The harp is an ancient instrument, but in its current form, it seems so unwieldy that it’s a wonder that anyone ever learns to play it. It’s one thing to tote a rented trumpet or clarinet home from school to practice, but a concert harp is a real pain to transport safely. The image below is unrelated to the laser harp project, but proves that portable harping is begging for some good hacks.
Enter this laser harp, another semester project from [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller course at Cornell. By replacing strings with lasers aimed at phototransistors, [Glenna] and [Alex] were able to create a more manageable instrument that can be played in a similar manner. The “strings” are “plucked” with the fingers, which blocks the laser light and creates the notes.
But these aren’t just any old microcontroller-generated sounds. Rather than simply generating a tone or controlling a synthesizer, the PIC32 uses the Karplus-Strong algorithm to model the vibration of a plucked string. The result is very realistic, with all the harmonics you’d expect to hear from a plucked string. [Alex] does a decent job putting the harp through its paces in the video below, and the write-up is top notch too.
There’s a lot more to learning how to play the guitar than just playing the right notes at the right time and in the right order. To produce any sound at all requires learning how to do completely different things with your hands simultaneously, unless maybe you’re a direct descendant of Eddie Van Halen and thus born to do hammer ons. There’s a bunch of other stuff that comes with the territory, like stringing the thing, tuning it, and storing it properly, all of which can be frustrating and discouraging to new players. Add in the calluses, and it’s no wonder people like Guitar Hero so much.
This synthesizer relies solely on an FPGA for key detection and sound synthesis. [Chris] and [Joe] built it for their final project at Cornell. The hardware implementation includes velocity sensing for the keys. While at rest, each key contacts a strip of copper foil. A matching strip of foil contacts the key when it is depressed. The velocity data is extrapolated by detecting when a key leaves the rest state and arrives at the depressed state. Sound synthesis is handled in hardware using the Karplus-Strong string synthesis method. If you want to hear what it sounds like, they’ve posted a video (MP4) that shows off the creation. It sounds like an electric piano to us, so mission accomplished.