DIY MIDI Looper Controller Looks Fantastic!

Due to pedalboard size, complicated guitar pedals sometimes reduce the number of buttons to the bare minimum. Many of these pedals are capable of being controlled with an external MIDI controller, however, and necessity being the mother of invention and all, this is a great opportunity to build something and learn some new skills at the same time. In need of a MIDI controller, Reddit user [Earthwin] built an Arduino powered one to control his Boss DD500 Looper pedal and the result is great looking.

Five 16×2 LCD screens, one for each button, show the functionality that that button currently has. They are attached (through some neat wiring) to a custom-built PCB which holds the Arduino that controls everything. The screens are mounted to an acrylic backplate which holds the screens in place while the laser-cut acrylic covers are mounted to the same plate through the chassis. The chassis is a standard Hammond aluminum box that was sanded down, primed and then filler was used to make the corners nice and smooth. Flat-top LEDs and custom 3D printed washers finish off the project.

[Earthwin] admits that this build might be overkill for the looper that he’s using, but he had fun building the controller and learning to use an Arduino. He’s already well on his way to building another, using the lessons learned in this build. If you want to build your own MIDI controller, this article should help you out. And then you’re ready to build your controller into a guitar if you want to.

[Via Reddit]

Barcode Guitar Plays More Than Beep-Bop

One of our favorite things about the rise of hobbyist development ecosystems such as the Arduino is that it’s now possible to make a MIDI controller out of almost anything, as long as you have the the shields and the dedication. We’re glad that [James Bruton] takes the occasional break from making robots to detour into instrument making, because his latest creation turns it up to 11.

This awesome guitar uses a barcode scanner to play notes, and various arcade controls to manipulate those notes. The barcodes themselves scan as ASCII values, and their equivalent integers are sent to an external MIDI device. This futuristic axe is built on an Arduino Mega, with a USB shield for the barcode scanner, and a MIDI shield on top that [James] connects to various synths in the video after the break.

In between shooting barcodes, the right hand also controls octave shifting and changing MIDI channels with the joystick, and doing pitch-bends with the rotary encoder. The array of arcade buttons on the bottom neck let him switch between single player for monophonic synths, and multiplayer for polys. The other three buttons are press-and-scan programmable single-note sounders that assist in chord-making and noodling.

We particularly dig the construction, which is a combination of 20/20 and 3D printed boxes. [James] found some angled PVC to serve as fretboards for the four necks, and a nice backgrounds for bar codes.The only thing we would change is the native beep of the barcode scanner — either silence it forever or make it mutable, because it doesn’t jive with every note. It might be nice to get the gun to scan continuously so [James] doesn’t get trigger finger. Or better yet, build the scanner into a glove.

Want to do something more useful with that barcode scanner in your parts bin? Use it to manage your household inventory. But first, reacquaint yourself with the history of the humble barcode as presented by [Adam Fabio].

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Giving The Amstrad CPC A Voice And A Drum Kit

Back in the ’80s, home computers weren’t capable of much in terms of audio or multimedia as a whole. Arguably, it wasn’t until the advent of 16-bit computers such as the Amiga that musicians could make soundtrack-quality music without having to plug actual studio gear up to their machines. [Michael Wessel] is trying to bring some of that and many more features to the Amstrad CPC with his ambitious LambdaSpeak 3 project, an expansion card built completely up from scratch and jam-packed with features.

First, and likely giving it its name, is the speech synthesizer. [Michael] has made an emulation mode where his card can act just like the original SSA-1 expansion, being able to be controlled by the same software as back then. By default, the card offers this mode with an Epson S1V30120 daughterboard (which is based on DECTalk synthesis), however for further authenticity you also have the option of fitting it with an SP0256-AL2 chip, the same one used in the original Amstrad hardware in 1985.

As for the more musical part of the project, the board supports 4-channel PCM playback, much like the Amiga’s sound offering. This can be used for a drum machine sequencer program, and it has an Amdrum mode, emulating another expansion from the original Amstrad days. Sample playback can also be used alongside the speech synthesis as shown here, with random allophone beats that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kraftwerk recording. Finally, by using the UART interface included on the LambdaSpeak, you can also turn the CPC itself into a synth by giving it MIDI in/out and interfacing a controller in real time with the computer’s AY-3-8912 sound chip.

If you like modern expansions giving old computers new life, did you know that you can get just about any retro computer online, perhaps a TRS-80, an Amiga and even a Psion Organizer? And if you’re interested in just using old systems’ sound chips with modern USB MIDI controllers, it’s easy to make a microcontroller do all the heavy lifting.

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Giving MIDI Organs MIDI Drawbars

This goes back to Bach: if you want to change the sound an organ makes, you have to pull on some drawbars. This design didn’t change for 300 years, and in the 20th century with the advent of ‘tonewheel’ organs, you still had small bars to pull to change what sounds came out of the organ. While this was a simple solution for air-powered organs of the 1700s, when it comes to MIDI, rotary pots are a lot less expensive than linear pots. Given the lack of drawbar MIDI controllers, [Stefano] decided to build his own. It has nine drawbars and eight buttons, all connected to MIDI.

The interesting electromechanical part of this build, the drawbars themselves, are ripped from a Hammond organ. Don’t worry, plenty of these were made and only a handful actually sound good. To that, [Stefano] added a few pushbuttons soldered onto a piece of perfboard, and everything is wired up to a Teensy LC, the microcontroller platform that’s becoming the standard for everything from MIDI controllers to computer keyboards. MIDI over DIN and MIDI over USB are supported, and all the buttons and drawbars are individually programmable. You can even do that through SysEx messages, because that’s how things were done back in the day.

While there are a few MIDI-controlled organs that still use drawbars — the double manual Nord comes to mind imminently — this is a great solution to putting drawbars into anything that speaks MIDI, VSTs included.

MIDI Grid Can Glow Up With The Best Of Them

Traditional musical instruments have a variety of interfaces, some simple, some complex. The piano is a fairly intuitive machine with a key for every note and a couple of pedals you can ignore if you like. The saxophone is a little more complex, with its many interoperable keys used to produce varying pitches. However, modern electronic instruments are not constrained by physicalities, and there has been an explosion in such devices that simply present a MIDI interface and a big pile of glowing addressable buttons. [Gediminas]’s MIDI Grid build is a great example of the type.

The build relies on an STM32 to do the heavy lifting, talking to an 8×8 array of buttons, each with addressable RGB LEDs. These are combined with silicone pads for a wonderfully tactile feel. There are then a further 17 buttons on the side for various purposes, along with two rotary encoders – useful for implementing smooth fades and intoxicating filter sweeps. Unusually for this type of instrument, in addition to USB there’s also a hardware serial MIDI interface. Finally, a Nokia 5110 LCD is implemented to display relevant data.

There are precious few details on the case, but it appears to be made from lasercut wood pieces, with a nice stain giving it a rich color. Buttons also have printed labels for a more professional look.

The build has functionality most similar to Novation’s Launchpad line. [Gediminas] currently has it working primarily with Ableton Live, however there is scope for further work to integrate the device with other DAWs or MIDI hardware.

With electronic instruments such as these, it’s possible to make musical life more accessible through smart design choices – and the Kord Kontroller is another great example.

Redesigning The Musical Keyboard With Light-Up Buttons

A piano’s keyboard doesn’t make sense. If you want to want to play an F major chord, just hit an F, an A, and a C — all white keys, all in a row. If you want to play a B major chord, you hit B, a D#, and an F#. One white key, then two black ones. The piano keyboard is not isomorphic, meaning chords of the same quality have different shapes. For their entry into the Hackaday Prize, [CSCircuits] and their crew are working on a keyboard that makes chords intuitive. It’s called the Kord Kontroller, and it’s a device that would also look good hooked up to Ableton.

The layout of the Kord Kontroller puts all the scale degrees arranged in the circle of fifths in the top of the keyboard. To play 90% of western music, you’ll hit one button for a I chord, move one button to the left for a IV chord, and two buttons to the right for a V chord. Chord quality is determined by the bottom of the keyboard, with buttons for flat thirds, fourths, ninths, elevenths and fourteenths replacing or augmenting notes in the chords you want to play. Since this is effectively a MIDI controller, there are buttons to change octaves and modes.

As far as hardware goes, this keyboard is constructed out of Adafruit Trellis modules that are a 4×4 grid of silicone buttons and LEDs that can be connected together and put on a single I2C bus. The enclosure wraps these buttons up into a single 3D printed grid of button holes, and with a bit of work and hot glue, everything looks as it should.

It’s an interesting musical device, and was named as a finalist in the Musical Instrument Challenge. You can check out a demo video with a jam sesh below.

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Launchpad MIDI Controller Put To Work With Python

For Hackaday readers who might not spend their free time spinning electronic beats at raves, the Launchpad by Novation is a popular peripheral for creating digital music with tools such as Ableton Live. It’s 8×8 grid of RGB LED backlit buttons are used to trigger different beats and clips by sending MIDI commands to the computer over USB. While not a strict requirement for performing digital music, it also helps that it looks like you’re flying a spaceship when using it.

It’s definitely a slick piece of gear, but the limited stock functionality means you’re unlikely to see one outside of the Beat Laboratory. Though that might change soon thanks to LPHK, created by [Ella Jameson]. She’s created a program in Python that allows you to use the Novation Launchpad as a general purpose input device. But rather than taking the easy way out by just turning the hardware into a USB HID device or something along those lines, LPHK implements an impressive set of features including its own internal scripting language.

In the video after the break, [Ella] walks us through some basic use cases, such as launching programs or controlling the system volume with individual buttons. LPKH has a GUI which provides a virtual representation of the Launchpad, and allows configuring each button’s color and function as well as saving and loading complete layouts.

For more advanced functionality, LPHK utilizes a scripting language that was inspired by the Hak5 USB Rubber Ducky. Scripts are written with plain English commands and very simple syntax, meaning you don’t need to have any programming experience to create your own functions. There’s also a script scheduling system with visual feedback right on the board: if a button is pulsing red it means it has a script waiting for its turn to execute. When the key is rapidly flashing the script is actively running. A second tap of the button will either remove it from the queue or kill the running script, depending on what the status was when you hit it.

[Ella] makes it clear this software is still a work in progress; it’s not as polished as she’d like and still has bugs, but it’s definitely functional for anyone who’s looking to wring a bit more functionality out of their $150 Launchpad. She’s actively looking for beta testers and feedback, so if you’ve already got one of these boards give it a shot and let her know what you think.

In the past we’ve seen hackers fiddling with the open source API Novation released for their Launchpad controllers, but overall there hasn’t been a lot of work done with these devices. Perhaps that will soon change with powerful software like this in development.

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