This Ukulele Does Chiptunes, And Not Just Because It’s Made Out Of A Game Boy

When you think about singer-songwriters, the name Bob Dylan might come to your mind. You might think about Jeff Buckley, you might think about Hank Williams, Springsteen, David Bowie, or Prince. You’d be wrong. The greatest singer-songwriter of all time is Tiny Tim, the guy who looks like Weird Al traveled in time and did a cameo in Baker-era Doctor Who. Tiny Tim had the voice of an angel, because Mammon and Belial were angels too, I guess. Tiny Tim is also the inspiration behind the current resurgence of the ukulele, the one thing keeping the stringed instrument industry alive today.

Even though Tiny Tim passed in 1996, he would have loved to see this project that brings the ukulele into the late 20th century. It’s a Game Boy, DMG-01, transformed into a playable musical instrument. It’s a functional uke, but it also has electronics to turn this into a chiptune machine.

The first goal of this project was to build a functional ukulele out of a Game Boy case. This was simple enough — the neck was 3D printed, the bridge was screwed in, and the case of the Game Boy was reinforced with some PCB material. So far, this is nothing new; you can get a model for a 3D printed ukulele on Thingiverse.

The second goal of this project was to make this ukulele into a chiptune machine. This means designing a pickup for the strings, and since these are nylon you’re not going to do a magnetic pickup on a ukulele. The first solution was an IR reflectance sensor, which worked but had too high of a power draw. The better solution was a standard flex pressure sensor, which worked well enough. This signal is distorted into a square wave that gives a surprisingly Game Boy-like sound. You can check out the video demo below.

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Strike A Chord With This LED Ukulele

You may laugh off the ukulele as a toy or joke instrument, and admittedly, their starting price tag and the quality that usually comes with such a price tag doesn’t help much to get a different opinion on that. But it also makes it the perfect instrument for your next project. After all, they’re easy to handle, portable, and cheap enough to use a drill and other tools on them without too much regret. Plus, a little knowledge to play can get you far, and [Elaine] can teach you the essential, “all the pop songs use it”, four chords with her Arduino powered LED Ukulele.

As first step, [Elaine] drilled holes in her ukulele’s fingerboard to place some LEDs at all the positions required to play the four chords C, G, Am, and F. Connected to an Arduino attached to the ukulele’s back, each chord will light up its associated LEDs to indicate the finger positions required to play the chord itself. Taking the teaching part a step further, her next step is to extend each LED with a second, light sensing one, and read back if the fingers are placed at the correct position.

[Elaine] has already plans to turn the ukulele into an interactive game next. And if four chords are eventually not enough for you anymore, have a look at another LED based project teaching to play any major, minor and major seventh chord on the ukulele.

Modified Uke Keeps The Beat With A Solenoid

A classic one-man band generally features a stringed instrument or two, a harmonica in a hands-free holder, and some kind of percussion, usually a bass drum worn like a backpack and maybe some cymbals between the knees. The musician might also knock or tap the sound-boards of stringed instruments percussively with their strumming hand, which is something classical and flamenco guitarists can pull off with surprising range.

The musician usually has to manipulate each instrument manually. When it comes to percussion, [JimRD] has another idea: keep the beat by pounding the soundboard with a solenoid. He built a simple Arduino-driven MOSFET circuit to deliver knocks of variable BPM to the sound-board of a ukulele. A 10kΩ pot controls the meter and beat frequency, and the sound is picked up by a mic on the bridge. So far, it does 3/4 and 4/4 time, but [JimRD] has made the code freely available for expansion. Somebody make it do 5/4, because we’d love to hear [JimRD]  play “Take Five“.

He didn’t do this to his good uke, mind you—it’s an old beater that he didn’t mind drilling and gluing. We were a bit skeptical at first, but the resonance sweetens the electromechanical knock of the solenoid slug. That, and [JimRD] has some pretty good chops. Ax your way past the break to give it a listen.

Got a cheap ukulele but don’t know how to play it? If you make flames shoot out from the headstock, that won’t matter as much. No ukes? Just print one.

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Mad Max Inspired Flamethrower Ukulele

The new Mad Max movie is getting a lot of buzz, and a few people are calling it a modern classic. There’s a flamethrower guitar in the movie, which means it’s time for cosplay accouterments. Our ‘ol buddy [Caleb] loves flamethrowers and poofers, so hacking together a Doof Warrior inspired flamethrowing ukulele was natural for him.

The fuel for this uke is a can of butane actuated with a caulking gun. This setup is actually pretty clever; by removing the locking tab on the caulking gun, butane is released when the gun’s trigger is squeezed, but stops when the trigger is released. The igniter is a simple grill igniter is used to light the gas.

[Caleb] is rather famous for his flamethrowing creations. His life-size fire-breathing piranha plant uses a similar setup to shoot fire.

Video below.

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Tiptoe Through The Tulips In No Time With Ukule-LED

Take it from someone who has played at the guitar for over 20 years: reading sheet music can be a big stumbling block to musical enjoyment. Playing by ear is somewhat unreliable, tablature only works well if you’re already familiar with the tune and tempo, and pulling melody from chord charts is like weaving fiction from the dictionary. A lot can be said for knowing basic chord formations, but it can be difficult get your fingers to mimic what you see on the page, the screen, or someone else’s fretboard. Enter Ukule-LED, a learning tool and all-around cool project by [Raghav and Jeff] at Cornell.

Ukule-LED uses 16 NeoPixels across the first four positions of the fretboard to teach chord positions. All 16 NeoPixels are connected in series to a single pin on an ATMega1284P, which sits on a board mounted to the bottom of the uke along with power and serial. [Raghav and Jeff] set the NeoPixels below the surface so as not to interrupt playability. The uke can operate in either of two modes, ‘play’, and ‘practice’. In ‘play’ mode, the user feeds it a text file representing a song’s chords, tempo, and time signature. The LEDs show the chord changes in real-time, like a karaoke teleprompter for fingers. In ‘practice’ mode, the user enters a chord through the CLI, and the lights hold steady until they get a new assignment. Knowing which fingers to use where is up to the user.

To add another layer of learning, major chords alight in green, minor chords in red, and 7th chords in blue. These are the currently supported chord types, but the project was built with open, highly extendable Python sorcery available for download and subsequent tinkering. Go on tour after the break.

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Create A Buzz With The Mini Electric Ukulele

Everyone’s heard of the “World’s Smallest Violin,” but we think it’s time for something more upbeat. [Simone Giertz] of Punch Through Design has created a mini electric ukulele using a LightBlue Bean. The Bean is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller that you can wirelessly program using Bluetooth low energy (BLE).

The ukulele’s frame is made of laser-cut plywood.  Four 1M ohm resistors are soldered to individual wire strings. A different set of wire strings in the ukulele’s neck are connected to the same ground as the Bean. In order to play this tiny instrument, a finger must be kept on the “ground” strings while the other “tone” strings are touched by a different finger. [Simone] uses Arduino’s Capacitive Sensing Library to determine which string is being touched and what the tone will be (indicated in Hz). A piezo buzzer provides the sound. There is no need to fret when the battery is depleted from using this at an all-night luau: the frame can be unscrewed with easy access to the battery. [Simone] has uploaded the Bean’s code to GitHub.

There’s no shame going solo, but we’d enjoy a show of dueling mini-ukuleles. A duet with the 3D-printed ukulele is always a possibility. Or, play this little guy while running up and down some piano stairs while the kettle fife blows off some steam.  It’ll be a musical way to brighten anyone’s day. Check out the video of the mini ukelele after the break. You can also see more of [Simone’s] work at her website.

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The 3D Printed Ukulele

uke

The creator of everyone’s favorite slic3r – [Alessandro Ranellucci] – has been hard at work putting his 3D modeling skills to the test. He’s created a ukulele that’s nearly entirely 3D printed (Google translation). Everything on the uke, short of the strings and tuning pegs came from a MendelMax 3D printer, all without any support material at all.

In the video, [Alessandro] and uke virtuoso [Jontom] show off how this instrument was put together and how good it can sound. The body of the uke is made of two parts, and the neck – three parts including the headstock and fretboard – all fit together with surprisingly traditional methods. A dovetail joint connects the neck to the body and a tongue and groove-like joint holds the headstock to the neck.

[Allessandro] puts the print time of all the uke parts at about 120 under 20 hours and about 20 Euros worth of plastic. As far as ukuleles go, this sounds just as good as the average instrument, but [Jontom] says the action is a little bit high. That’s why files were invented, we guess.

Thanks [iant] for sending this one in.

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