for the tip, [Mike]!

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

If you’re photographing and you know it clap your hands

If you’ve ever tried to take pictures of yourself you’ll know that it can be a pain. It’s especially hard to get that perfect shot of your godly features when you’re out of breath from sprinting across the room. OK, yes, they have remote controls for that. But what if you lost your remote or you just don’t want to have to carry it? [LucidScience] put together a sweet, um, “hands free” alternative.

Essentially this hack emulates the IR signals sent by a Nikon remote, either to take a picture right away or to take time lapse photographs at regular intervals. We’ve seen a similar time lapse remote using an arduino before and a really thorough one using an AVR, but they don’t take the same approach as [LucidScience]’s design in terms of monitoring a microphone input for triggering. The project includes several status LEDs and adjustments for ambient noise and triggering, and it can be mounted to the camera body. We wonder how many of the Nikon’s features could be controlled using clap encoding, and how detailed your timing would need to be to have a kind of hand-made (get it?) pulsetrain syntax.  You’d probably need to have world record clap skills.

Check out the demo vid after the break.

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