Man playing custom zither made with a laser cutter.

Laser Cut Zither Instrument Kicks It Old World Style

Learning to play an instrument takes a certain level of dedication — and you can add another layer of dedication on top of that when it’s an instrument not found at your local Guitar Center. But it’s an entirely new level of dedication when someone crafts the instrument from scratch. If you’re looking for an example, check out this custom wooden zither [Nicolas Bras] built from laser cut parts.

The basic design of the instrument utilizes the sloted interlocking edges that are then glued together in lieu of traditional fasteners. Standard sized guitar tuning pegs and the accompanying steel guitar strings were then strung across two laser-cut bridges held in place by the string tension alone. The project began as way for [Nicolas] to learn the capabilities of his newly acquired laser cutter, but he himself is no amateur when it comes to constructing one-of-a-kind musical instruments. Just last year, he created a zither with bungee cords from the hardware store.

Zithers are German in origin, though some of the earliest zither-like instruments date back to 400 BCE China. The laser cut version [Nicolas] created had five strings to hammer on, though the type used in classical music arrangements typically contain upwards of thirty strings. The zither family of instruments may have given way to the electric guitars of today — it’s always neat to see new tech leveraged to embrace some old world charm.

For more on the art of DIY music production, check out this post on myriad of DIY musical instrument builds all played in concert.

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A series of five cymbals sitting on white and black speckled carpet in front of a green loveseat. Each cymbal is assembled from four printed sections. Their colors from left to right are yellow and grey, red and black, black, teal and black, and white and black. A sixth, grey and black cymbal is sitting in the middle of the loveseat cushion.

Challenging The Limits Of 3D Printing With Cymbals

We’re big believers in 3D printing here at Hackaday, but it’s important to recognize that there are plenty of applications where additive manufacturing (at least, from a desktop machine) just isn’t suitable. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to see what happens if you try. For example, [The Drum Thing] wanted to test the limits of 3D printing by printing a set of cymbals.

[The Drum Thing] had a friend design a cymbal in CAD and then the printed quarters were glued together. In the name of science, they produced them in six different materials to compare performance. Each cymbal was played for a short period or until it failed, including some very interesting slow motion camera work showing the vibrations traveling through the cymbals.

As one might expect, bashing “wafer thin” pieces of printed plastic with a wooden drumstick didn’t work out well for most of the cymbals, although the TPU, carbon fiber, and nylon cymbals were did largely survive their time in the limelight. The other cymbals all failed, either shattering, cracking, or failing at the glue joints. Based on the video, it seems the same glue was used for all of the cymbals, so making sure to have a better match between material and adhesive could help with the glue failures.

Maybe future testing can involve playing these cymbals with a quadrotor?

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A man playing an accordion-like instrument made from two Commodore 64s

The Commodordion Turns Two C64s Into A Single Instrument

One of the main reasons the Commodore 64 became an icon of the 1980s was its MOS 6581 “SID” sound chip that gave it audio capabilities well beyond those of other microcomputers of the 8-bit era. The SID became something of a legend by itself among chiptune enthusiasts, and several electronic instruments have been designed that generate their sound through a SID chip. Not many of those look anything like traditional musical instruments however, so we’re delighted to see [Linus Åkesson]’s new project: two Commodore 64s joined back-to-back using a bellows to form a wonderful new instrument called the Commodordion. It can be played in a similar way one plays a traditional accordion: melodies are played with the right hand, chords with the left, and volume is adjusted by varying the pressure in the bellows.

An accordion-like instrument made from two Commodore 64sThe two computers are basically unmodified, and boot Commodore BASIC like they normally would. A custom circuit board emulates a cassette player and provides the software to be loaded into memory. Both computers run the same program and can be switched between the right-hand and left-hand role by pressing a specific key combination. The software in question is called Qwertuoso, and basically maps notes and various features of the SID chip to keys on the Commodore’s keyboard.

Of course, it’s the bellows that makes this instrument a true member of the accordion family. Made from 5.25″ floppy disks and sticky tape, it forms a more-or-less air-tight system linking the two computers. The airflow in the bellows is measured through a microphone placed next to the air intake: the amount of noise generated is roughly proportional to the amount of air being expelled or inhaled. This information is then used to modulate the volume generated by the two SID chips.

By [Linus]’s own admission it’s not the most ergonomic of instruments, so we’re doubly impressed by the amount of skill he demonstrates while playing it in the video embedded below. It’s not the first time either that he has turned a Commodore 64 into a musical instrument: he previously built a church organ and a theremin. While the Commodordion may look complicated, it’s actually much simpler in construction than a mechanical accordion.

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When Toothbrushes, Typewriters, And Credit Card Machines Form A Band

Many everyday objects make some noise as a side effect of their day job, so some of us would hack them into music instruments that can play a song or two. It’s fun, but it’s been done. YouTube channel [Device Orchestra] goes far beyond a device buzzing out a tune – they are full fledged singing (and dancing!) performers. Watch their cover of Take on Me embedded after the break, and if you liked it head over to the channel for more.

The buzz of a stepper motor, easily commanded for varying speeds, is the easiest entry point into this world of mechanical music. They used to be quite common in computer equipment such as floppy drives, hard drives, and flatbed scanners. As those pieces of equipment become outdated and sold for cheap, it became feasible to assemble a large number of them with the Floppotron being something of a high-water mark.

After one of our more recent mentions in this area, when the mechanical sound of a floppy drive is used in the score of a motion picture, there were definite signs of fatigue in the feedback. “We’re ready for something new” so here we are without any computer peripherals! [Device Orchestra] features percussion by typewriters, vocals by toothbrushes, and choreography by credit card machines with the help of kitchen utensils. Coordinating them all is an impressive pile of wires acting as stage manager.

We love to see creativity with affordable everyday objects like this. But we also see the same concept done with equipment on the opposite end of the price spectrum such as a soothing performance of Bach using the coils of a MRI machine.

[Thanks @Bornach1 for the tip]

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Junkbox MIDI

Do you ever peer into the void…of your hardware scrap box? It may be a wonderland of parts with near-infinite potential, and they just need to be assembled and depending on what you hoard, programmed. Access to a laser engraver doesn’t hurt either. The stuff in [Mr. Sobolak]’s bin is cooler than average, at least by Hackaday writer standards. His sound palette project is a wild mixture of interfaces, hardware, channels, and color. There are arcade pushbuttons, slider potentiometers, rotary potentiometers, miniature laser harp, touch piano, and drum pads which earns the title of junk box build extraordinaire.

Under the hood, we find the usual copper tape, wire and solder connecting operators to a Teensy 3.2. In the more esoteric part of the BOM, we find some fancy SoftPots which look like great fun to play. All the code is linked in the Instructable, but there is absolutely no reason to make an exact copy. MIDI is from the 80s and libraries abound for this protocol so the building may be the hardest part of making an interface that fits your character. Some of the techniques in the Instructable may help you, like how to connect a piezo element so it can read something lighter than a wrecking ball or the laser harp roughly the size of your palm.

We are not short of MIDI interfaces if you are thinking of making your own or be truly random.

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A Requiem For Meters

Smart Energy GB are the organisation campaigning for the roll-out of smart energy meters in the UK. Publicizing smart meters and making traditional electricity and gas meters look obsolete is part of their mission, and towards the end of last year they came up with a novel idea. “Requiem for Meters”, is a piece of orchestral music performed on instruments made from old gas and electricity meters, and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London.

The old meters serve as much as artworks in some of the instruments as they do a function. As far as we can see for example the gas meter violins are electric instruments rather than acoustic, the meter serving only as the physical body of the instrument rather than as an acoustic cavity in the way the body of a traditional violin does. The wind instruments seem to incorporate the cavity of a gas meter in their construction though and the percussive instruments are very much dependent on the properties of the meters themselves, though we’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether the resulting sound is one you’d want regularly on your hi-fi.

The video below the break shows some of the background to the piece, though sadly not as much instrument building detail as we’d like.

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A Hackers Guide To Arts, Crafts, Food, And Music In Shenzhen

When you mention Shenzhen, many people think about electronic gadgets, cheap components, manufacturing, and technology. I’m there quite often and find that all of the technology and manufacturing related stress can be overwhelming at times. Sometimes I feel the need to escape it all so I go to markets and places that aren’t traditionally associated with technology so I can clear my head as well as expose myself to something different. It provides me with a constant source of new design ideas and also allows me to escape the persistent tech treadmill that Shenzhen runs on. There are a lot of places in Shenzhen that I consider hidden gems that don’t get a lot of press since mainstream media associates Shenzhen with either factories or technology. Here are my favorite places to window shop and de-stress in Shenzhen.

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