When I'm not doing research, I like to build stuff, especially musical instruments. Although I'm mostly in it for the woodworking, I find the problems inherent in instrument interface design interesting as well. Here are some of the things that I've built over the last 7 or 8 years. Aside from some finishing touches on the two most recent projects, the list isn't likely to change any time soon as school keeps me pretty busy. Plus my 275 sq. ft apartment isn't exactly conducive to shop-work!

Tenor Bass (2008-2009)

tenor bass

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This is the latest instrument. It's a short-scale (29.5") tenor bass (tuned ADGC) with piezo and optical pickups. The body is made of bubinga, the neck is a 5 piece sandwich of curly maple and wenge, and the fretboard is snakewood. I finished the woodworking just before I arrived at Columbia, but I'm still working on debugging my preamp design. I wanted to use optical pickups for this instrument, but rather than buying them from Lightwave, I thought that I'd take a shot at building my own. The design is pretty straightforward and relatively inexpensive, but still has some bugs to be worked out (the current version is too noisy). I'll post the schematics and eagle files once I have things working better.

The Active Tablature Project (2005-2009)

active tablature bass

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This project started about 5 years ago, although I basically didn't work on it at all between 2005 and 2007. It's an electric bass guitar (5 string, 34" scale) with several enhancements aimed at easing and speeding learning. The main idea is to provide a kind of "active tablature" directly on the instrument's fretboard. This is done by embedding 3mm LEDs at each possible fingering position (5 strings x 25 frets = 125 positions/LEDs). The LEDs are connected to on-board hardware which drives them so as to indicate, in real-time, where the player should place their fingers in order to play a song/scale/etc. The electronics are based on the open-source MIOS project, an abstract hardware framework for MIDI based applications.

HAGUS (2006-2007)


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The HAptic GUidance System (HAGUS) is a device that I designed and built for my Master's thesis at the MIT Media Lab. It began as a re-thought and re-designed version of the FielDrum, but ended up as a separate project. The underlying idea is the same as with the FielDrum (to explore the effect that physical guidance has on motor learning), but the devices are quite different. Whereas the FielDrum uses magnets for actuation, HAGUS uses a servo motor.

FielDrum (2006)


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This instrument started as a January term project and eventually provided the motivation for my thesis project at MIT. It's an acoustic drum outfitted with a system of electromagnets and control electronics which are used to induce pushing and pulling forces on a drumstick (with a permanent magnet embedded in its tip), moving it through a desired path in space. There are two states (attract and repel) which are controlled using the MIDI protocol (noteon messages attract the drumstick and noteoff messages repel it).

ACCORD (2006)


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This was my class project for MAS960: Principles of Electronic Music Controllers. Basically, it's a MIDI controller/analog synthesizer that provides an abstracted means of constructing three or four-voice chordal sequences. The idea is to provide separate and explicit control over the factors that determine a particular chord (root, type, inversion, etc.). This constrains the space of possible outputs, but in a way that is (hopefully) musically and pedagogically useful. There are controls for some other parameters, like velocity and arpeggiation, as well.

Bello (2001-2003)


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This was my first real attempt at luthiery. The instrument is sort of a cross between a cello and a tenor bass. It's tuned in 4ths like a tenor bass (ADGC), but has a lot of cello-like features and is meant to be played with a bow. There are both optical and piezoelectric pickups as well as a 5-band equalizer onboard.

Hammered Dulcimer (2001 & 2003)

hammer dulcimer

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This project started off as a traditional 12/11 hammered dulcimer that I built from a kit obtained at a great music store in San Francisco. Eventually I got the idea to try and automate the dulcimer. This was done with some steel from the hardware store, 35 solenoids, and a MIDI-to-parallel port circuit. Each of the 35 positions is mapped to a MIDI note.