Edit, 4/20: Eeeeeeee! Hello, Adafruit people. They blogged two of my projects today – I hope my site inspires you!
These have been an exciting few months! Look out for upcoming posts on my brainwave-reactive animatronic wings and horns, and Stylophone-playing deltabots (from a robot design by Jason Huggins) – as well as the older Project Anglerfish and holographic hat. :)
I’ve been mucking about with Stylophones a lot lately! Here‘s an example of somebody using one to great artistic effect. These tiny electronic keyboards produce a reedy tone (with optional vibrato), and are played using the attached metal-pointed stylus. Older, analog versions of the Stylophone used a resistor ladder to produce the pitch variance between keys, but unfortunately, the more recent ones have gone digital. However, they also include upgrades like a headphone jack!
These things are a pain to get open; it basically involves a lot of prying. Have four or five flathead screwdrivers and throwaway plastic cards on hand. Here, you’ve got the stupid digital board up top, with the volume at far left, tuning knob at center left, in/out jacks and speaker on the right, and 3-octave switcher at the bottom. It’s a really versatile little instrument!
And here’s your keyboard. The white cable coming out is attached to the metal stylus that completes a circuit with one key at a time. (The Stylophone is monophonic, such that even if you connect to two or more keys at once, only the last-activated pitch is played. I wonder if this is different with old ones!)
I wanted to rock out a bit more on this thing, so I took the Ataritar apart in the service of making something that’s actually playable. I reclaimed the electric guitar body (originally found down at AHA) with its conductive backing on the neck.
This conductive aluminum tape runs opposite the fingerboard, along the entire length of the neck, so I hooked it up to the stylus wire coming out of the ‘phone. Next, I chopped up some cat 5 cable (a.k.a. Ethernet cable – with eight wires inside), and soldered an end of each wire to one of the 20 conductive pads on the Stylophone’s keyboard.
The other end of each wire was soldered to a thumbtack, which I pounded into the front of the neck with a monkey wrench, one thumbtack per fret. Playing the ‘tar is simple, and fairly similar to a real guitar: you use your hand to connect the back of the neck with one of the thumbtacks.
I still don’t have the cable lengths exactly right, but the yellow sheathing, along with some braiding, helps keep them in check. The Stylophone is attached to the body via four pairs of magnets, since that’s how you change the (three AA) batteries.
I just had time to fashion a rudimentary shoulder strap by drilling a hole through the body and sticking a cable through. This whole thing was put together in about three hours, leading up to the first NoiseJam Johny Radio arranged at Noisebridge! It’s a DIY instrument orchestra, and the event was stellar, including a kickwheel, a couple of electronic cellos, some software input from Alex and Ari, and a chime made from a vibromotor and a heatsink.
The lovely thing about the headphone jack is that you can hook it into an amp and really blast. I love playing the ‘tar with bass boosted and treble subdued, which smoothes out some of the reediness and imparts a gorgeous mellow tone. And I’ve extended the tuning potentiometer from the back of the Stylophone to a knob on the guitar’s body, so it can be used during performance as a pitch bender. This, along with the octave switch built into the front of the Stylophone, gives me a tremendous range from ecstatic highs to shuddering lows.
Both of these add up to a truly unique sound that I’m excited to share as soon as video from Noisebridge’s 5-year party is available! I got to jam out again as part of the NoiseJam orchestra, and also with the magnificent Dubious Ranger!
My favorite aspect of this misbegotten thing is that it’s an electronic instrument that must be wet to play. The conductivity isn’t great, so unless you’re a really sweaty person by nature, you need a little help to make the connection between the back strip and the thumbtacks. So, I coated the contacts in EEG paste and dip my fingers in water while playing. And this is the only way it will work.
Moving forward: I certainly plan to make this instrument more beautiful; the gaping hole in the wood isn’t helping matters any. And I may convert the pitch bender knob into a whammy bar!
Rich DDT + Stylotar, Noisebridge, 4/8:
Moldover + Stylotar, same night: