So now the work really begins.
I have finally settled on a design for my synthesizer (and I still have to come up with a cool name, though “clusterf#@kaphone” springs immediately to mind). It will be an electric guitar body (already in disrepair, I feel it’s bad mojo to injure a working instrument), driving five walkmen playing looped cassettes, outputting to five sets of speakers. The default loops will be recordings of the notes of the bottom five open guitar strings – E, A, D, G and B. The tone will be modulated by the player touching a linear potentiometer mounted to the neck, one for each “string”/walkman, and the on/off/volume will be manipulated with a force-sensitive button (again, one for each “string”, hopefully harvested from an old touch-tone telephone) in the right hand position (where someone playing a real guitar would pick or strum). Additionally, if it is at all feasible, I will add a toggle switch for each “string” that allows the player to loop his or her own input – i.e. to record tone and volume instructions that can then be looped while other “strings” are being actively played. I feel like this should be easy enough to accomplish, given that while the output is purely analog (tape in walkman), all the parameters (tape speed/tone, volume) are being processed in the Arduino.
As far as I can tell, the workflow will be something like this:
- Obtain parts
- Conduct final tests of controls and outputs (especially regarding motor control of walkmen and durability of tape loops)
- Remove frets, bridge and pickups from guitar and begin to mount sensors; determine where wires go
- Perform surgery on walkmen and make tape loops; design and build cabinet for walkmen and speakers
- Write code
- Assemble instrument
- Paint and finish instrument
This coming week should yield steps 1-3; the following 4 and 5, and then 6 and 7 the week after.
I can think of many, many things that could go wrong, most notably that I might have to shape a new neck if there’s not enough room on the real one, or (much worse) that I might not be able to make the motors in the walkmen behave civilly enough to output actual tones you would actually want to hear. But time and work will tell, and I remain optimistic.
Mostly, I’m hoping to invite some of the very talented musicians I’m friends with to make music with this thing when it’s ready. By using cassette loops, there’s a degree of versatility that lets the player set five sounds he or she wants to work with, which don’t need to be the notes of a standard tuning, or even notes at all. I can imagine drums, found sound, voices talking, voices singing…
But first, there’s work to do.