Axe Hacks: Spinning Knobs And Flipping Switches

From a guitar hacking point of view, the two major parts that are interesting to us are the pickups and the volume/tone control circuit that lets you adjust the sound while playing. Today, I’ll get into the latter part and take a close look at the components involved — potentiometers, switches, and a few other passive components — and show how they function, what alternative options we have, and how we can re-purpose them altogether.

In that sense, it’s time to heat up the soldering iron, get out the screwdriver, and take off that pick guard / open up that back cover and continue our quest for new electric guitar sounds. And if the thought of that sounds uncomfortable, skip the soldering iron and grab some alligator clips and a breadboard. It may not be the ideal environment, but it’ll work.

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Axe Hacks: New Sounds For Your Electric Guitar Beginning From What Makes Them Tick

Creating music is a perfect hobby for anyone into hacking, and the amount of musical hacks and self-made instruments we come across here makes that supremely evident. It’s just a great match: you can either go full-on into engineering mode as music is in the end “just” applied physics, or simply ignore all of the theory and take an artistic approach by simply doing whatever feels right. The sweet spot is of course somewhere in between — a solid grasp of some music theory fundamentals won’t hurt, but too much overthinking eventually will.

The obvious choice to combine a favorite pastime like electronics or programming with creating music would be in the realm of electronic music, and as compelling as building synthesizers sounds, I’ll be going for the next best thing instead: the electric guitar. Despite its general popularity, the enormous potential that lies within the electric guitar is rarely fully utilized. Everyone seems to just focus on amp settings and effect pedals when looking for that special or unique sound, while the guitar itself is seen as this immutable object bestowed on us by the universe with all its predestined, magical characteristics. Toggle a pickup switch, and if we’re feeling extra perky, give that tone pot a little spin, that’s all there is to it.

The thing is, the guitar’s electrical setup — or wiring — in its stock form simply is as boring and generic as it can get. Sure, it’s a safe choice that does the job well enough, but there’s this entirely different world of tonal variety and individual controllability locked inside of it, and all it really takes is a screwdriver and soldering iron to release it. Plus, this might serve as an interesting application area to dive into simple analog electronics, so even if guitars aren’t your thing yet, maybe this will tickle your creativity bone. And if bass is more your thing, well, let me be ignorant and declare that a bass is just a longer guitar with thicker, lower-tuned strings, meaning everything that follows pretty much applies to bass as well, even if I talk about guitars.

However, in order to modify something, it helps to understand how it functions. So today, we’ll only focus on the basics of an electric guitar, i.e. what’s inside them and what defines and affects their tone. But don’t worry, once we have the fundamentals covered, we’ll be all settled to get to the juicy bits next time.

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Need Hackable Melodies? Here’s The TETRIS Theme And More

[Robson Couto] started to get interested in musical projects and as a side effect created downloadable code with simple notation for a good variety of themes, songs, and melodies. They are all for the Arduino and use only the built-in tone() function, but don’t let that distract you. If you look past that, you’ll see that each sketch is a melody that consists of single notes and durations; easily adapted to other purposes or simply used as-is. After all, [Robson] wanted the source of each tune to be easily understood, easily modified, and to have no external dependencies.

All that may sound a bit like MIDI, but MIDI has much more in common with hardware events than music notation because it includes (among other things) note starts and note ends as separate elements. Converting MIDI into a more usable format was a big part of a project that fed Bach music to a neural network and got surprisingly good results.

When doing music projects, sometimes having a recognizable melody represented very simply as notes and durations with only one note at a time can be an awfully handy resource, and you can find them on GitHub. There’s a brief video of the Tetris theme (actual name: Korobeiniki) being played after the break.

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Simple Hack Completely Changes The Sound Of This Piano

We’re partial to musical instrument hacks around here, mainly because we find instruments to be fascinating machines. Few are more complex than the piano, and, as it turns out, few are quite so hackable. Still, we have to admit that this ragtime piano hack took us by surprise.

We always thought that the rich variety of tones that can be coaxed from a piano, from the tinny sound of an Old West saloon piano to the rich tones of a concert grand, were due mainly to the construction of the instrument and the way it’s played. Not so, apparently, as [Measured Workshop] demonstrated by installing a “mandolin rail” in a small upright piano. The instrument had seen better days, so step one was disassembly and cleaning. A wooden rail spanning the entire width of the string board was added, with a curtain of fabric draping down to the level of the hammers. The curtain was cut into a fringe in the same spacing as the hammers – marking the hammer locations with cornstarch was a nice trick – and metal clips were crimped to each fringe. The completed mandolin rail can be raised and lowered using a new foot pedal, completely changing the tone as the hammers hit the strings with the metal clips rather than their soft felt heads. It makes the piano sound a little like a harpsichord, or the aforementioned saloon instrument, and at the touch of a foot, it’s back to its original tone.

Most of the piano hacks we offer tend toward the electronic variety, so it’s nice to see a purely mechanical piano hack for a change. And if the hacked piano doesn’t work out as an instrument, you can always turn it into a workbench.

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Follow The Bouncing Ball Of Entropy

When [::vtol::] wants to generate random numbers he doesn’t simply type rand() into his Arduino IDE, no, he builds a piece of art. It all starts with a knob, presumably connected to a potentiometer, which sets a frequency. An Arduino UNO takes the reading and generates a tone for an upward-facing speaker. A tiny ball bounces on that speaker where it occasionally collides with a piezoelectric element. The intervals between collisions become our sufficiently random number.

The generated number travels up the Rube Goldberg-esque machine to an LCD mounted at the top where a word, corresponding to our generated number, is displayed. As long as the button is held, a tone will continue to sound and words will be generated so poetry pours forth.

If this take on beat poetry doesn’t suit you, the construction of the Ball-O-Bol has an aesthetic quality that’s eye-catching, whereas projects like his Tape-Head Robot That Listens to the Floor and 8-Bit Digital Photo Gun showed the electronic guts front and center with their own appeal.

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Tiny Tunes On An ATtiny13

When you take a microcontroller class in university, one of the early labs they have you drudge through on your way to, promised, mastery over all things embedded, is a tiny music generator.

It’s a more challenging lab than one would expect. It takes understanding the clock of the microcontroller and its sometimes temperamental nature. It takes a clear mental picture of interrupts, and is likely one of the first experiences a burgeoning designer will have worrying about the execution time of one of their loops. Also tables, data structures, and more. It even requires them to go out of their comfort zone a learn about an unrelated field, a challenge often faced in practicing engineering.

Luckily [Ɓukasz Podkalicki] has done a great job of documenting the adventure. He’s got everything from the schematic and code to the PWM traces on the oscilloscope.

It’s also worth mentioning that he’s got a few other really nice tutorials for the ATtiny13 microcontroller on his blog. A tiny party light generator and a IR receiver among them.

5 Tones, 1 Arduino

Because the Arduino is in such high demand for producing multiple musical tones at the same time; [Jeremy Blum] has successfully figured out the math and other necessaries that will take your once previously single tone producing MCU and turn it into a 5 tone producing machine. unsurprisingly its really just some creative use of PWM control but it all works out in the end anyway and helps prevent you from purchasing additional sound generating chips. This truly does open up some new doors, as [Jeremy] shows with his still in production thingamakit like project: ReacXion.