How To MIDI Interface Your Toys

There’s a great number toys in the world, many of which make all manner of pleasant or annoying noises for the entertainment of children. If you’re a musician, these toys may be of interest due to their unique or interesting sounds. However, due to their design being aimed at play rather than performance, it may be difficult to actually use the toy as a musical instrument. One way around this is to record the sounds of the toy into a sampler, but it’s not the only way. [little-scale] is here to demonstrate how to MIDI interface your toys. 

[little-scale] starts out by discussing the many ways in which one can interface with a toy. The article discusses how a simple button can be replaced with a relay, or a multiplexer, and be interfaced to all manner of other devices to control the toy. This is demonstrated by using a mobile phone toy which makes sounds when buttons are pressed.

A Teensy 3.6 is used to run the show, acting as a USB-MIDI interface so the toy can be controlled by music software like Abelton. It’s connected to the toy’s buttons through a multiplexer. The toy’s speaker is cut off and used as an audio output instead, allowing the toy to be easily connected to other audio hardware for performance or recording. It’s also fed through a digital pot so MIDI commands can control the volume. A resistor is used to control pitch in the toy, so this too was replaced with a digital pot as well, to allow sample pitch to be controlled.

The project is incredibly well documented, with [little-scale] first tearing down the toy and highlighting the points of interest, before stepping through each stage of interfacing the toy to the digital world. We’ve seen some of [little-scale]’s work before, too – namely, this MIDI DAC for controlling vintage synthesizers. Video after the break. Continue reading “How To MIDI Interface Your Toys”

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”

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!

Kitsch-Instrument Pulls a Sonata out of your Dishware

Remember those childhood memories of your grandmother telling you to stop hammering away at her pots and pans? Odds are pretty good that the last time you struck a beat with her dishware, you had a few more years to go before you understood tempo and rhythm. Now that we’re a bit older, [Jiffer Harriman] invites us to return to our kitchen armed not only with those childhood memories, but also a with the Kitsch-Instrument: a suite of solenoids, a controller, and a software pipeline to algorithmically turn your kitchen into a giant percussion instrument.

The Kitsch-Instrument is a modular music system that enables the user to pull a percussive pattern out of his or her everyday kitchen utensils. The percussion hits come from a series of mosfet-driven solenoids that can be fixed onto plates, cups, and other everyday items through a variety of clips. These solenoids are collectively driven by two stacked custom Arduino shields that are, in turn, driven either by hand with a button-interface, or algorithmically with a pattern generated by the graphical programming language, Pure Data.

In designing this project, [Jiffer] and his team intended to bring not just a musical tool to young tinkerers. They also aimed to help educate these young minds with multiple entry points into their project. For top-level users, adding buttons is almost as easy as plug-in-and-play. For experienced circuit designers and tinkerers, the entire project is open source with the board layout and software available for download. Overall the project can be explored from lower and lower levels while still retaining its functionality as a musical interface.

If you suspect that this project seems to have that same whimsical sense as the Auto-Meter-Reader Feeder, you’d be right! [Jiffer] and [Zack] hail from the same lab at the University of Colorado. We’re excited to see what upcoming beats will arise from a truly off-the-shelf symphony.

via the [Tangible Embedded and Embodied Conference]

Continue reading “Kitsch-Instrument Pulls a Sonata out of your Dishware”

Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy

[Tyler] was looking for a gift for his friend’s one year old son. Searching through the shelves in the toy store, [Tyler] realized that most toys for children this age are just boxes of plastic that flash lights and make sound. Something that he should be able to make himself with relative ease. After spending a bit of time in the shop, [Tyler] came up with the Pandaphone.

The enclosure is made from a piece of 2×4 lumber. He cut that piece into three thinner pieces of wood. The top piece has two holes cut out to allow for an ultrasonic sensor to poke out. The middle piece has a cavity carved out using a band saw. This would leave room to store the electronics. The bottom piece acts as a cover to hide the insides.

The circuit uses an ATtiny85. The program watches the ultrasonic PING sensor for a change in distance. It then plays an audio tone out of a small speaker, which changes pitch based on the distance detected. The result is a pitch that is lower when your hand is close to the sensor, but higher when your hand is farther away. The case was painted with the image of a panda on the front, hence the name, “Pandaphone”. Based on the video below, it looks like the recipient is enjoying it! Continue reading “Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy”

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.

Continue reading “ServoBender, The Electronic Pedal Steel”

Have An Unused DIY Instrument? Send It On Tour With [Imogen Heap]

goofys a dog and plutos a dog but goofy can talk whaaa

[Imogen Heap] is well-known for performing with DIY and cobbled-together instruments, and now she’s teaming up with another famous DIY instrument musician for a world tour. That’s the cool part, now here’s the awesome part: they want to take your DIY musical instrument on tour for a scrapyard symphony.

Both [Imogen] and [Leafcutter] are semi-regular Hackaday features, with [Leafcutter] building hydrophones and [Imogen] doing some crazy stuff turning gestures into music. They’re both known for their strange and esoteric sounds that sends Rolling Stone writers scrambling for a thesaurus, and now they want your disused or discarded music machines to use live on their world tour.

The team is looking for video submissions of any musical creatures you’d like to send around the world. The only real guideline on what they’re looking for is, ‘the weirder the better’, with an apparent slight emphasis on physical machines over the purely electronic.

Video of the duo below.

Continue reading “Have An Unused DIY Instrument? Send It On Tour With [Imogen Heap]”