The day Ally learned how to make things…

26 Nov

Happy almost December! No idea where 2014 has disappeared to, but sure look…
Ally here once again, with a rather belated blog post about a really cool workshop I took part in recently. Here’s how it went…

Be under no illusion – before this workshop, I had no experience with DIY Electronics. I was aware that there were components called resistors, I had a vague idea what a circuit board was and I knew soldering was a thing. Beyond that, I was clueless.

Sometimes it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and this was a clear example of such a situation. Despite my lack of knowledge, I made a mini amp AND a fuzz pedal. Yes, I made mistakes. Yes, they were easily fixed. And most importantly, no, I did not severely burn myself with a soldering iron.

Look, I'm competent.

Look, I’m competent.

Initially, I was hugely apprehensive. Fears of failure loomed over me, and it was pretty much all that I could think about. But the experience itself was the opposite of what I had assumed. It’s easy to say you’ll do something, but it’s not so easy to actually get up and do it.

Five of us took part in the mini-amp workshop, and we all came out of it feeling godly as our amp actually functioned. We gained an extra body for the pedal workshop. And guess what? They all worked too! The five of us were varying degrees of inexperienced, but it didn’t really matter in the end.

I went into the workshop crushingly pessimistic of my own abilities, and came out of it feeling competent, which is always a nice thing. I couldn’t recommend a workshop like this more highly. Straightforward instructions, a stress free environment and the expertise of Thom all contributed to a pretty kickass day!

Electrosmash’s pedalSHIELD

5 Nov

Goooood evening,
Back to ask some important questions, and share some more cool info.

Do you like making noise with effects pedals?
Do you like making your own noise creating devices?
Wouldn’t it be neat if you could programme your own effects into a guitar pedal that you made?
(The above are rhetorical questions. Obviously.)

Electrosmash’s pedalSHIELD is a programmable Arduino Open Source & Open Hardware guitar pedal made for guitarists, hackers and programmers. Users can program their own effects in C/C++ or download ready effects from the online library, which is super cool.

It is designed to be a platform to learn about digital signal processing, effects, synthesizers and experiment without deep knowledge in electronics or programming. So basically, you can make it as easy or as complex as you want.

Here’s a video from the guys at ElectroSmash about the product itself:

And here’s some pretty diagrams:

BUT HOW DOES IT WORK?!

Don’t worry, I won’t leave out the most important part…

  • The Input Stage or Preamp: Amplifies the guitar input signal and sends it to the Arduino microcontroller to be processed.
  • Arduino Board: It does all the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) modifying the signal and adding the effect (delay, echo, distortion, volume…).
  • The Output Stage: Once the waveform is processed, the signal is taken from the Arduino DACs and prepared to be sent to the Guitar Amplifier.
    This part also includes a Summing Amplifier which is very useful for delay effects like echo or chorus.

Diagram depicting the input and output stages. (More pretty pictures!)

pedalSHIELD uses 2 ADCs and 2 DACS in parallel in order to achieve higher bit resolution (2 x 12bits). However using only 1 DAC and 1 ADC is possible without modifications. All other information is on the website (electrosmash.com/pedalshield)

And yes, this is linked to a future post. No, I’m not telling you now.
Buuuut, check back at the weekend and I’ll fill you in on yet more interesting stuff, because y’know, that’s kind of my job…

-Ally

A Few Little Bits And Pieces…

3 Nov

Ally here, back to inform you of the goings on at the minute at _maker.

Diddley Bow Workshop:

You may say; “The diddly-what?!”, but I’m here to divulge some information about a recent workshop _maker ran in conjunction with the super cool Anyone 4 Science over the October midterm.

The diddley bow is a single stringed musical instrument that originated in America, which heavily influenced the development of blues music. They traditionally consist of a single string of bailing wire which is strung between two nails on a board. It’s essentially a simplified slide guitar, played by plucking while varying the pitch with a metal or glass slide held in the other hand. It’s an incredibly versatile instrument, and is also easy to put together which just adds to the unique appeal of the diddley bow.

Eight students aged between 12 and 15 took part in the workshop, which was conducted by Thom on the 28th of October, and sure I’ve even included a few pictures below:

IMG-20141028-00150 IMG-20141028-00151 IMG-20141028-00152

As the legend that is Seasick Steve says, “with just one string you can’t go wrong, so go ahead and make yourself a song.” He named a song after the instrument too, which is just one of the endless reasons why you should try and make your own! It’s actually a pretty cool song, too!

Next post I’ll tell you all about the upcoming pedalSHIELD workshop, and some other cool things too!
’til then…

Haaaaave You Met Ally?

24 Oct

…no, of course you haven’t met Ally. Because that’d be me.

Awkward third person introductions aside, I’m proud to introduce myself as _maker’s new intern for all things media related (and probably some other cool stuff, too). I’ll be the one annoying you fine folk at workshops with a camera, as well as posting all sorts of neat information on this blog.

So, a bit about me. I’m a second year journalism student, and also a musician. I’m a bassist turned guitarist, which is working out pretty well for me, I must admit. I love effects pedals – anything that can increase the variety of noises I can produce is fine by me!

guitar set up
This is pretty much my current set-up. (I’ll be taking out the Zvex Fuzz Factory and replacing it with an Ibanez Tube Screamer, though.)

I’m coming into _maker with a vague knowledge of the inner workings of the humble effects pedal, and I’m very excited to learn how to make my own, as well as modifying ones that I already have.

Me and Thom were talking about a few new ideas for the blog and for the kind of things that _maker will be doing both online and offline over the coming months, and I for one am very excited to get started and to get informing people of exactly what’ll be happening. But more on that later…

I hope my ramblings and posts are somewhat entertaining, and I really hope to meet some of you at upcoming workshops and events!

- Ally

Mathlete’s Showcase & 3×3 Passive Matrix Mixer

2 Jun

Maker.ie were recently invited to showcase at the Irish MATHlete’s Showcase at the CHQ building in Dublin’s City Centre. It was a fantastic day where we got to meet some really bright and interesting young people, and show off what we teach.

 

Thom Preparing for the Mathletes!

Thom Preparing for the Mathletes!

 

The Mathletes had sat a competitive exam in the morning so I decided to create a fun interactive audio exhibit for them to play with, explore, and maybe blow off a little steam. For this I decided to build a 3×3 matrix mixer which would allow for a lot of hands-on audio experimenting by the students.

 

Matrix Mixer at the Mathletes Showcase

Matrix Mixer at the Mathletes Showcase

 

The 3×3 passive matrix mixer is different from a normal mixer in that each input is connected to each output. This connectivity allows for a number of feedback paths which can instantly and intuitively create rich textures and complex rhythms.

 

3x3 Passive Matrix Mixer Schematic

3×3 Passive Matrix Mixer Schematic

 

I decided to use our Light Controlled Synthesiser (a simple, light-reactive, hands-on device that anyone can play) as the starting point for generating a sound, then pass it through our Low-Pass Resonant Active Filter which fed into the matrix mixer at input 1.  A delay pedal was connected between output 2 and input 2. A loop station with a guitar and fuzz pedal at its input, was connected to input 3. Output 1 connected to an amplifier so the results of all the processing, mashing and mixing could be heard.

 

Synth>Filter>Matrix Mixer >Delay+Loop Station+Guitar+Fuzz Pedal>Amp

Synth>Filter>Matrix Mixer >Delay+Loop Station+Guitar+Fuzz Pedal>Amp

 

To build the matrix mixer there were a lot of connections to be made so I decided to use small strips of veroboard rather than have lots of wires soldered together. This makes for a neater build that is easier to troubleshoot.

 

3x3 Matrix Mixer Internals

3×3 Matrix Mixer Internals

 

The three small bits of veroboard in the middle of the board are connected to the wiper of the potentiometers (via a summing resistor) and carry the input signals. The bit of veroboard at the top is used as the circuit’s common ground point.

 

The matrix mixer is a really fun piece of kit which I’m glad to have finally got round building. Combined with time-based effects it can turn even the most basic signal source (like the Light Controlled Synth) into pulsing, richly textured soundscapes.

 

Now, some of that beautiful maths:

given a pitch with frequency f, the pitch one half step above has frequency 21/12 f

Given a pitch with frequency f, the pitch one half step above has frequency 21/12 f

 

Figure 1 - Top: The twelve pitches of the equally tempered chromatic scale arranged on a circle.   - Center: The vertices of the inscribed polygon represent the pitches of the diatonic scale (Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone).  The diatonic arrangement is the most evenly spaced distribution of seven vertices in a twelve-sided figure.  Note the symmetry inherent in the Dorian mode, which begins and ends on pitch 2 (D).  - Bottom: Diametric reflection of the odd numbered pitches results in the circle of fifths. [1]

Top: The twelve pitches of the equally tempered chromatic scale arranged on a circle.  Center: The vertices of the inscribed polygon represent the pitches of the diatonic scale (Tone-Tone-Semitone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semitone). The diatonic arrangement is the most evenly spaced distribution of seven vertices in a twelve-sided figure. Note the symmetry inherent in the Dorian mode, which begins and ends on pitch 2 (D). Bottom: Diametric reflection of the odd numbered pitches results in the circle of fifths. [1]

- Thom Conaty

http://www.maker.ie

 

[1]http://soundmath.blogspot.ie/2010/05/geometry-in-music.html

 

 

 

Modifying a Russian EX Big Muff π with a Switching Power Input Socket

19 May

I was  recently asked by a friend to modify their old-school Russian Electro-Harmonix Big Muff π, with a standard 2.1mm, switching, DC power input socket (often known as a ”Boss style” power jack), for use with a 9v battery. It was a fairly straight forward job, but I thought I would do a short blog post about it, as knowing how to add a DC input socket is super useful for a whole range of projects. These DC sockets let you switch automatically between battery and adaptor use, while conserving the battery when the adaptor, is plugged in.

Before we go through the mod, let me say something about safety

This project and modification are designed only to be used with the standard 2.1mm ”Boss Style” switching DC input socket that takes a 9v, centre negative DC power adaptor. 

Power from the mains AC power supply (the electricity from the plug in the wall) WILL, AND WANTS, TO KILL YOU.  Never mess with anything that plugs into a wall socket unless you are 100% confident with the power adaptor, that you know what you are doing, and the circuit you are working on.  Absolutely NEVER mess with a device WHEN IT’S PLUGGED INTO the wall.  Please be careful, and always put your and others’ safety first.

 

Now… let’s take a look at the layout of the 2.1mm DC input socket:

Pinout for the 2.1mm DC power socket showing the lug numbering.

Pinout for the 2.1mm switching DC power (”Boss Style”) input socket, showing the lug numbering.

Top view of the 2.1mm DC power socket showing pinout

Top view photo of the 2.1mm switching DC power (”Boss Style) input socket, showing pinout

Side view of the 2.1mm DC power socket showing pinout

Side view photo of the 2.1mm switching DC power (”Boss Style) input socket, showing pinout

 

Lug 1 – Ground (All ground connections)

Lug 2 – Power (From battery)

Lug 3 – Power (To board)

 

BE VERY CAREFUL- Check, double check, and triple check  your soldering and the pinout of the socket before connecting a power adaptor, or you risk frying your board. 

When running on battery, lugs 2 & 3 are connected. When a power adaptor jack is plugged in, the connection between the lugs is broken, saving the battery, and power is only drawn from the adaptor via lug 3.

 

So here is how the mod went:

1. I opened up the Russian Big Muff:

Russian Pots!

Russian Pots!

 

2. I drilled a 12mm hole for the DC socket. The metal is steel and quite tough but I managed to get through it:

Fresh hole for the socket

Fresh hole for the socket

 

3. The old 9v battery snap was broken so I’m gonna use a new one:

Old battery snap not looking very healthy.

Old battery snap not looking very healthy.

 

4. I inserted the DC Socket:

DC Socket in place.

DC Socket in place.

 

5. I then soldered the black wire from the new battery snap and the black wire from the old battery snap (that was still connected to the board) to lug 1 on the socket:

N.B. if there wasn’t already a wire soldered to the board (from the old battery snap), I would have had to add one from lug 1 to a ground point on the board).

Using the old wire coming from the board meant I didn't have to touch the board (always a good thing!)

Using the old wire coming from the board meant I didn’t have to touch the board (always a good thing!)

 

6. Then I soldered the red wire from the new battery snap to lug 2 on the socket:

The red wire from the new battery snap.

The red wire from the new battery snap.

 

7. The red wire from the old battery snap was still connected to the board so I soldered it directly to lug 3 on the socket (I also added a small piece of insulating mounting tape to prevent the lugs accidentally touching the board):

This red wire in lug 3 will take power from the adaptor to the board

This red wire in lug 3 will take power from the adaptor to the board.

 

8. Finally I remounted the board, and added a fresh battery:

Pretty!

Pretty!

 

The enclosure has been screwed back together and a fresh battery added.

The enclosure has been screwed back together and a fresh battery added.

 

9. And here she is working away:

It's alive!

It’s alive!

 

- Thom Conaty

thom@maker.ie

Hidden Sounds

13 Jan

Hidden Sounds Review

Sometimes when people are trying to create music using a physical medium such as circuit bending it can be hard to get inspiration, not only with what sounds to create but with what hardware to create them with. With that in mind, a show like Basic FM’s Hidden Sounds is a veritable goldmine of ideas and inspiration.

Broadcasting twice a month, every second Thursday at 7.00pm as well as repeats every Sunday at 4.00pm, Hidden Sounds features ambient/experimental circuit bending music from a variety of artists; from known exponents of the genre to new artists looking for a platform to showcase their work to a wider audience.

The show is relatively new and as such it would be best to keep in mind that as each episode goes by the host of Hidden Sounds grows into the role, with his occasional interjections and artist introductions becoming more and more polished and natural as time goes by.

So whether you’re looking for inspiration, a new platform to showcase some of your circuit bending electronica or just want something off the beaten track to listen to of a Thursday evening, Hidden Sounds really is an invaluable tool for artists and a truly enjoyable hour of music for casual listeners to boot.

Old episodes of Hidden Sounds are located at http://www.mixcloud.com/TheHiddenSounds and Basic FM have a free app available for download in both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store should you wish to check the show out for yourselves.

Happy listening!

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