GuitarBot Brings Together Art and Engineering

Not only does the GuitarBot project show off some great design, but the care given to the documentation and directions is wonderful to see. The GuitarBot is an initiative by three University of Delaware professors, [Dustyn Roberts], [Troy Richards], and [Ashley Pigford] to introduce their students to ‘Artgineering’, a beautiful portmanteau of ‘art’ and ‘engineering’.

The GuitarBot It is designed and documented in a way that the three major elements are compartmentalized: the strummer, the brains, and the chord mechanism are all independent modules wrapped up in a single device. Anyone is, of course, free to build the whole thing, but a lot of work has been done to ease the collaboration of smaller, team-based groups that can work on and bring together individual elements.

Some aspects of the GuitarBot are still works in progress, such as the solenoid-activated chord assembly. But everything else is ready to go with Bills of Materials and build directions. An early video of a strumming test proof of concept used on a ukelele is embedded below.

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12-Foot Guitar Takes The Stage

Musical festivals are fun and exciting. They are an opportunity for people to perform and show-off their art. The Boulevardia event held this June in Kansas City was one such event, where one of the interactive exhibits was a 12-foot guitar that could be played. [Chris Riebschlager] shares his experience making this instrument which was intended to welcome the visitors at the event.

The heart of this beautiful installation is a Bare Conductive board which is used to detect a touch on the strings. This information is sent over serial communication to a Raspberry Pi which then selects corresponding WAV files to be played. Additional arcade buttons enable the selection of playable chords from A through G, both major and minor and also give the option to put the guitar in either clean or dirty mode.

The simplicity of construction is amazing. The capacitive touch board is programmed using the Arduino IDE and the code is available as a Gist. The Raspberry Pi runs a Python script which makes the system behave like an actual guitar i.e. touching and holding the strings silences it while releasing the strings produces the relevant sound. The notes being played were exported guitar notes from Garage Band for better consistency.

The physical construction is composed of MDF and steel with the body and neck of the guitar milled on a CNC machine. Paint, finishing and custom decals give the finished project a rocking appearance. Check out the videos below for the fabrication process along with photos of the finished design.

This project is a great example of art enabled by technology and if you love guitars, then go ahead and check out Brian May’s Handmade Guitar. Continue reading “12-Foot Guitar Takes The Stage”

The Red Special: Brian May’s Handmade Guitar

Guitarists are a special breed, and many of them have a close connection with the instruments they play. It might be a specific brand of guitar, or a certain setup required to achieve the sound they’re looking for. No one has a closer bond with an instrument than Brian May to his Red Special. The guitar he toured with and played through his career with Queen and beyond had very humble beginnings. It was built from scratch by Brian and his father Harold May.

A young Brian May playing the brand new Red Special. Note the disk magnets of the original handmade pickups

It was the early 1960’s and a young teenaged Brian May wanted an electric guitar. The problem was that the relatively new instruments were still quite expensive — into the hundreds of dollars. Well beyond the means of the modest family’s budget. All was not lost though. Brian’s father Harold was an electrical engineer and a hacker of sorts. He built the family’s radio, TV, and even furniture around the house. Harold proposed the two build a new electric guitar from scratch as a father-son project. This was the beginning of a two-year odyssey that resulted in the creation of one of the world’s most famous musical instruments.

Brian was already an accomplished guitarist, learning first on his dad’s George Formby Banjo-ukulele, and graduating to an Egmond acoustic guitar. Brian’s first forays into electric guitars came from experimenting with that Egmond. If you look close, you can even see the influence it had on the final design of the Red Special.

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How to Play the Bass With Marbles

Stringed instruments make noise from the vibrations of tuned strings, using acoustic or electronic means to amplify those vibrations to the point where they’re loud enough to hear. The strings are triggered in a variety of ways – piano strings are hit with hammers, guitar strings are plucked, while violin strings are bowed. Meanwhile, [Martin] from the band [Wintergatan] is using marbles to play a bass guitar.

[Martin] starts out with a basic setup. The bass guitar is placed on the workbench, while a piece of wood is taped to a tripod. The wood has a hole drilled through it, and marbles are dropped through the aperture in an attempt to get them to land on the string. Plastic containers are used to easily alter the angle the bass guitar sits at, relative to the bench, while an acrylic guide sits around the string to try to guide the marbles in the desired direction. These guides are important to make sure the marbles hit the top of the string, and bounce cleanly in the desired direction afterwards.

The initial setup is too inconsistent, so [Martin] places a notch in the wood and builds a lever system to hold the marbles and then release them in a controlled manner. [Martin] then checks that the system works by analysing footage of the marble drop with slow motion video.

The video covers the CAD design of an eight-slot guide so the four strings of the bass can be played more rapidly than in their previous build. Two guides per string allow each string to play two notes in quick succession without having to worry about marble collisions from playing too quickly.

It’s a great build, and we’ve seen [Wintergatan]’s work before – namely, the incredible build that was the original Marble Machine.

Thanks to [Tim Trzepacz] for the tip!

Dumpster Dive Speaker Results In Tube Amplifier

[Michael Wiebusch] found the leftovers of a wrecked vintage tube radio in a pile of electronics junk. Unfortunately, he could not recover any vacuum tubes in it. And to his dismay, it didn’t even have the output transformer, which he figured would have been useful in a guitar amplifier project. The output transformer is not easy to come by nowadays, so he was hoping to at least score that item for his future build. All he could dig out from his dumpster find was a pair of speakers and he ended up building nice Output-Transformer-Less Tube Guitar Amplifier around them.

Valve output stages are generally high-impedance which means they cannot be directly interfaced to low impedance speakers. An impedance matching output transformer is thus used to interface the two. Back in the day when valves were still the mainstay of audio electronics, many cheap amplifier designs would skimp on the output transformer to save cost, and instead use high impedance speakers connected directly to the amplifier output.

[Michael] found a nice reference design of an OTL amplifier for a 620 ohm single speaker. He decided to use the same design but because these speakers were about 300 ohm each, he would have to wire his two speakers in series. At this point, he decided to make his build useful as a proper guitar amplifier by adding a preamplifier stage replicated from another design that he came across. A regular halogen lamp 12V transformer takes care of the heater power supply for all the tubes, and a second, smaller 12V transformer is wired backwards to provide the 300V needed for the plate supply.

The final result is pretty satisfactory, considering that it all started with just a pair of junked speakers. Check out the result in the video after the break.

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Two Guitars, Two Amps, And Three Pole Dual Throw

[Alexbergsland] plays electric guitar. More accurately, he plays two electric guitars, through two amps. Not wanting to plug and unplug guitars from amps and amps from guitars, he designed an AB/XY pedal to select between two different guitars or two different amps with the press of a button.

The usual way of sending a guitar signal to one amp or another is with an A/B pedal that takes one input and switches the output to one jack or another. Similarly, to switch between two inputs, a guitarist would use an A/B pedal. For [Alex]’ application, that’s two pedals that usually sell for $50, and would consequently take up far too much room on a pedalboard. This problem can be solved with a pair of 3PDT footswitches that sell for about $4 each. Add in a few jacks, LEDs, and a nice aluminum enclosure, and [Alex] has something very cool on his hands.

The circuit for this switcher is fairly simple, so long as you can wrap your head around how these footswitches are wired internally. The only other special addition to this build are a trio of LEDs to indicate which output is selected and if both inputs are on. These LEDs are powered by a 9V adapter embedded in the pedalboard, but they’re not really necessary for complete operation of this input and output switcher. The LEDs in this project can be omitted, making this a completely passive pedal to direct signals around guitars and amps.

Fail More: The Story of [CNLohr]’s Clear Keytar

[CNLohr] is kinda famous round these parts; due to some very impressive and successful hacks. However, for his 20k subscriber video, he had a bit to say about failure.

Of course glass circuit boards are cool. Linux Minecraft things are also cool. Hacks on the ESP8266 that are impressive enough people thought they were an April Fool’s joke are, admittedly, very cool. (Though, we have to confess, posting on April 1 may have added to the confusion.)  For a guy who puts out so many successes you’d think he’d talk about the next ones planned; hyping up his growing subscriber base in order to reel in those sweet sweet Internet dollars.

Instead he shows us a spectacular failure. We do mean spectacular. It’s got beautiful intricate copper on glass key pads. He came up with clever ways to do the lighting. The circuit is nicely soldered and the acrylic case looks like a glowing crystal. It just never went anywhere and never worked. He got lots of people involved and completely failed to deliver.

However, in the end it was the failure that taught him what he needed to know. He’s since perfected the techniques and skills he lacked when he started this project a time ago. We’ve all had experiences like this, and enjoyed hearing about his. What failure taught you the most?

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