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Archive for the ‘musical hacks’ Category

Engineers create something out of nothing, and no where is this more apparent than in the creation of customized computer hardware. To make a simple MIDI controller, you need knowledge of firmware design and computer architecture, you need knowledge of mechanical design, and you need to know electronic design. And then you need the actual working knowledge and experience to wield a tool, be it a hammer, laser cutter, or an IDE. [Mega Das] brought together all of these skill to build a MIDI controller. Sure, it’s for bleeps and bloops coming out of a speaker, but take a step back and realize just how awesome it is that any one person could imagine, then implement such a device.

The electronics for this build include a printed circuit board that serves to break out the connections on an Arduino nano to a dozen arcade push buttons, four slide pots, two rotary pots, and a handful of screw terminals to connect everything together. Mechanically, this is a laser-cut box engraved with some fancy graphics and sized perfectly to put everything inside.

Yes, we’ve seen a lot of MIDI controllers built around the Arduino over the years, but this one is in a class by itself. This is taking off-the-shelf parts and customizing them to exactly what you want, and a prodigious example of what is possible with DIY hardware creation. You can check out the build video below.

We don’t think [bleepbit] will take offense when we say the “poor man’s theremin” looks cheesy — after all, it was built in a cheese container. Actually, it isn’t a bad case for a simple device, as you can see in the picture and the video below. Unlike a traditional theremin, the device uses ultrasonics to detect how far away your hand is and modifies the sound based on that.

There are also two buttons — one to turn the sound off and another to cycle through some effects. We liked how it looked like a retro cassette, though. The device uses a cheap Arduino clone, but even with a real Arduino, the price wouldn’t be too bad. However, the price tag quoted doesn’t include a few connectors or the speaker that appears in the schematic. There’s a note that the model built uses a jack instead of a speaker, but it would be nice to include both and use the kind of jack that disconnects the speaker when you plug speakers or headphones in.

The code is simple and there are four possible effects you can cycle through with one of the buttons. Unlike a real theremin, you can trigger this one with anything the ultrasonic sensor can see. The Arduino audio quality is not superb, of course, but it is still a fun rainy day project.

We couldn’t help but think that a 32-bit Arduino could have used one of the sophisticated audio libraries. However, there are other libraries that might improve things even with the 8-bit processor.

Granted, this isn’t a true theremin, but we’ve seen plenty of those, too. We’ve even used the same sensors to control a PC.

It’s common knowledge that tapping a wine glass produces a pitch which can be altered by adjusting the level of the tipple of choice inside. By filling twelve glasses with different amounts of liquid and tuning them to the twelve notes of the scale, it’s possible to make a one-octave instrument – though the speed and polyphony are bottle-necked by the human operator. If you think it sounds like a ripe project for automation, you’re correct: [Bitluni’s lab] has done what needed to be done, and created a MIDI instrument which plays the glasses using mallets.

Electronically it’s a simple build – some 12 V solenoids driven by MOSFETs, with an Arduino in charge. For the mechanical build, a 3D printer proved very useful, as each mallet could be made identical, ensuring a consistent tone across all glasses. Rubber covers printed in flexible filament were fitted to reduce the overtones and produce a clearer sound. [Bitluni] also utilised different types of glasses for the low and high pitches, which also helped to improve the clarity of the tone.

MIDI is of course the perfect protocol for this application; simple, lightweight and incredibly widely used, it’s the hacker’s delight for projects like this. The instrument can perform pre-programmed sequences, or be played live with a MIDI controller. Both of these are shown in the video after the break – stick around for a unique rendition of Flight Of The Bumblebee. For a more compact wine glass based music creation solution, we recommend this nifty project, which alters pitch using a water balloon raised and lowered into the glass by a servo. 

Effects pedals: for some an object of overwhelming addiction, but for many, an opportunity to hack. Anyone who plays guitar (or buys presents for someone who does) knows of the infinite choice of pedals available. There are so many pedals because nailing the tone you hear in your head is an addictive quest, an itch that must be scratched. Rising to meet this challenge are a generation of programmable pedals that can tweak effects in clever ways.

With this in mind, [ElectroSmash] are back at it with another open source offering: the pedalSHIELD MEGA. Aimed at musicians and hackers who want to learn more about audio, DSP and programming, this is an open-hardware/open-software shield for the Arduino MEGA which transforms it into an effects pedal.

The hardware consists of an analog input stage which amplifies and filters the incoming signal before passing it to the Arduino, as well as an output stage which does the DAC-ing from the Arduino’s PWM outputs, and some more filtering/amplifying. Two 8-bit PWM outputs are used simultaneously to make pseudo 16-bit resolution — a technique you can read more about in their handy forum guide.

The list of effects currently implemented covers all the basics you’d expect, and provides a good starting point for writing custom effects. Perhaps a library for some of the commonly used config/operations would be useful? Naturally, there are some computational constraints when using an Arduino for DSP, though it’s up to you whether this is a frustrating fact, or an opportunity to write some nicely optimised code.

[ElectroSmash] don’t just do pedals either: here’s their open source guitar amp.

Taking a vintage radio and cramming it full of modern, Internet-connected, guts has long been a staple of the hacking and making scene. While some might see it as a crime to take what’s arguably a legitimate piece of history and turn it into nothing more than a slipshod case for the Raspberry Pi, we have to admit there’s a certain appeal to the idea. Taking the beauty of classic design and pairing it with more modern capabilities is getting the best of both worlds.

But this project by [Nick Koumaris] is a somewhat unique take on the concept. Rather than sacrificing a real vintage piece of hardware to house the electronics, he’s designed a 3D printable case that looks like a classic 1936 AWA Radiolette. But what’s really interesting to us is that he then puts a basic FM radio inside of it.

That’s right, no Internet radio streaming or smartphone Bluetooth compatibility here. It’s just a regular FM radio, not entirely unlike the kind of hardware you’d expect to be inside of a classic radio. Of course, it’s much more modern, and [Nick] actually built it himself from a TEA5767 FM radio module and an Arduino Pro Mini.

While functionally it might not be terribly exciting, we do appreciate that he went through the trouble to make a vintage-looking user interface for the radio. While physical buttons would arguably have been more appropriate given the era, the art deco inspired font and graphics that show on the device’s Nokia 5110 LCD do look really slick.

Purists will surely be happy to see another project where a piece of vintage piece of audio equipment wasn’t sacrificed at the Altar of Hack, but we’ve also played host to many projects which weren’t nearly as concerned with historical preservation.

Most often ultrasonic transducers are used for distance measurements, and in the DIY world, usually as a way for robots to detect obstacles. But for a weekend project, [Vinod.S] took the ultrasonic transmitter and receiver from a distance-meter module and used amplitude modulation to send music ultrasonically from his laptop to a speaker, essentially transmitting and receiving silent, modulated sounds waves.

The transmitter and receiver
The transmitter and receiver

For the transmitter, he turned an Arduino Pro Micro into a USB sound card which he could plug into his laptop. That outputs both the audio signal and a 40 kHz carrier signal, implemented using the Arduino’s Timer1. Those go to a circuit board he designed which modulates the carrier with the audio signal using a single transistor and then sends the result out the ultrasonic transmitter.

He took care to transmit a clear signal by watching the modulated wave on an oscilloscope, looking for over-modulation and clipping while adjusting the values of resistors located between the transistor, a 5 V from the Arduino and the transmitter.

He designed the receiver side with equal care. Conceptually the circuit there is simple, consisting of the ultrasonic receiver, followed by a transistor amplifier for the modulated wave, then a diode for demodulation, another transistor amplifier, and lastly a class-D amplifier before going to a speaker.

Due to the low 40 kHz carrier frequency, the sound lacks the higher audio frequencies. But as a result of the effort he put into tuning the circuits, the sound is loud and clear. Check out the video below for an overview and to listen to the sound for yourself. Warning: Before there’s a storm of comments, yes the video’s shaky, but we think the quality of the hack more than makes up for it.

What else can you do with the ultrasonic transducers? You could wire a bunch of them to a Raspberry Pi to make a piano interface. Or you could use a larger transducer to make an affordable ultrasonic soldering iron.

[Clare] isn’t the most musically inclined person, but she can strum a guitar. Thanks to a little help from an Arduino, she doesn’t even have to do that.

She built the strumbot, which handles the strumming hand duties of playing the guitar. While [Claire] does believe in her strumbot, she didn’t want to drill holes in her guitar, so hot glue and double-sided foam tape were the order of the day.

The business end of the strumbot is a micro servo. The servo moves two chopsticks and draws the pick across the strings. The tiny servo surprisingly does a great job getting the strings ringing. The only downside is the noise from the plastic gears when it’s really rocking out.

Strumbot’s user interface is a 3D-printed case with three buttons and three LEDs. Each button activates a different strum pattern in the Arduino’s programming. The LEDs indicate the currently active pattern. Everything is powered by a USB power pack, making this a self-contained hack.

[Clare] was able to code up some complex strum patterns, but the strumbot is still a bit limited in that it only holds three patterns. It’s good enough for her rendition of “Call Me Maybe”, which you can see in the video after the break. Sure, this is a simple project, not nearly as complex as some of the robotic guitar mods we’ve seen in the past. Still, it’s just the ticket for a fun evening or weekend project – especially if you’re introducing the Arduino to young coders. Music, hacking, and modding – what more could you ask for?


Someone left this organ out in the rain, but [Tinkartank] rescued it and has given it a new life as a SID controller. What’s a SID, you ask? That’s the sound chip Commodore used in the C64, a remarkable chip revered among retro gamers that was way ahead of its time.

He threw out everything but the keyboard assembly for the build. Each key press now drives a momentary button, and those are all wired up to an Arduino Mega through some I/O expansion boards left over from another project. The Mega drives the MOS6581 SID chip which generates those sweet chiptunes. There are four CV outs for expanding the organ’s horizons with Eurorack modules.

Our favorite part is the re-use of the stop knobs — particularly that they are actuated the same way as before. The knobs still technically control the sound, but in a new way — now they turn pots that change the arpeggio, frequency, or whatever he wants ’em to do.

The plans for the future revolve around switching to a Teensy to help out with memory issues. Although it’s a work in progress, this organ already has a ton of features. Be sure to check them out after the break.

Once you dive down the chiptunes rabbit hole, you might want to take them everywhere.  When you get to that point, here’s a portable SID player. A SIDman, if you will.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Musical Hacks

There’s a lot more to learning how to play the guitar than just playing the right notes at the right time and in the right order. To produce any sound at all requires learning how to do completely different things with your hands simultaneously, unless maybe you’re a direct descendant of Eddie Van Halen and thus born to do hammer ons. There’s a bunch of other stuff that comes with the territory, like stringing the thing, tuning it, and storing it properly, all of which can be frustrating and discouraging to new players. Add in the calluses, and it’s no wonder people like Guitar Hero so much.

[Jake] and [Jonah] have found a way to bridge the gap between pushing candy colored buttons and developing fireproof calluses and enough grip strength to crush a tin can. For their final project in [Bruce Land]’s embedded microcontroller design class, they made a guitar video game and a controller that’s much closer to the experience of actually playing a guitar. Whether you’re learning to play for real or just want to have fun, the game is a good introduction to the coordination required to make more than just noise.

In an interesting departure from standard stringed instrument construction, plucking is isolated from fretting.  The player fingers notes on four strings but plucks a special, fifth string with a conductive pick that closes the plucking circuit. By contrast, the fretting strings are normally high. When pressed, they contact the foil-covered fingerboard and the circuit goes low. All five strings are made of carbon-impregnated elastic and wrapped with 30AWG copper wire.

All five strings connect to an Arduino UNO and then a laptop. The laptop sends the signal to a Bluefruit friend to change Bluetooth to UART in order to satisfy the PIC32. From there, it goes out via 2-channel DAC to a pair of PC speakers. One channel has the string tones, which are generated by Karplus-Strong. To fill out the sound, the other DAC channel carries undertones for each note, which are produced by sine tables and direct digital synthesis. There’s no cover charge; just click past the break to check it out.

If you’d like to get into playing, but don’t want to spend a lot of money to get started, don’t pass up those $30-$40 acoustics for kids, or even a $25 ukulele from a toy store. You could wind your own pickup and go electric, or add a percussive solenoid to keep the beat.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Microcontrollers, Musical Hacks

[Mike Clifford] of [Modustrial Maker] had not one, not two, but five friends call him to announce that their first children were on the way, and he was inspired to build them a Bluetooth speaker with a unique LED matrix display as a fitting gift. Meant to not only entertain guests, but to audio-visually stimulate each of their children to promote neurological development.

Picking up and planing down rough maple planks, [Clifford] built a mitered box to house the components before applying wood finish. The brain inside the box is an Arduino Mega — or a suitable clone — controlling a Dayton Bluetooth audio and 2x15W amp board. In addition to the 19.7V power supply, there’s a step down converter for the Mega, and a mic to make the LED matrix sound-reactive. The LED matrix is on a moveable baffle to adjust the distance between it and a semi-transparent acrylic light diffuser. This shifts the light between sharp points or a softer, blended look — perfect for the scrolling Matrix text and fireplace effects! Check it out!

[Clifford]’s Arduino code is up on GitHub for anyone else out there with friends who are expecting. You never know when your own childhood Fisher-Price cassette players from back in the day might come in handy.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Musical Hacks

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