Cassette Tape Hack Turns Scratching Into Sliding

It’s common to see a DJ use a turntable as a musical instrument. Physically manipulating a record while its playing produces its own unique sound, but it takes some finesse and puts strain on the delicate workings of the player when you do it. With this in mind, [Jeremy Bell] has refreshed the notion of appropriating old technology to create new sound with his home-brewed scrubboard.

Making use of a cassette tape, [Jeremy] dissected samples from the reel and laid them out in horizontal strips over rails to hold their form. The pickup from the tape player has been hacked into a separate piece that glides smoothly over these rails, giving the user the ease of control. To produce the immediate cutting effect that is less easy to perform with his device than a record player, [Jeremy] created an on and off switch which is simply a close pin covered in foil that teeters over a metal contact (in this case a coin). The end product sounds exactly like scratching a record, but better because he’s doing it with hacker showmanship. One can only image the awesome potential for more elaborate setups having multiple tape samples and the like!

There are a few different videos of the scrubboard in use on [Jeremy’s] website. He is also running a Kickstarter right now in order to turn the project into a stand alone instrument with improved features.

Thanks Omar, for telling us about this cool re-envisionment!

37 thoughts on “Cassette Tape Hack Turns Scratching Into Sliding

  1. “puts strain on the delicate workings of the player when you do it”
    Whats delicate about a kilogram of steel? They use induction motors so stopping the motion doesn’t affect anything, and slip mats are used anyway to prevent any torque from getting to the platter.

    1. Cantilever arm in cartridge, stylus, tonearm pivot, etc. in the best equipment won’t hold up to radio DJ action yet alone scratchn’.
      Great hack though. We had once from Purdue salvage an Edison magnetic floppy disc dictation machine, The two piece set had a early 60’s look on the desk top unit and a big unit under the desk. I wanted to hack it years ago but the under part only turned up recently and the only disc vanished years ago.

    1. I love the clothes pin. It’s so deliciously ghetto, cobbled together from parts he had lying around. I’m guessing he just wanted to test it as quick as possible with as little expense as possible, in which case I would say he definitely succeeded.

  2. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop were doing this sort of thing more than 50 years ago (though with 1/2 inch tape rather than cassette tape). But obviously a quite different style of music :)

  3. Reminds me of this from about 35 years back or so…

    Tape-bow violin[edit]
    Laurie Anderson’s tape-bow violin, an electronic instrument developed in 1977, resembles an electric violin but does not have strings. It produces sound by drawing a bow, strung with a length of recorded magnetic tape rather than hair, across a magnetic tape head mounted on the instrument where the bridge would normally be. This somehow anticipates the later technique of “scratching” in rap and hip-hop music, where a vinyl recording is turned back and forth on a turntable.

  4. I LOVE this idea, but I think he shot himself in the foot in his campaign by not offering any way to buy one of the machines he’s building (with the exception of a couple early prototypes). His Kickstarter project is for the most part a way to fund a private project with very few deliverables.

  5. I did something similar when I was about 9 but it didn’t mean destroying the original cassette. I pulled my mom’s old Realistic tape player apart and attached a flywheel to the motor acting as a “record”. I always wondered why they didn’t make a model of tape player like it for dj’s until my uncle pointed out the obvious which was quick track selection.

  6. If you put a treadmill that runs at a fixed speed you could set the tape head at the start and let it play through while scratching/cutting with both hands, etc. Or have bearing slides to nudge the play head like a hockey puck… anyway cool prototype! Definitely rings of Lori Anderson for sure.

  7. This is a really cool concept, but also serves as a perfect example of something you shouldn’t just go publish on kickstarter the second you think you have a viable product. He’s only gotten a Not To Exceed quote from a company on building this ambiguously defined product and offers no final product as incentives on the kickstarter. As a result any sufficiently interested engineer/hobbyist with the actual skill and intuition necessary to build the real product can just take the idea and easily get it to market way faster than this guy, and then he’s just stuck with an unfunded kickstarter because he’s all vision and no implementation.

  8. I’ve wanted to see a “Mission Impossible” style opening scene
    where someone walks along a fence wire with a tape deck head
    to hear the message.
    A nearby fence charger would be configured to dump a major dose of electrons into the fence at the usual time interval.

  9. Wow, thanks everyone! And thanks to Sarah Petkus for writing about my invention. Anyway, I just wanted to clarify a few things: First, yes, I must give credit to Laurie Anderson, she was a huge inspiration for this project. In fact, the original idea was just to replicate Anderson’s design but without a violin. But the concept kept evolving, and then I came up with the idea to use the motion of the playhead for scratching, and use the motion of the tape loop for straight playback. This creates an interface allows for some new scratching techniques that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise (check the homepage for a demonstration: ). As far as I know there aren’t any other tape scratchers out there that have this design. If there are, please let me know!

    And as for the kickstarter: Yes, I knew that it would have a pretty slim chance of getting funded without any real deliverables. I would have loved to have been able to offer working factory models as rewards, but I just didn’t have any of my own money to put into the ScrubBoard first. My main goal for this campaign was just to get the idea out there and see if there was any interest. And by that measure, I think it has been a smashing success! Every morning my inbox is filled with queries about the ScrubBoard, and all this interest has really opened some doors. Several companies have contacted me about developing with them, and some private investors are interested too. It’s been so exciting! The current kickstarter probably won’t reach its goal, but I’m pretty confident that the next one will. Actually, I’m not sure I’ll even need to mount another kickstarter at this point.

  10. Oh and one more thing: The ScrubBoard that you see in this video isn’t really the “ScrubBoard Proper.” It was originally just made to be a kind of rough “proof of concept” and to have something for the KS video besides just animated mockups. But the funny thing is, there seems to be almost as much interest in this handmade version as there is in the real ScrubBoard. A lot of people have been asking if I could put out a DIY ScrubBoard kit, so people can make their own at home, and I’d love to do that, but I just have to figure out how to manufacture the parts. I’ve heard that lots of people in the maker community distribute their own kits, so if there’s anyone here who does that, can you tell me how to go about it?

    When I made mine, the hard part was making the playhead enclosure and the rail for the tapestrip, because the measurements have to be so precise. If I’d had properly machine-fitted parts, it would have been exponentially easier. So the kit would not contain any electronic components — it would just be custom molded plastic pieces, some shielded wires, and instructions. If there’s anyone out there who has advice on how to get this done, or better yet, if there’s anyone in the SF Bay area who would like to partner up with me, please let me know!

    1. Jeremy, I hope for best for your project! I think it’s a cool idea and would love to see further iterations of it. In regard to producing parts with tighter tolerances, have you considered designed the pieces in CAD and then 3D printing them? I’m not sure how well it would work, printed parts have a slight texture… but it might be worth a try.

      1. Thanks for the advice and for your support, Sarah. People have suggested that I look into 3D printing, but I’m wondering if it would be cost effective? There are a lot of people who are ready to buy a kit from me, so I’d want to make at least a hundred or so kits to start, and I thought that 3D printing was kind of slow and expensive. But maybe I’m wrong about that? I really don’t know much about 3D printing.

    1. Thanks for the link, enor. I actually discovered this a while ago, when I was doing research to see if there was anything like the ScrubBoard already out there. Does anyone know if there’s any video of this thing? I’d love to see it in action! It looks really cool, though obviously very different from my design.

      1. Haven’t seen a video of it and I’m not sure that there is one… I would love to see video of this done with VHS tapes and a vhs play head! I would love to mess around with these things myself. : )

        1. I was thinking about it, and I think a VHS playhead might be problematic, because I believe VHS playheads have to be constantly spinning, and the tape has to be wrapped around the head. Might still be fun to try some experiments though..

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