Old Phone Becomes MIDI Controller

MIDI controllers come in all shapes and sizes. Commercial products based on keyboards or matrixes of buttons are popular, but there’s nothing stopping you from whipping up your own creations out of whatever strikes your fancy. [Kevin] has done just that, turning an old telephone into a working MIDI device.

The phone in question is a Doro X20 wired landline phone. Being surplus to [Kevin’s] requirements left it ripe for the hacking. A Raspberry Pi Pico was wired in to the phone’s keypad, slimmed down with a hacksaw in order to allow it to neatly fit inside the original enclosure. Then it was a simple matter of whipping up some code to read the buttons and output MIDI data via the Pico’s serial output.

Later, [Kevin] brought the design into the modern world, setting it up to talk USB MIDI using the Pico’s onboard USB hardware. This makes using it with a computer a cinch, and lets [Kevin] control a DAW using the handset controller.

It’s a fun build, and one that shows how you can easily build your own MIDI hardware using nothing but a soldering iron, some buttons, and a modern microcontroller. From there, the sky really is the limit. Whether you like big knobs, easy playing, or have your own personal tastes, you can build what you like to suit your own style. When you do, drop us a line! Video after the break.

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Starshine Is A MIDI Controller For The Musically Shy

What keeps people from playing music? For one thing, it’s hard. But why is it hard? In theory, it’s because theory is confusing. In practice, it’s largely because of accidentals, or notes that sound sour compared to the others because they aren’t from the same key or a complementary key.

What if there were no accidentals? Instruments like this exist, like the harmonica and the autoharp. But none of them look as fun to play as [Bardable]’s Starshine, the instrument intended to be playable by everyone. The note buttons on the outside are laid out and programmed such that [Bardable] will never play off-key.

We love the game controller form factor, which was also a functional choice. On the side that faces the player, there’s a PSP joystick and two potentiometers for adding expression with your thumbs. The twelve buttons on this side serve several functions like choosing the key and the scale type depending on the rocker switch position. A second rocker lets [Bardable] go up or down an octave on the fly. There’s also an OLED to show everything from the note being played to the positions of the potentiometers. If you want to know more, [Bardable] made a subreddit for this and other future instruments, and has a full tour video after the break.

If this beginner-friendly MIDI controller isn’t big enough for you, check out Harmonicade’s field of arcade buttons.

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Less Rock, More Roll: A MIDI Barrel Piano

Strolling around a park, pedestrian zone, or tourist area in any bigger city is rarely complete without encountering the sound of a barrel organ — the perfect instrument if arm stamina and steady rotation speed are your kind of musical skills. Its less-encountered cousin, and predecessor of self-playing pianos, is the barrel piano, which follows the same playing principle: a hand-operated crank rotates a barrel, and either pins located on that barrel, or punched paper rolls encode the strings it should pluck in order to play its programmed song. [gabbapeople] thought optocouplers would be the perfect alternative here, and built a MIDI barrel piano with them.

Keeping the classic, hand-operated wheel-cranking, a 3D-printed gear mechanism rolls a paper sheet over a plexiglas fixture, but instead of having holes punched into it, [gabbapeople]’s piano has simple markings printed on them. Those markings are read by a set of Octoliner modules mounted next to each other, connected to an Arduino. The Octoliner itself has eight pairs of IR LEDs and phototransistors arranged in a row, and is normally used to build line-following robots, so reading note markings is certainly a clever alternative use for it.

Each LED/transistor pair represents a dedicated note, and to prevent false positives from neighboring lines, [gabbapeople] 3D printed little collars to isolate each of the pairs. Once the signals are read by the Arduino, they’re turned into MIDI messages to send via USB to a computer running any type of software synthesizer. And if your hands do get tired, you can also crank it with a power drill, as shown in the video after the break, along with a few playback demonstrations.

It’s always fun to see a modern twist added to old-school instruments, especially the ones that aren’t your typical MIDI controllers, like a harp, a full-scale church organ, or of course the magnificently named hurdy-gurdy. And for more of [gabbapeople]’s work, check out his split-flip weather display.

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Sequence Your Beats With The Magic Of Magnets

Typically, when we think of a music sequencer, we envisage LEDs and boards covered in buttons. Of course, there are naturally other ways to build such a device. MesoTune takes a different tack entirely, relying on magnets and rotating mechanisms to get the job done.

MesoTune acts as a MIDI controller, and is designed to be hooked up to a computer or other MIDI synthesizer device. The heart of MesoTune is a set of eight magnet wheels, rotating together on a common shaft. The rotational speed of the shaft, dictated by the requested tempo in beats per minute, is controlled by an Arduino. Each magnet wheel has 16 slots into which the user can place a spherical magnet. Every time a magnet on the wheel passes a hall sensor, it sends a MIDI message to the attached computer which is then responsible for using this to synthesize the relevant sound.

There are other useful features, too. Each of the eight magnet wheels, or channels, gets its own fader, which can be used to control volume or other parameters. There’s also a handy tempo display, and a 16-button touchpad for triggering other events. These additions make it more practical to use in a compositional context, where it’s nice to have extra controls to make changes on the fly.

Made out of 3D printed parts and readily available off the shelf components, it’s a fun alternative sequencer design that we’re sure many makers could whip up in just a weekend. We’d love to see other remixes of the design – if you’ve got one, hit us up at the tipline. We’ve seen other great sequencer builds before, too. Video after the break.

Synthfonio Makes Music Easy Like Sunday Morning

This one goes out to anyone who loves music and feels it in their soul, but doesn’t necessarily understand it in their head. No instrument should stand in the way of expression, but it seems like they all do (except for maybe the kazoo).

[FrancoMolina]’s hybrid synth-MIDI controller is a shortcut between the desire to play music and actually doing it. Essentially, you press one of the buttons along Synthfonio’s neck to set the scale, and play the actual notes by pressing limit switches in the controller mounted on the body. If you’re feeling blue, you can shift to minor scales by pressing the relative minor note’s neck button at the same time as the root note, e.g. A+C=Am. Want to change octaves? Just slide the entire controller up or down for a total of three.

All of these switches are muxed to two Arduinos — an MKR1010 for USB MIDI control, and a bare ‘328 to provide the baked-in synth sounds. Power comes from a stepped-up 18650 that can be charged with an insanely cheap board from that one site. [Franco] has all the code and files available, so go have fun making music without being turned off by a bunch of theory. Push that button there to check out the demo.

If ‘portable’ means pocket-sized to you, then let this mini woodwind MIDI controller take your breath away.

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Harmonicade Is A High-Scoring MIDI Controller

When [KOOP Instruments] started learning the piano, he wasn’t prepared for the tedium of learning chords and their relationships on the standard keyboard layout. But instead of killing his desire to tickle the ivories, it inspired him to explore alternative layouts that are easier to play. He converted to Isomorphism, started building MIDI controllers, and hasn’t looked back.

The latest incantation is Harmonicade, a dual-decked number arranged Wicki-Hayden style. Both decks have 5½ octaves, are (electrically) identical, and run off a single Teensy 3.6. We admire [KOOP]’s use of DB25 connectors to wrangle the wiring between the decks and the Teensy — quite a neat solution. Almost as neat as his beautifully-commented code.

Although the button decks and control boxes are all printed and open source, they are designed to be easily made from acrylic or plywood instead. [KOOP] is going to keep iterating until he’s totally happy with the control locations and layout, and the ease of breakdown and reassembly. We’ve got a double shot of videos for you after the break — one of [KOOP] playing Harmonicade, and a longer one exploring and playing its precursor, the Melodicade.

Tired of conventional-looking MIDI controllers? We hear your bellows and offer this MIDI controller in a concertina.

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DIY Music Controllers For Raging With Machines

[Tristan Shone], aka Author & Punisher, found a way to make industrial music even heavier. This former mechanical engineer from Boston crafted his one-man band in the university fab labs of Southern California while pursing an art degree. He started machining robust custom MIDI controllers that allow him to get physical while performing, instead of hunching over tiny buttons and trying to finesse microscopic touch pad-style pitch sliders.

Starting about ninety seconds into the video after the break, [Tristan] explains his set up and walks through each of his handmade controllers, all of which are built on Arduinos and Raspberry Pis.

Our favorite is probably Grid Iron, because it looks like the most fun. Grid Iron is a rhythm controller that works by running back and forth and side-to-side over a grid of machined textures that act like speed bumps. A spring-loaded stylus picks up the textures, and an encoder translates them to sound. Eight buttons along the 3D-printed pistol grip let [Tristan] make changes on the fly.

Tired of twiddling tiny knobs, [Tristan] made Big Knobs, a set of three solid aluminum knobs that look to be 3-4″ in diameter. These are assigned jobs like delay and filter, and their weight combined with ball bearings allows them to spin almost indefinitely while [Tristan] injects other sounds into the mix.

[Tristan] has made a few custom microphones to make the most of his voice. One is a trachea mic made from four piezos strapped to his throat that picks up every possible vocal utterance and other guttural sounds quite nicely. The other is an 8-pack of mics built into a curved metal box. He can assign a different effect to each one and do things like turn a breathy scream into the sounds of swelling cymbals.

There are more machines not covered in the video, and you can read about those on [Tristan]’s site. In a bonus video after the break, [Tristan] discusses a trio of pneumatically-driven mask controllers he made.

Don’t have a machine shop at your disposal? Dig out that fidget spinner and get moving on your own MIDI controller.

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