Guitar Effects With No (Unwanted) Delay

MIDI has been a great tool for musicians and artists since its invention in the 1980s. It allows a standard way to interface musical instruments to computers for easy recording, editing, and production of music. It does have a few weaknesses though, namely that without some specialized equipment the latency of the signals through the various connected devices can easily get too high to be useful in live performances. It’s not an impossible problem to surmount with the right equipment, as illustrated by [Philip Karlsson Gisslow].

The low-latency MIDI interface that he created is built around a Raspberry Pi Pico. It runs a custom library created by [Philip] called MiGiC which specifically built as a MIDI to Guitar interface. The entire setup consists of a preamp to boost the guitar’s signal up to 3.3V where it is then fed to the Pi. This is where the MIDI sampling is done. From there it sends the information to a PC which is able to play the sound back quickly with no noticeable delay.

[Philip] also had to do a lot of extra work to port the software to the Pi which lacks a lot of the features of its original intended hardware on a Mac or Windows machine, and the results are impressive, especially at the end of the video where he uses the interface to play a drum machine via his guitar. And, while MIDI is certainly a powerful application for a guitarist, we have also seen the Pi put to other uses in this musical realm as well.

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GridSound – An Audio Workstation In Your Browser

If you’re into creating music, you’ll have a surprisingly large variety of open source options at your disposal, ranging from Audacity as rather simple audio editor to Ardour as a full-blown, studio-worthy DAW — and LMMS, Rosegarden, MusE etc. for anything in between. With [Thomas Tortorini]’s GridSound project, you’ll have one additional choice on your list now, except this one runs in your browser. So if you find yourself in a sudden moment of inspiration, all you’ll need is a browser and off you go.

From the feature set’s point of view, GridSound leans towards LMMS and offers a drum kit, piano roll, and synthesizer. It appears that you won’t be able to record real world instruments at this point, but it’s also a work in progress, so who knows what the future will bring. The code is available on GitHub and you can explore GridSound itself here — no login required, unless you want to save your work. Running in a browser, GridSound is naturally written in JavaScript and uses the Web Audio API to perform the actual audio tasks.

What’s impressive is that [Thomas] opted against any UI framework-of-the-week, but instead implemented everything from scratch in pure vanilla JavaScript. In fact, the entire code base seems to be self-contained without any third party dependencies, and that alone deserves some respect. Sure, JavaScript isn’t everybody’s cup of tea — “real developers use assembly” — so if you prefer something more physical, how about some cardboard music?

Making Music From Cardboard

Fans of MaKey MaKey may find this project similar, but there’s a lot more to the Mini Automat than making music from fruit.

The idea for the Mini Automat (which is an off-shoot of the original Automat project by [Dada Machines]) is to make music accessible to anyone. The device functions as a plug and play MIDI-controller that connects to a computer, MIDI workstation (keyboards and sequencers), or DAW for input and triggers actuators on the output to create music.

The modifications make the originally Automat more hackable by making the board compatible with Arduino and Circuit Python, as well as adding in digital and analog pins for connecting to sensors, buttons, or light systems.

The team has released all schematics, firmware, and software, with only the board layouts unreleased to the public. From solenoids that push, pull, jiggle, smash, and bash at drums to surfaces that vibrate screws and beads, there’s a huge variety of household objects that can be used to make complex layered musical compositions, even for a one-person musician.


The Berlin-based team works on open source music tech hardware with the hopes of bringing environmentally and financially sustainable ideas to market.

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DIY Piano: Look, Ma, No Moving Parts

[Michael Sobolak] has a penchant for pianos, concern for capacitive touch, and special sentiment for solid state. This alliterate recipe results in a DIY PCB piano that leaves out the levers and is barren of buttons unless you count the stock RESET button on the Teensy. A real stickler might point out that speakers have moving cones. Beyond these tangential parts, which have motionless options, it is an electronic instrument with no moving parts.

The heart of the project is a Teensy 3.2 which natively supports twelve capacitive touch sensors. The infamous demo board is mounted to a homemade PCB featuring twelve keys but is actually an incomplete octave plus another key one octave above the first. If you look sharp, you already noticed the missing and extra touchpads. PCB traces were made in Illustrator because if you have a familiar tool, you use what you know and you cannot argue that it works. The design was transferred to a copper board using the old magazine page trick that we love and reliable old ferric acid.

We couldn’t help but notice that the posts of the Teensy were soldered to the top of the board, rather than drilling through, IMT-style. Again, the results speak, even if there is room for improvement. Reportedly, there is a second version on the way which includes every expected key.

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Build A Plate Reverb From Ikea

Back before we all pirated FruityLoops, before ProTools, and before VSTs and DAWs, audio recording was much, much cooler. Reverbs were entire rooms. Sometimes they were springs. Sometimes, in the high-end music studios, reverbs were plates. These plate reverbs were simply a gigantic sheet of metal mounted in a box about ten feet long, four feet high, and a foot thick. Inside, you had some transducers, some pickups, and not much else. Send a signal into the plate reverb and it will bounce around on this flexible membrane, and  emerge through the output in a suitably reverberant form.

Of course, very few places have a plate reverb anymore because they’re gigantic and expensive and software effects are small and cheap. That doesn’t mean a plate reverb is made of unobtanium. [Leo] just made his own plate reverb out of Ikea shelves and some simple electronics.

This build used an Ikea Bror shelving unit that cost about $50 sans meatballs. The electronics are a surface transducer and two piezo pickups. Total cost was about $100. That’s all that’s needed to put this plate reverb together, but the real trick is making it work as a reverb.

The plate is driven by the audio output of [Leo]’s computer, through a battery-powered amp, and into a transducer. The transducer is then simply placed on the metal shelf. The two piezo pickups are placed on either end of the shelf, with one going to the right channel of one input, the other going to the left channel of the same input. From there, it’s a simple matter of using this Ikea shelf in an effects loop.

From the video below, the setup absolutely works. [Leo] is playing a few drum loops through the reverb, and the results sound like they should. There’s also a neat trick in using a shelf as a reverb; by placing a rag or a cardboard box on the shelf, the reverb is dampened allowing you to ‘mix’ this reverb in real time.

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Tracktorino Shields You From Poor Interfaces

On-screen controls in a digital audio workstation expand the power of a DJ or musician, but they are not intuitive for everyone. The tactility of buttons, knobs, sliders and real-world controls feels nothing like using a mouse, trackpad, or even a touchscreen. Unfortunately, devices meant to put control into a DJs hands can be unavailable due to location or cost. [Gustavo Silveira] took charge of the situation so he could help other DJs and musicians take control of their workstations with a customized MIDI interface for Traktor DJ software.

MIDI is a widely used serial protocol which has evolved from a DIN connector to USB, and now it is also wireless. This means that the Traktorino is not locked to Traktor despite the namesake. On the page, there’s even a list of other workstations it will work with, but since many workstations, all the good ones anyway, accept MIDI hardware like this, the real list is a lot longer.

The custom circuit board is actually a shield. Using an Arduino UNO, the current poster child of the Arduino world, opens up the accessibility for many people who don’t know specialized software. A vector drawing for a lasercut enclosure is also included. This means that even the labeling on the buttons are not locked into English language.

Here’s another project which combined laser cutting and MIDI to make some very clever buttons or turn your DIN MIDI connector into USB.

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There’s More To MIDI Than Music – How About A Light Show?

MIDI instruments and controllers are fun devices if you want to combine your interest in music and electronics in a single project. Breaking music down into standardized, digital signals can technically turn anything with a button or a sensor into a musical instrument or effect pedal. On the other hand, the receiving end of the MIDI signal is mostly overlooked.

[FuseBerry], a music connoisseur with a background in electronics and computer science, always wanted to build a custom MIDI device, but instead of an instrument, he ended up with a MIDI controlled light show in the shape of an exploded truncated icosahedron ([FuseBerry]’s effort to look up that name shouldn’t go unnoticed). He designed and 3D-printed all the individual geometric shapes, and painstakingly equipped them with LEDs from a WS2818B strip. An Arduino Uno controls those LEDS, and receives the MIDI signals through a regular 5-pin DIN MIDI connector that is attached to the Arduino’s UART interface.

The LEDs are mapped to pre-defined MIDI notes, so whenever one of them is played, and their NoteOn message is received, the LEDs light up accordingly. [FuseBerry] uses his go-to DAW to create the light patterns, but any software / device that can send MIDI messages should do the trick. In the project’s current state, the light pattern needs to be created manually, but with some adjustments to the Arduino code, that could be more automated, something along the lines of this MIDI controlled Christmas light show.

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