Unique Musical Instrument Defies Description

Since the first of our ancestors discovered that banging a stick on a hollow log makes a jolly sound, we hominids have been finding new and unusual ways to make music. We haven’t come close to tapping out the potential for novel instruments, but then again it’s not every day that we come across a unique instrument and a new sound, as is the case with this string-plucking robot harp.

Named “Greg’s Harp” after builder [Frank Piesik]’s friend [Gregor], this three-stringed instrument almost defies classification. It’s sort of like a harp, but different, and sort of like an electric guitar, but not quite. Each steel string has three different ways to be played: what [Frank] calls “KickUps”, which are solenoids that strike the strings; an “eBow” coil stimulator; and a small motor with plastic plectra that pluck the strings. Each creates a unique sound at the fundamental frequency of the string, while servo-controlled hoops around each string serve as a robotic fretboard to change the notes. Sound is picked up by piezo transducers, and everything is controlled by a pair of Nanos and a Teensy, which takes care of MIDI duties.

Check out the video below and see if you find the sound both familiar and completely new. We’ve been featuring unique instruments builds forever, from not-quite-violins to self-playing kalimbas to the Theremincello, but we still find this one enchanting.

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Router Fixture For Radiusing Guitar Fretboards

Unless you’ve been up close and personal with a guitar, it’s easy to miss that the fretboard (where a guitar player presses on the strings) is not flat. There is a slight curve, the amount of which varies with the type and brand of guitar. There are even guitars with fretboards that have a compound radius that changes from one end to the other.

finger board radius cutter

[Mike] is a guitar builder and needed a way to radius his own fretboards. He did what any other DIYer would, he designed and built a tool to do exactly what he needed. The fretboard radius cutting fixture consists of a new large router base that has a curved bottom. This base rests on two metal pipes and can slide both back and forth in addition to along the new base’s curve. The flat fretboard blank is secured to the fixture below the router and is slowly nibbled away at using a standard straight flute router bit. A little sanding later and [Mike] will be able to keep moving forward on his guitar builds.

Fully Fretted Guitar MIDI Controller

[Andy] came across this guitar midi controller project from way back and decided to send us a tip about it. The English version, translated from the original Russian, is easy to follow and documents the build process from first prototypes to the version you see above. It can connect via a standard MIDI cable and then be used to control anything you want. The only thing missing is the ability to transmit velocity data, but that’s certainly not a deal breaker.

The device has two sensory parts. The first is a set of pickups that can be seen underneath the strings near the bridge. These work like standard magnetic pickups but instead of extrapolating fret data from the pitch picked up on the string, there is a second sensor mechanism for every fret of each string. Since the strings are made of metal, it’s possible to detect which fret is depressed based on continuity sensing. Of course this means you need a conductor between every fret, and that’s why the fingerboard has been replaced with one made of printed circuit boards. All of this data is gathered, then sent to the MIDI device via a PIC 16F74 microcontroller.

If this leaves you wanting for more guitar hacks, don’t miss this one that adds addressable LEDs in between each fret.

Servoelectric Guitar Is A Keytar With Strings


[Keith Baxter] has undertaken something of a ‘Mount Everest’ of guitar modifications. He’s developing a Servoelectric guitar that trades frets for a keypad. It is still a guitar in the sense that it has a body, strings, and pickups to sense the strings vibrations and pass them to an amplifier. The left hand, which traditionally would shorten the strings as needed by pressing them against a fret, now changes string pitch using a keypad. This is an interesting fusion between traditional guitar and 80’s phenomenon, the keytar.

Each string is connected to a different servo motor. When a key on the keypad is pressed, the corresponding servo adjusts the tension of that string, bringing it in tune at the new pitch. His original design involved a lot of custom circuitry but he’s evolved the project to include an Arduino controller. This second generation both simplifies the control circuitry and improves upon it.

We’ve embedded some video after the break. In the first example you can see the strings adjusting for each new pitch. In the second, take a look behind the guitarist… what do you think he’s got planned for those giant capacitors?

Continue reading “Servoelectric Guitar Is A Keytar With Strings”