Teensy Laser Harp Has Big Sound

[Johan] has slipped down the rabbit hole of making musical instruments. His poison? Laser harp MIDI controllers. Having never made one before, he thought he would start small and then iterate using what he learned. Fortunately for us, [Johan] documented the process over on .io, essentially creating a step-by-step guide for building a simple but powerful 16-note laser harp.

Laser Harp I is built around a Teensy 3.2 and, of course, lasers pointed at LDRs. [Johan] used fairly low-power laser modules, which are slightly less blinding if you accidentally look at them for a second, but should still be taken seriously. He added four potentiometers to control the sensitivity, scale, octave, and the transposition. The sensitivity pot essentially accounts for the ambient light in the room. Although it only has 16 notes, Laser Harp I is ready to rock with over 30 different scales to choose from. Check out the brief demo that [Johan] put up on his Instagram.

If you try to build your own laser harp and get lost trying to follow [Johan]’s instructions, don’t worry. His well-commented code and lovely schematic will undoubtedly save you. Then you can move on to open-beam designs.

Homemade E-Drums Hit All The Right Notes

In our eyes, there isn’t a much higher calling for Arduinos than using them to make musical instruments. [victorh88] has elevated them to rock star status with his homemade electronic drum kit.

The kit uses an Arduino Mega because of the number of inputs [victorh88] included. It’s not quite Neil Peart-level, but it does have a kick drum, a pair of rack toms, a floor tom, a snare, a crash, a ride, and a hi-hat. With the exception of the hi-hat, all the pieces in the kit use a piezo element to detect the hit and play the appropriate sample based on [Evan Kale]’s code, which was built to turn a Rock Band controller into a MIDI drum kit. The hi-hat uses an LDR embedded in a flip-flop to properly mimic the range of an actual acoustic hi-hat. This is a good idea that we have seen before.

[victorh88] made all the drums and pads out of MDF with four layers of pet screen sandwiched in between. In theory, this kit should be able to take anything he can throw at it, including YYZ. The crash and ride cymbals are MDF with a layer of EVA foam on top. This serves two purposes: it absorbs the shock from the sticks and mutes the sound of wood against wood. After that, it was just a matter of attaching everything to a standard e-drum frame using the existing interfaces. Watch [victorh88] beat a tattoo after the break.

If you hate Arduinos but are still reading for some reason, here’s a kit made with a Pi.

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Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.

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Very Clever 555 Bassline Synth/Sequencer

If we had a dime for every 555-based noisemaker circuit we see… But this one’s got a twist.

[Tristan] does two things that elevate his sawtooth-wave noisemaker above the norm. First, he gets a clean sawtooth wave out of it so that it sounds about right. Then he manages to make it more or less playable. It’s a refined version of a classic hack.


The first trick is a matter of putting a constant current supply upstream of the timing capacitor. The usual 555-timer circuit just charges the capacitor up from the power rails through a resistor. This is fine if all you care about is timing. But because the current is proportional to the constantly dropping voltage difference, the voltage on the capacitor is an exponential function over time.

A simple transistor current source linearizes the waveform in no time. Raw sawtooth waves are “rich in harmonics” which is synth-geek code for “a bit grating”, but it will surely do well with a little filtering. The Javascript suggests that he’s already thinking in that direction, but we’re going to need video proof!

The second cool trick up [Tristan]’s sleeve is the light-dependent resistor (LDR) that determines the pitch. Yeah, we’ve all made those before — the light-dependent “Theremin”. But [Tristan] took the extra step and wrote up a Javascript application that makes his monitor brighter and darker, enabling him to get musical pitches out of the gizmo.

We’ve always wanted to implement LED-to-LDR control while writing the Logic Noise series, but never found a reliable way to make it work. It’s cool to see [Tristan]’s efforts. Maybe we’ll pull a 555 out of the junk box in his honor.

Greet the Sun with a 555 Flute

Here’s an interesting implementation of a classic: the 555 timer as astable multivibrator for the noble purpose of making weird music. [pratchel] calls this a Morgenflöte or morning flute, indicating that it is best played in the morning. It would certainly wake up everyone in the house.

Instead of using LDRs in straight-up Theremin mode and waving his hands about, [pratchel] mounted one in each of several cardboard tubes. One tube is small and has just a few holes; this is intended to be used as a flute. [pratchel] cautions against locating holes too close to the LDR, because it will overpower the others when left uncovered. A larger tube with more holes can be used as a kind of light-dependent slide whistle with another holey tube that fits inside. We were disappointed to find that the giant tube sitting by the amplifier hasn’t been made into a contrabass flute.

Continuing the theme of astability, [pratchel] went completely solderless and built the circuit on a breadboard. The LDR’s legs are kept separate by a piece of cardboard. This kind of project and construction is fairly kid and beginner-friendly. It would be a good one for getting your musically inclined friends and family members into electronics. Here’s a 555 player piano built by Hackaday’s own [Steven Dufresne] that might be a good second step. Check out [pratchel]’s performance after the break.

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Solar Panel System Monitoring Device Using Arduino

[Carl] recently upgraded his home with a solar panel system. This system compliments the electricity he gets from the grid by filling up a battery bank using free (as in beer) energy from the sun. The system came with a basic meter which really only shows the total amount of electricity the panels produce. [Carl] wanted to get more data out of his system. He managed to build his own monitor using an Arduino.

The trick of this build has to do with how the system works. The panel includes an LED light that blinks 1000 times for each kWh of electricity. [Carl] realized that if he could monitor the rate at which the LED is flashing, he could determine approximately how much energy is being generated at any given moment. We’ve seen similar projects in the past.

Like most people new to a technology, [Carl] built his project up by cobbling together other examples he found online. He started off by using a sketch that was originally designed to calculate the speed of a vehicle by measuring the time it took for the vehicle to pass between two points. [Carl] took this code and modified it to use a single photo resistor to detect the LED. He also built a sort of VU meter using several LEDs. The meter would increase and decrease proportionally to the reading on the electrical meter.

[Carl] continued improving on his system over time. He added an LCD panel so he could not only see the exact current measurement, but also the top measurement from the day. He put all of the electronics in a plastic tub and used a ribbon cable to move the LCD panel to a more convenient location. He also had his friend [Andy] clean up the Arduino code to make it easier for others to use as desired.

SenseLamp automates rooms by replacing light fixtures


Would you believe that this beautiful light fixture is actually a hacked together home automation project? Okay, so this wire mess is the second of three versions that [Christian] built. It replaces a light fixture in the room, but if you look closely you’ll see that there is a compact fluorescent bulb included in the build. The laser-cut frame acts as a bit of a lamp shade, while providing a place to mount the rest of the hardware.

The final version cleans things up a bit, and adds a footprint for the PIR motion sensor that he forgot to design into this version. The idea is that each lamp monitors motion in the room, switching the light on and off again as necessary. A light-dependent resistor ensures that the bulb is only powered up if the room is dark so as not to waste electricity during the day.

The build includes a sensor package that reports back temperature and humidity data. Communications are provided by a WR703N router rolled into each of the four units installed in his house. With this kind of hardware at his disposal it should be a snap to control every IR remote control device in his house via the network by adding an IR LED and some code to the lamps.