The Curmudgeon’s Corner #1 10.22.2010

Greetings and salutations! My name is Hank The Curmudgeon. Alex, who I’ve recently bombarded with e-mails about DIY music related stuff, finally threw his hands up and said “Hank, I’ve got no time to read the fluffy nonsense you send out! Would you be willing to put it in the form of a regular column in my blog here at GetLoFi?” Ha! That young man has no idea what he’s in for!

I am, by trade, an industrial maintenance mechanic and non-degreed mechanical engineer. I design, draft, weld, machine, fabricate, wire, bash and bend just about anything I can lay my hands on. I do some electronics work but I’m more inclined towards the mechanical than the electronics/programming side of things. About a year I joined Pumping Station: 1, a hacker/maker space located in here in Chicago. PS:1 introduced me to DIY music and homemade musical instruments. It has since become a passion…in one year I have built over eight musical instruments of my own design and divination.

In future columns, which I hope to post weekly or biweekly, based on the life, laziness and volume of material available, we’ll discuss things DIY musical I have found on the net, ideas floating around in my warped little mind, products I’m currently using, sources of things and stuff and questions that are on my list of wonderment. Occasionally I might post a project build for you to view. Circuit bending is cool but, in my book, it can’t beat a lathe and a milling machine!

We will start this week’s column with one of my favorite videos on the internet:

A few simple cans, some contact mics, a guitar effects pedal or 3 and off we go!

Question: What other common household items could be used to generate sound? Has anyone yet tried to contact mic an in-use toilet plunger using a waterproofed pickup?

Speaking of effects pedals I have become completely enamored with my Behringer FX600 Digital Multi-FX stereo effects pedal. At around $29 from Amazon and eBay you can do the following functions all in one box: FX flanger, chorus, phaser, delay (my personal favorite), tremolo and pitch shifter. It has two parameter pots and a level control. It’s nice having a stereo in/out capability in that you can jack into input “A”, take the signal from the output “A” and bring it back around to input “B” and finally take the signal away through output “B”. With the right parameter settings this can have the effect of doubling the depth of the effect with only one physical pedal. That being said I wanted more control and the ability to layer selected effect settings so I bought two more FX600’s. In a future column I’ll post a video demo to show you the FX600’s versatility.

On a related note I am a really big fan of Behringer and use their audio gear almost exclusively so you’ll be hearing quite a bit about them. (Full disclosure: I have no financial interest in Behringer nor am I sponsored by them.) Behringer gear is at an ideal price point for the DIY musician with a wide range of capabilities and features and quite decent sound. But enough product placement!

Discovery #1: Recently I had some 37 mm piezo disks that had to somehow fit into a 25 mm wide channel. Being that the local convenience store was surprisingly fresh out of piezo disks of an appropriate diameter I remembered something in an old e-mail exchange with GetLoFi and Tim Kaiser (http://tim-kaiser.org/) about how Tim accidentally cut a piezo in half with a table saw. I wondered if it would be possible to cut a piezo to the correct width and still have it function? My first attempt used a cutoff wheel chucked in a Dremmel rotary tool. The ceramic coating essentially shattered off. Getting rather desperate I took another disk and, using heavy-duty very sharp scissors, trimmed the disk to the size I needed. It worked! The secret is to think of the scissors as a pair of cutting edges with one edge, the bottom blade, as a stationary edge and the upper blade as the moving edge. If you lay the portion of the piezo disc that you want to eventually use flat onto the bottom stationary edge of the scissors and DO NOT LIFT OR MOVE THE DISC WHILE YOU CUT IT! That way the disc will not curl as it is cut and the ceramic coating will not chip off! I then immediately run a thin bead of crazy glue along the cut edges as a sealant to prevent the ceramic from any further chipping.

Discovery #2: I am sure you circuit benders are all familiar with the megaphone shaped voice changer toys that are available from various sources. I’ve seen them range in price from $10 to around $20. The other day I was in a ‘Spirit’ brand Halloween store, the kind of stores that pop up five weeks before Halloween in some vacant retail storefront, and saw that they had a voice changer box with a microphone on a wire lead for $9.99. Looking at the back of the package there was a logic table for the position of the switches in relation to the various voices they would create. Hmmm… identical to the logic on the megaphone shaped toys! Here we get our raw material in a nice black box with a built-in belt clip, no quirky megaphone shape. An on/off switch instead of an utterly useless trigger and a microphone prewired onto a cable! What more could a bender ask for? The speaker inside, which is conveniently 8?, sounds like crap but then the first thing we all do to it is put an output jack on the case. Here’s what they look like packaged:

And it’s guts:

Item last… What do you get when you combine the sounds of two distinctly different instruments and have them played, by the same person, at the same time? You get awesome!

Regards and make a thunderous racket!

Hank The Curmudgeon

Hank welcomes questions, comments and ideas at hkrishman at g mail and the google DIY Music group at bit.ly/googleDIYmusic