Toy Piano Gets Synth Overhaul

The Peanuts cartoon character Schroeder liked to bang out Beethoven a toy piano. Now, thanks to this hack from [Liam Lacey], Schroeder can switch to Skrillex. That’s because [Liam] built a polyphonic synth into a toy piano. It’s an impressive build that retains the look and feel of the piano, right down to a laser-etched top panel with knobs that match the glossy black styling.

The brains of the synthesizer is a Beaglebone Black using the Maximillian synthesis library. To capture the key presses, he used Velostat, a pressure-sensitive material that changes resistance under pressure. This is probably the only toy piano in the world with fully polyphonic velocity and aftertouch. The build also includes MIDI support, with two ports on the back. [Liam]’s build log is full of more details than we can even summarize here.

This beautiful build won [Liam] first place in the Element 14 Music Tech competition, and it is a well-deserved prize for a clean and elegant way to update a vintage piano.

7 thoughts on “Toy Piano Gets Synth Overhaul

  1. I’m currently putting together an analog synth using a crappy keyboard from the 90’s, using a relaxation oscillator circuit based off of the Stylophone, of all things. Crappy old keyboards turn out to be good bases for making a slightly more polished custom synth.

    Mine’s monophonic tho. :c

    1. Keep your eyes out for an old Hammond organ- they have very nice keyboards that are eaqsily hackable. It’s basically a row of switches with a common ground rail.

  2. I had the same idea of taking an crappy toy keyboard and adding better electronics, but the toy I bought from china didn’t even have proper black keys. There were only 4 black keys between the 8 white keys and they were there just for decoration.
    My attention then shifted to other projects.

    1. This model is just as bad, the paint on the black “keys” is worn off in the middle. Yes, get a keyboard from a junker organ. Stop wasting time on toys, leave them for the little ones.

  3. Awesome work! Love the versatility you get with 5 independently tunable oscillators to allow playing chords from single key presses. Looks like you’ve added in all the sound generation elements of the venerable complex sound effects generator 76477 IC, with envelopes, LFO, etc. Kudos, an amazing instrument!

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