Category Archives: Hardware

Dead Bug! Prototyping SMDs

      Construction, Electronics, Hardware, How To, Infinity, Prototype

Gone are the days of DIP (Dual in-line) ICs. Most modern ICs are no longer offered in easy to use 2.54 mm (0.1 inch) pitch packages. The descendants of DIPs, the SOIC (Small Outline IC) and its friends (e.g. the TSOP (Thin Small Outline Package)) are shrunk down to 1.27 mm (0.05″) and even as low as 0.5mm (0.019″).

So how do we prototype using such tiny critters? We do it using the Dead Bug approach: A free-form construction, point-to-point soldering, often with the ICs flipped upside-down with their pins sticking up into the air like dead insects. The components are constructed, ad-hoc, using a bare copper-clad board serving as common ground. This construction technique drastically reduces electrostatic noise compared to other prototyping techniques using perf-boards or bread-boards.

Soldering a tiny TDFN-14 0.5mm package!

Dead-bug constructions are typically ugly beasts! We use a variation of the technique called the Manhattan Dead-bug Style, using small pads punched out of copper-clad board and glued into the main copper base. The pads serve as islands for soldering circuit nodes.

High efficiency Class-D amplifier

I like modular, reusable building blocks. And so we build small modules and connect them together, all on top of another bigger copper clad board. This construction is very favorable to noise sensitive electronics. The module you see here is a high efficiency Class-D amplifier.

 

 

Announcing the Nexus

      Electronics, Hardware, Nexus, Nu Series, Release, Support Electronics, XR Series

nexus

After more than a year of continuous refinement, I’m proud to finally release the Nexus. This small, hacker friendly breakout box connects your multichannel guitar to the outside world using a specialized (LEMO compatible) multi-pin connector for up to 12 channels of audio and 7 channels of analog control voltages for by-wire (remote) control of volume, tone, patch or effects. Audio may come from standard mono-pickups or from the Nu multichannel pickup. Analog control voltages are converted to MIDI control messages.

The Nexus and related support electronics are currently only available on pre-order basis, with a 3 week lead time for the first batch. Please send us a message for inquiries and orders.

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Toggle Switch Hub

      Electronics, Hardware, Support Electronics, XR Series, XR Update

ToggleSwitch

As those who follow our products know, we have had options for users of the classic 5-way blade switch since the release of the XR series. We are pleased to announce that we have expanded the versatility of the XR series even further with a solderless option for those who wish to use the LP style 3-way toggle switch. Our 3-way Toggle Switch Hub serves as the central connection point for XR pickup systems and offers the versatility of customizable switching options.

The versatile design of the hub allows for connection of 2 XR Active Series pickups (2 Quads, 2 Duals or 1 of each) and numerous control configurations including:

  • 1-Vol 1-Tone,
  • 1-Vol 2-Tone,
  • 2-Vol 2-Tone
  • 1-Vol + Resonant Filter

The Toggle Switch Hub is now available at cycfi-research.com for $9.99 USD (switch not included). Learn how to install the Hub here.

Note: The Toggle Switch Hub is compatible with the XR Active Series pickup systems only.

Infinity goes FM

      DSP, Electronics, Evolution, Hardware, Infinity, Processing
fm

Testing the FM synthesizer

What do I do on Christmas eve? What else, but hack some C++ code. I got a new highly optimized sustain driver design that also acts as pickup! The power consumption is now at 20mA, each. With the new drivers, I upgraded to FM synthesis from simple additive synthesis. Now I will be driving the strings with FM waves, the same tech behind the 80s Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. FM synthesis was developed by John Chowning at Stanford University in the 70s. In the 80s up ’till the mid 90s, Yamaha virtually monopolized the market with their hardware implementation. The patent expired in 1995.

FM is cool! I think FM synthesis is the best fit for the Infinity project.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

 

The Infinity Project

      Design, DSP, Electronics, Hardware, Infinity, Nu Series, Open Source, Pickups, Software

We want to push the limits of what we can do with the electric guitar. The Neo project (starting from the Six pack project) is a stepping stone towards our goal. And from the very start, our goal has always been polyphonic sustain. Polyphonic sustain, plus extensive processing for each string, will give us musicians full control over the dynamics of the guitar. This is my holy grail and as you can see in our previous proof of concept demonstration, we’ve come closer to that goal than ever before.

Presenting the Infinity Polyphonic Sustain system:

Infinitynew

Digital Control

driver

Driver coils with integrated amplifiers.

It takes a lot more than just slapping together six EBows. A very early prototype employed a 6x analog feedback system just like the Ebow. It worked but was rather unwieldy and impractical. The phase at the driver (neck position) lags behind the phase at the pickup (bridge position) and you need some form of phase shifting (using analog filters) to align the phase properly for sustained oscillation. Without phase shifting, you have to use more force than necessary to get the string to oscillate, and that wastes too much power.

All it should take is a little nudge. That’s what I always say. I think current breed of analog sustainers inefficiently use too much power. If you pull at the right moment with just the right amount of force, you can get something to oscillate indefinitely. That’s the essence behind sympathetic resonance. With just a little amount of force, at the right frequency (and phase!), you can make a very sturdy bridge collapse, for example.

We favor a digital approach with a microcontroller (MCU) doing the phase and frequency locking and synthesising a waveform that’s fed back to the driver (more on this later). A digital system vastly simplifies the required electronics. The MCU can do the phase corrections, analyse the envelope of the input and control just the right amount of signal to drive each string to oscillation.

MCU

Acoustic synthesis

A digital system buys us a lot of flexibility. For instance, with a digital system, we can feed any kind of waveform back as long as it is coherent with the input. Recently, we’ve tried square, pulse, triangle and sawtooth. Wave tables would be cool, for example! How about samples of bow noises or wind blow noises? How about the human voice? Guitar or Piano samples? That might be cool. And, needless to say, there are no nasty squeals that plague analog feedback systems. It’s just pure sympathetic resonance!

Synthesized-Feedback

Acoustic synthesis is a powerful concept. It involves the creation of new sounds by controlling the vibrations of actual physical objects, in this case, the strings.

I’m sure most of you are aware that hexaphonic sustain has been done in the past with the Moog guitar (or the more recent Vo96 Acoustic Synthesizer). So what makes this project different? Unlike the Vo96 —a pure acoustic synthesiser, we opt to combine both traditional synthesis and acoustic synthesis.

EnvelopesThe Moog guitar, and the newer Vo-96 system use pure acoustic synthesis and advertises zero post processing. In my opinion, that is not necessary. You do not need an elaborate system for controlling everything, including timbre and dynamics. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Instead of pure acoustic synthesis, we prefer to post-process the polyphonic signal. You can do a lot with post processing on individual strings including control of attack and decay. An advantage of our approach is that it is simpler, requires less power, and does not require special strings! You only need to get the string sustaining, plus introduce some harmonics along the way. There’s so much potential in polyphonic processing that the Vo system shuns. A simpler system should cut the cost down considerably.

For example, we will not perform sustain dampening acoustically like the Moog did (the banjo effect). Instead, we intend to do DSP processing for each string. With post-processing, it’s easy to sculpt an envelope to achieve the muted banjo like effect. DSP processing will give us full control over the dynamics of the guitar (e.g attack, decay, sustain in addition to harmonic control). With these controls, you can have anything from banjo like short-sustain to long piano-like sustain and of course, infinite sustain.

Software

But it should not be limited to dynamics control. We’re also looking at timbre control and the injection of harmonics using various forms of synthesis techniques such as Waveshaping for timbre control (polyphonic fuzz in steroids!) and Kurplus Strong synthesis (e.g. having a number of virtual strings in memory excited by the inputs from the Neo pickup potentially modifying the parameters in real time). You can have drone strings, doubles, triples, etc. There will also be pickup placement simulation (using comb filters and short convolution for applying captured impulse response of other instruments (e.g. acoustic guitars).

The software is hosted in your laptop (or desktop). A software plugin (AU, VST, RTAS, AAX) does the multi-channel post processing and control; sending downstream MIDI data to the MCU inside the guitar for controlling feedback. The in-guitar MCU can also send upstream MIDI to control performance parameters (e.g. volume, pan, pitch-bend, cutoff-frequency, resonance, etc.) using potentiometers and other forms of user-control hardware directly from the guitar.

Further Reading

Open Source Hardware

      Electronics, Hardware, Open Source, Pickups, Six-pack, Software

I am a strong advocate of Open Source. I have authored three Open Source C++ libraries, Boost.Spirit, Boost.Fusion and Boost.Phoenix. These libraries are all peer-reviewed, under the Boost Libraries umbrella, for which I have been active since 2001. So, you give away your time and effort to develop this cool C++ code and let people review your code through the Boost Review Process. Once you pass the review, you maintain your code and provide technical support. And you do it all for free! When I first started going down this path, I’ve been told numerous times that I must be crazy, that instead I should protect myself and not expose my work for everyone else to “steal” and that I am crazy to give it all away for free. Hah! They just don’t get it.

clockIt was in the late 90s when I started writing Open Source Software. Fast forward to 2013, now everyone knows that Open Source works and has become a revolution that eclipses even the mightiest software giant. Now, there’s a new revolution coming our way. Open Source Hardware is here! I knew it was coming, it just took more time to build enough critical mass for the movement to become mainstream. Unlike software, developing a hardware project is a lot more involved. Unlike software projects which require only a PC, a free text editor and a free compiler, with hardware projects, you need lots of equipment. Then you need to buy the parts, design and build your prototype, test the prototype and iterate over the design, ask a PCB manufacturer to produce the PCBs, design the enclosure, find a suitable plastics manufacturer to produce the enclosures, and so on. And in most cases, hardware projects also involve software development as most hardware projects now use MCUs.

I am a DIY guy. I love building stuff. I got into electronics and then computers because first and foremost, I love music and In my early years as a musician, I got inspired by people like Craig Anderton, whose articles  (DIY electronic projects) I read in magazines such as Guitar Player and Electronic Musician, and Brian May who, together with his father, built his own electric guitar which gave the band Queen its own unique sound. This same DIY culture fueled the rise of Open Source Hardware. This is evident in the popularity of DIY sites such as Make, Hackaday, and Instructables.

The electronics projects we will have here, starting from the Six-Pack hexaphonic pickup project, will be entirely Open Source. The designs (schematics, PCB layout, software, bill of materials, CAD drawings and source code) will be freely shared, 100% free, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.