Bass Guitar Gets Shapeshifting Pickups

Electric guitars were the hip new thing back in the mid-century. The electrification of the common and portable guitar opened up a lot of avenues in terms of sound and technique. Specifically, the use of the pickup, an electromagnetic device which converts the vibrations of the guitar strings into electrical signals, increased the number of ways that a musician can alter the guitar’s sound on-the-fly. Some guitars have several rows of pickups which can be used in any number of ways, but this custom guitar has a single pickup which can be moved around the guitar’s body instead.

[Breno] was gifted this Dolphin bass guitar to start learning after years of playing a regular guitar, and while they aren’t known for high-quality instruments this guitar seemed to play and sound well enough to attempt this modification. First, a hole had to be cut all the way through the guitar’s body in order to accommodate the build. The pickup for this guitar is then mounted on two rods which allow it to move in various positions along the strings, and a second set of adjustments can be made to bring the pickups closer or further away from the strings. Some additional custom circuitry was added to control it and also to handle the volume and tone knobs, and while this was being added [Breno] and his friend [Arthur] decided this would be a great time to build some effects into the guitar’s now-custom electronics as well.

While this was largely a project for [Breno] to understand in greater depth the effect of moving the pickups around an electric guitar, the finished product looks ready to play some live shows. The addition of some extras like the effects really adds some punch to this guitar and it looks to be completely original. The nearest thing we could find is this guitar which uses hot-swappable pickups but even those are mounted in fixed locations.

Get Down To Some African Tunes With This HomeBrew Synth

South African [Afrorack] claims to have built the first home-built modular synthesiser in Africa. Whilst we can’t be sure of this (and to be frank, it doesn’t actually matter) what we can be sure of is that the latest additions to this rig sound pretty rad. (video, embedded below) There really isn’t much doubt that the African nations are the kings of rhythm, and that living in the less well-to-do areas you need to have a certain resourcefulness to use the materials around you. It’s not like you can just pop down to the local electronics store for a missing part, even if you had the funds for it.

The modular synth looks pretty nice, rough and ready like a real homebrew, and the use of an oil can as a bass drum and rice in a plastic skiff as an instrument might look crude, but sound pretty good. All three additions to the rig are simple spring-loaded solenoid affairs, but since off the shelf stuff is an expensive luxury, hand wound coils were in order. With a bobbin formed with a metal rod and two suitably trimmed fanta bottle lids, a wire spool holder sitting on what looks like a cake stand, a drill powered coil winder was constructed. We did smirk a little when in an early shot, wire was guided by hand, which was rapidly followed by an adjustment to guiding with a rag. Darn friction burns! We’re watching this with interest to see what the next additions will be, but for now, just sit back and nerd out to some sick African techno tunes!

Want to see a mess-o-wires turn into something meaningful? Got some Game Boys lying around needing something to do? How about a chiptune synth?

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Generate Fully Parametric, 3D-Printable Speaker Enclosures

Having the right speaker enclosure can make a big difference to sound quality, so it’s no surprise that customizable ones are a common project for those who treat sound seriously. In that vein, [zx82net]’s Universal Speaker Box aims to give one everything they need to craft the perfect enclosure.

The parts can be 3D-printed, but the design ensures that the front and back panels are flat, so one can use wood or some other material for those depending on preference and appearance. The assembly is screwed together using six M3 bolts per side with optional heat-set inserts, but it’s entirely possible to simply glue the unit together if preferred.

One thing that makes this design a bit more broadly useful is that [zx82net] not only provides the parametric design file for Fusion360, but also includes STEP format CAD files, and a small number of pre-configured assemblies for a few commonly available speaker drivers: the Dayton Audio DMA70-4, ND91-4, and the TCP115-4. Not enough for you? Check out [zx82net]’s collection of ready-to-rock enclosures in a variety of designs and configurations; there’s bound to be something to appeal to just about anyone.

[via Reddit]

LEDs display different pitches in a sunburst pattern

Spiral Music Visualization

Displaying notes live as they are being played can be a really powerful learning tool, but it’s usually used to learn how to play a specific instrument. This take on the topic is actually a neat way to learn more about music theory — how pitches work together to build the sounds that we hear. The visual tack chosen arranges each of 12 notes into a spiral. As you continue to go up the scale through more octaves, pitches that share the same name line up into a line like a ray projecting out from the sun. So there are 12 rays for the notes in the scale: C, C#/D♭, D, D#/E♭,F, etc.

[mechatronicsguy] built it a few years back but just now got around to documenting it, and we’re sure glad he did. The layout of notes at first looks just like a colorful visualization. But as he mentions in his description, this assigns a shape to each different type of cord. A major cord will have the same shape whether it is played with C, G#, B♭, or any other note as the root. The shape simply rotates around the axis based on that root note. Higher octaves will be shown further out on the radius, but the chord shape will still be the same. Minor, augmented, even modal chords and those with added pitches all have their own unique shape on the display.

You get the best understanding of the visualization by looking at the Python-rendered version in the video below. It’s a nice touch that notes turn grey and fade away after being released so you kind of see where the current chord came from. This isn’t strictly a perk of pre-recordings. While you can feed it MIDI files, you can also play a MIDI instrument and display the visuals live on the hardware version that uses a Teensy with an audio shield.

If you’re looking for examples on how music visualizers are used to teach the instrument, look no further than this Wurlitzer note visualizer replica. Also for those who don’t know, the song being played in the hardware demo (second video below) is Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Well worth a full listen, it’ll change your life.

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Ken Shirriff Breaks Open The Yamaha DX7

For better or worse, this synthesizer was king in the 1980s music scene. Sure, there had been synthesizers before, but none acheived the sudden popularity of Yamaha’s DX7. “Take on Me?” “Highway to the Dangerzone”?  That harmonica solo in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”  All DX7. This synth was everywhere in pop music at the time, and now we can all get some insight from taking a look at this de-capped chip from [Ken Shirriff].

To be clear, by “look” that’s exactly what we mean in this case, as [Ken] is reverse-engineering the YM21280 — the waveform generator of the DX7 — from photos. He took around 100 photos of the de-capped chip with a microscope, composited them, and then analyzed them painstakingly. The detail in his report is remarkable as he is able to show individual logic gates thanks to his powerful microscope. From there he can show exactly how the chip works down to each individual adder and array of memory.

[Ken]’s hope is that this work improves the understanding of the Yamaha DX7 chips enough to build more accurate emulators. Yamaha stopped producing the synthesizer in 1989 but its ubiquity makes it a popular, if niche, platform for music even today. Of course you don’t need a synthesizer to make excellent music. The next pop culture trend, grunge, essentially was a rebellion to the 80s explosion of synths and neon colors and we’ve seen some unique ways of exploring this era of music as well.

Thanks to [Folkert] for the tip!

A portable Bluetooth turntable.

Bluetooth Record Player Puts A New Spin On Vinyl

You know, we were just discussing weird and/or obsolete audio formats in the writers’ dungeon the other day. (By the way, have you ever bought anything on DAT or MiniDisc?) While vinyl is hardly weird or (nowadays) obsolete, the fact that this Bluetooth record player by [JGJMatt] is so modern makes it all the more fantastic.

Not since the Audio-Technica Sound Burger, or Crosley’s semi-recent imitation, have we seen such a portable unit. But that’s not even the most notable part — this thing runs inversely to normal record players. Translation: the record stands still while the the player spins, and it sends the audio over Bluetooth to headphones or a speaker.

Inside this portable player is an Arduino Nano driving a 5 VDC motor with a worm gear box. There really isn’t too much more to this build — mostly power, a needle cartridge, and a Bluetooth audio transmitter. There’s a TTP223 touch module on the lid that allows [JGJMatt] to turn it off with the wave of a hand.

[JGJMatt] says this is a prototype/work-in-progress, and welcomes input from the community. Right now the drive system is good and the Bluetooth is stable and able, but the tone arm has some room for improvement — in tests, it only played a small section of the record and skidded and skittered across the innermost and outermost parts. Now, [JGJMatt] is trying two-part arm approach where the first bit extends and locks into position, and then a second arm extending from there and moves around freely.

Commercial record players can do more than just play records. If you’ve got an old one that isn’t even good enough for a thrift store copy of a Starship record, you could turn it into a pottery wheel or a guitar tremolo.

Live Jam Kit Helps Electronic Musicians Stay In Sync

Jamming live with synths and drum machines can be fun, but for [Christian], there was a little something missing. He was looking for a way to keep everyone in the group on the beat and rocking out, and decided to build something to help.

The ethos of the build was to put one person ultimately in charge of the mix using Ableton. This stops the volume race, as each musician turns their own volume up and the jam devolves into a noisy mess. Each musician also gets a sync button they can hit if their instrument has drifted out of time. Everyone in the jam also gets their own monitor signal in their headphones, as well as a looper as well.

Individual players in the electronic jam can whip up a cool little loop, and spit it out to the main controller running Ableton using the looper. Then, they can mix up something else in their headphones without disrupting the main mix, before spitting it out as a loop again.

[Christian]’s demo video does a great job of showing how it all works. We particularly like the sync button, which gets rid of the usual frustrations when a sequencer in the jam trips over the tempo signal.

It’s all built with a Teensy, and seems like a great way to organize a jam with a bunch of different synths and drum machines. We’d certainly love to join in the fun.

We’ve seen other fun jam kits too, like this neat networked solution. Video after the break.

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