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Refurbing an old piano with carbon fiber

[Chris] picked up a baby grand. Of course for a complex mechanical device made out of wood, it wasn’t in the best shape. He’s doing his best to refurbish this $350 piano and turn it into something that plays and sounds like a $200,000 concert grand

The 1941 Kimball baby grand piano [Chris] picked up for $350 was a complete mess when it arrived in his house. After cleaning up the wood and replacing some felt the piano looked much better, but [Chris] wanted to make it play better.

After picking up a set of hammers from a 1909 Steinway, [Chris] tore apart the action on his Kimball. The Steinway hammers were removed from their shanks, carbon fiber shanks glued into place, and the entire assembly put back into the piano.

With new felt, new hammers, and light weight shanks on every key, [Chris] has a remarkable piano that is most likely better than new. Not a bad result for a $350 piano.

You can check out [Chris]‘ build video after the break along with a little [Mozart] (we think) after the break.

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Update: many improvements to optical-sensor-based piano

[Sebastian] wrote in to update us about the optical sensor project he started a couple of years ago. You’ll find his most recent update here, but there are four different post links after the break that document various parts of his progress.

You may not recall the original project, but he was looking to add resolution and sensitivity to the keystroke of an electric keyboard. With the sensors built, he started experimenting with using the force data to affect other parts of the sound. His post back in January shows this bending the pitch as the keys receive more force from the player.

In March he installed the sensor array in an old piano. The video he posted where he plays the piano, but we hear the sound generated from the sensor inputs. We’ve embedded it after the break.

Last week he published two posts. They cover a redesign of the sensor boards, and the panelization work he’s done to help bring down manufacturing costs. The base unit was redesigned to use an AT90USB microcontroller which consolidates the separate chips used in the previous version.

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Piano Box is a digital synthesizer made of paper

We love the look of this papercraft piano which [Catarina] built along with some friends at NYC Resistor, a hackerspace in the big apple. It starts off as a cubic black box with a white top. But just lift that top as [Catarina] does in the video after the break and three of the sides fall flat to reveal a pair of speakers and the single-octave keyboard.

The key’s don’t move when you press them. Instead, she decided to use the CapSense Arduino library to implement touch sensitive keys. Each key is made up of a plane of copper foil tape, with a strip of tape running back to the center of the box where it is interfaced with an Arduino Mega hidden there. The Tone library produces the waveforms which are played by the speakers, and a set of LEDs on the upright side of the box illuminate the keyboard diagram as you press each key. You can see that there are short white bars on that display which correspond to the black keys on the keyboard.

If you take a look at the code, you’ll see the libraries really make the code for the project simple.

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Self-tuning piano can tune itself, can’t tuna fish

At Hack a Day, we don’t throw the term genius around lightly. We’re obligated to bestow that title on [Don Gilmore] for his amazingly simple self-tuning piano. To appreciate [Don]‘s build, you need to realize that just because a piano has 88 keys, that doesn’t mean it has 88 strings. Treble notes have three strings per key while tenor and bass notes have one or two strings each. This usually comes out to more than 200 strings per piano, and [Don] can bring them all up to tune in under a minute.

[Don]‘s system needs to perform two functions. The first one is sustaining the strings so the computer can ‘hear’ the strings. He does this with a magnetic sustainer that is a lot like an E-Bow. To bring the strings up to the right pitch, there are small heaters underneath the pin block. Running a little bit of current through these heaters allows [Don] to decrease the tension of each string and lower the pitch.

This tech reminds us of the Gibson Robot Guitar, a self-tuning guitar that does it’s trick with motors in the tuners. The Gibson didn’t do well on the sales floor, given that everybody and their mom can tune a guitar. Pianos, though, are another story. [Don] is looking for investors to bring his idea to market, and we hope to see it on the floor of a music shop sometime in the future.

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Wireless MIDI piano glove

Sometimes you just don’t have space for a baby grand. [Abdullah] got around this problem and built a virtual wireless MIDI piano. Unlike it’s inspiration, it’s not bad but we still love it.

[Abdullah] got his hands on some flex sensors and attached them to a glove. These resistive sensors are put through a voltage divider and sent to a microcontroller (a PIC16F778, we believe) and corresponding MIDI notes are chosen. These MIDI notes are sent to a computer and played over a speaker.

Right now, only a single arpeggio is coded into the microcontroller. Depending on which finger is bent shifts this arpeggio up and down the keyboard. That being said, the firmware can be easily modified to recognize standard piano fingering so chords can be played. The only issue is moving the hand up and down the keyboard.

[Abdullah] is planning on making his glove completely wireless with a microcontroller and battery sewn into the glove. Here’s to hoping he’ll keep us posted.

Check out [Abdullah]‘s demo after the break.

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Oscilloscope Piano Tuning 101

fft on scope

[Todd Harrison] recently wrote in to tip us off on his submission to the Tektronix oscilloscope contest – using a scope to tune a piano. In his video he demonstrates how a Fast Fourier Transform can be used to determine the fundamental frequency of the note being played. This is a quick and easy way to determine if that key is in tune, and if not, how far off it is from the desired frequency and in which direction.

He goes on to explain that a scope can only be used as a starting reference point since “mathematically correct” tuning on a piano doesn’t sound right to the human ear. It turns out that when struck, the stretched wires in the piano behave less than ideally. In the case of a piano, the overtones (the other peaks shown on the scope higher in frequency than the fundamental) are actually slightly sharper (higher in frequency) than the expected harmonic whole-number multiple of the fundamental frequency.  As a result, the frequency ranges of each octave must be “stretched” in order to accommodate this and sound correct when multiple notes are played together across octaves.

Typically, only the A4 key is actually tuned to its correct frequency of 440Hz and all of the other keys are manually tuned off of this baseline. The amount of necessary stretch applied to each octave increases as you get further away from this initial reference point in either direction and is unique to each and every individual instrument – thus there is no universal device capable of perfect tuning. Although [Todd] admits that he won’t attempt to tune the entire piano himself using this technique, he finds it a convenient way to keep the most heavily played center sections of the piano closer to true between professional tunings.

If you have any interesting or unique uses for your Techtronix scope, you can enter the contest here. Just don’t forget to tip us off too!  Thanks [Todd]!

Pidato box adds vibrato effect to digital pianos

piano_vibrato_box

[Joren] likes his digital piano, but it was missing one key component that he wanted to use: the ability to produce vibrato while playing. Vibrato can be done in several different ways on regular pianos, but it seemed as if there was not a lot of consideration given to the effect when designing digital pianos.

He enjoys playing all sorts of music, including solos from Franz Liszt which suggest using vibrato at times, so he decided to build himself a vibrato box. Constructed with a bit of assistance from the friendly folks at Hackerspace Ghent, his “Pidato” incorporates an Arduino and three-axis accelerometer to get the job done.

The Arduino is connected to both the MIDI output of the piano as well as to the accelerometer, which he has mounted on his wrist. While playing, all he needs to do is simply move his hand rapidly to produce the vibrato sound as you can see in the video below. The Arduino code filters out any other sorts of movements to ensure that he does not accidentally trigger the effect when it is not desired.

Check out the video below for a quick demonstration of the Pidato box.

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