Friday, 29 July 2011

Miniature instruments make a return

Using the invisible instrument idea, and the early DeskJam prototypes (originally developed for a concept for Mattel in Sept 2010) we're soon to launch a range of miniature, playable instruments.
After being turned down by Mattel - their target audience was 7-10 years olds, and the instruments had to be dumbed right down to the point of losing their impact - they were also presented to Ravensburger in Germany. They too loved the idea, but couldn't get the cost of production down to less than $4/unit (apparently this was to be able to sell them for $40 each!). So we've decided to hang the expense, and make the little instruments here at Nerd Towers.

The original DeskJam range included guitar and bass (both worked in the same way) a miniature synth and the original instrument that kicked it all off - some miniature usb drums. As we're no longer going ahead with DeskJam - there were two other companies involved in the original project, but all the electronics, firmware and software development was strictly our own work - we're building the entire range again from scratch.

The first instrument in our new range of instruments is the guitar.
We're working on a range of guitar shapes and styles, but each will basically consist of the same set of components: a touch-sensitive neck for selecting the chord/riff to play, and a set of touch-sensitive strings, which the user can strum to trigger the sound(s). For anyone reading the blog a few weeks back and wondering why the topics had jumped around to include multiple touch sensitive inputs, things should become clearer from hereon in...

The first thing we did was create a multi-layered guitar shape.
For the main guitar body, we're working with two layers of 5mm acrylic - into which we've cut a void to give a 10mm deep space for the electronics:

The front and back are cut from 3mm coloured opaque acrylic (this laser cutter has been soooo handy!) and a scratchplate made from some 1mm HIPS. This super-thin material is just right for the scratchplate (3mm acrylic is far too thick) and means that when we introduce some 3mm thick pickups, they stand proud by just the right amount - just like a real guitar!

Finally the layers are all assembled and the final guitar is starting to take shape:

The channel along the neck is for the touch-sensitive board. PCB pins will be inserted onto the "back" (non-copper) side of some copper clad board, and soldered to the etched front. To allow space for the soldered pins, we needed to keep a channel running along the length of the neck.

So it's off to the cupboard to dig out some Ferric Chloride and to get etching. Finally, it feels great to be making PCBs again - and this time, the end product is ready and waiting to be populated with some tried-and-tested electronics. This is one project that might actually get finished within a reasonable timeframe....