Friday, 29 June 2012

MIDI saxophone update

After another BuildBrighton meeting last night, a bit more work has been done on MIDI-fying our saxophone. This is now the third attempt and looks the most likely to get a working result! The first time, the wires were ran from the bell to the neck, leaving little or no room for the microcontrotroller circuit. The second time, the wires were run to the bell, so there was a large area we could fill with a circuit board, but the copper-tape-making-contact-with-the-body idea failed on number of pads.

This time, we're sure we've got it right. Only because, we couldn't have come up with a more difficult-to-implement solution! We're (slowly) removing each pad - yes, complete with linkages and springs - and fitting a pushbutton under each one.

In doing this, we're finding out quite a bit about the saxophone.
Namely that it's been badly dropped at some point during it's life, and would be unplayable as an acoustic instrument! There are four or five pads misaligned - and rings on the leather showing where the pad used to sit, and a shallower indent showing it's new resting position after the (presumed) accident.

So despite filling the body with hot glue and generally making a mess of things, at least we can be satisfied in knowing we're not ruining a perfectly good sax for this project - it was only destined for a junk shop somewhere, or an expensive repair job!

 (Saxophone fitted with five pushbuttons, mounted into acrylic disks. The push buttons are the slightly clicky tactile ones and the guard has been removed to allow the pads to open more fully). 

When operating the pads, it's interesting to feel the tactile clicky button through the button on the body of the sax. This gives a really nice, responsive feel.
However, some pads are "normally closed" and open when you press a key (or combination of keys) rather than the simpler push-to-close type. We found that sometimes, if you release a key gently, the spring on the pad isn't always strong enough to force the pad fully closed again. Here's an example of one such pad. An extra spring was added between the pad cover and the guard, to help push the pad into it's normally-closed state, and force the pushbutton to "click closed")


  1. Hello, A very insightful post. Thanks for the info. Its great that if our default settings are giving us messy or stringy builds, this dialog can probably help.Thanks for the information.
    Jay Weinstein Seattle

  2. Hi Chris,
    I am very amazed about what you did. I am planning to do my own midi sax and so your posts were really fruitful to me. Can you post some demos of your sax ?
    On this page:, you will find a MIDI saxophone based on an Arduino mega for sell. Some informations are given about the pressure sensor, the vibrato control, etc ... It may interest you.

  3. Hi can you please share your code and schematics? I would really like to try this out, pls. email me at when you get this. Thanks. It looks really cool and I've been wanting to make one of these myself.