ServoBender, The Electronic Pedal Steel


You’ve most certainly heard a pedal steel guitar before, most likely in any ‘old’ country song, or more specifically, any country song that doesn’t include the word ‘truck’ in its lyrics. Pedal steels are strange devices, looking somewhat like a 10-string guitar with levers that change the pitch of individual strings. Historically, there have been some attempts to put a detuning mechanism for individual strings in normal electric guitars, but these are somewhat rare and weird. [Gr4yhound] just nailed it. He’s come up with the perfect device to emulate a pedal steel in a real guitar, and it sounds really, really good.

The imgur album for this project goes over the construction of the ServoBender in a bit more detail than the video. Basically, four servos are mounted to a metal plate below the bridge. Each servo has a spring and cam system constructed out of 3D printed parts. The detuning is controlled by an Arduino and a few sustain pedals retrofitted with hall effect sensors. Simple, really, but the effect is astonishing.

[Gra4hound]‘s contraption is actually very similar to a B-Bender where a guitarist pushes on the neck to raise the pitch of the B string. This setup, though, is completely electronic, infinitely adjustable, and can be expanded to all six strings. Very, very cool, and it makes us wonder what could be done with one of those freaky robot guitars, a soldering iron, and a bit of code.

Video below, because you should watch it again.

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Rock Out With Your Ribbon Controller Bass


[Brendan Byrne] stripped this instrument down to basics and built himself a ribbon controller bass guitar. Details are still a bit sparse  on his website, but there are plenty of detailed pictures on his flickr stream. [Brendan] built his bass as part the Future of Guitar Design Course at Parsons the New School for Design. His goal was to create an experience in which playing the instrument and altering parameters of effects are triggered by the same gestures. He’s definitely succeeded in that effort.

Basically, the bass is a four channel ribbon controller. The frets were removed to make way for four graphite strips. [Brendan] followed [Iain's] excellent tutorial to create his own graphite strips using soft artist’s pencils. The ribbons essentially become potentiometers, which are then read by a teensy. [Brendan] expanded the instrument’s sonic palette by adding several buttons and potentiometers mapped to MIDI control codes. He even included a triple axis accelerometer so every movement of the bass can be mapped. The MIDI data is sent to a PC running commercial music software. Analog sound comes from a piezo pickup placed under the bridge of the bass.

The results are pretty awesome. While we can’t say [Brendan's] demo was music to our ears, we definitely see the musical possibilities of this kind of instrument.

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3D Printed Guitar


We’re not sure how we missed this one, but it definitely deserves a look. Professor of Mechtronics [Olaf Diegel's] 3D printer must go to 12, because he’s printed these incredible electric guitar bodies. You probably won’t be making your own on your filament printer, however, because [Diegel] uses SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) to create the body out of nylon, then he dyes the resulting piece in a two-step process. You can read more about the construction specifics on his website.

And, they’re more than just eye-candy: the guitars sound brilliantly metallic. There are more than enough pictures and videos to keep you occupied on the site, where you can sift through all eight designs to your heart’s content. You’ll want to keep reading for a couple of videos embedded after the break, which feature some demonstrations of the guitar and comparisons to traditional electric guitars, as well as a brief history of its construction and build process.

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A Guitar From an Old Tin Box


[Atdiy and Whisker], collectively known as  [The Tymkrs] have been busy honing their luthier skills. They’ve created a 10 part YouTube series about the construction of their new cigar box guitar. Instead of a cigar box though, they’ve substituted a 1920’s tin cigarette box. The Omar Cigarette company gave “Project Omar” it’s name. Like [Tymkrs] previous guitar, Omar is a three string affair. The neck was cut from Black Palm, which really shined when polished with a mixture of orange oil and beeswax. They also threw in a couple of new tricks on this build. Omar is an electric guitar, with a pickup custom wound  by [Bob Harrison]. Omar also has frets, which creates a whole new set of complications. Frets are generally installed by cutting slits in the guitar neck with a fret saw. Rather than buy a new tool, [Tymkrs] created a simple jig for their mini table saw. The jig held the guitar neck perpendicular with the saw blade. This made quick work of the many fret slits to be cut. Installed frets must also be dressed and leveled, which is a time-consuming process. 

The tin cigarette box also created a new set of problems. The thin tin proved to be a bit on the weak side when the strings were tightened down. A bit too much pressure on the box while playing would cause notes to bend, much like the tremolo or whammy bar on a standard electric guitar. [Tymkrs] were able to counteract this by adding bracing inside, and a couple of black palm braces to the back of the box.

Hum was also a problem. When [Tymkrs] first plugged in, they found they had more 60Hz mains hum than signal from their strings. Omar uses a classic single coil guitar pickup. Single coils will pick up noise from any magnetic field, including the field created by the studio electrical system. A humbucking pickup uses two coils to counteract this effect. Humbuckers also have a slightly different tone than single coils. [Tymkrs] wanted to stick with their single coil tone, so they counteracted the hum by raising the pickup closer to the strings. Higher pickups receive more signal from the strings, so this is basically a free signal to noise ratio improvement. They also grounded the entire tin box, along with Omar’s metal tail stock. The final build sounds great, as evidenced by the jam session toward the end of Video 10.

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Improving A Cheap Guitar Pedal


If something doesn’t suit your needs, just change it. That’s a motto we live by, and it looks like [Doug] took up the same creed when he modified a cheap effects pedal.

The victim of [Doug]‘s soldering iron is a Danelectro BLT Slap Echo – a tiny, cheap pedal in Danelectro’s mini ‘food named’ pedal series. Stock, this pedal’s slap back echo is set to a fixed amount of time. [Doug]‘s mod changes that.

The mod consists of desoldering a single SMD resistor and replacing that with a 50k pot [Doug] had lying around. After mounting the pot between the two stock knobs, the new and improved pedal had a variable length echo. There are a few more mods possible with this pedal – changing some of the resistors on the filter for a better sound, or even connecting the rate pot to a wah-style rocker pedal for some wobbly Echoplex or Space Echo action.

You can check out [Doug]‘s gallery of pics here.

Piano Repurposed as a Resonant Synth Speaker


[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. [Read more...]

USB Ableton foot controller reuses old keyboard


No, Hackaday hasn’t started advertising shoes, this is [Matlek's] foot controller for Ableton Live.

Matlek plays guitar and needed an easy way to control Ableton Live, which he uses as a looper. Ableton normally expects keyboard input, so that’s exactly what he gave it.

An old dell keyboard was gutted down to its controller board. This exposes  the leads the keyboard uses to scan the key matrix.  From there it is simply trial and error connecting different pins together and seeing which keys are printed on the PC screen (A text editor works well for this). Only 8 characters are needed to control the looper, so [Matlek] chose digits 1-8.

Since some of the wires are going to be sharing pins, a small piece of stripboard comes in handy between the buttons and the keyboard controller. [Maltek] used basic momentary push buttons for his mini key matrix, though we think that box looks sturdy enough to support some larger stomp box style buttons.

Everything comes together inside a sturdy shoebox, which also serves to insulate the exposed keyboard PCB from shorting out.

The only major downside to the project is that the box is light enough that it slides easily on the floor when recording or triggering loops. Adding some heavy items (or dare we say, some shoes) would solve this problem. Self adhesive rubber feet on the bottom of the box would help too.

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