Kevin Guiney

Final Project Journal

This past summer I visit a museum in the middle of Wisconsin called The House on the Rock. It’s hard to describe, but it's warehouse after warehouse of collections of everything form model ships to merry-go-rounds. One thing he had a lot of colliopes; steam powered animatronic instruments.


I was fascinated by these, both visually and musically. My initial goal was do do something like that. A musical instrument that was part analog, part digital and part whimsical. I also love wind up music boxes, and ultimately decided I wanted to create something that made that same sound. I toyed around with the idea that it would be a performance stage, meaning you pushed a button and music played and characters animated. I finally decided I wanted something you can play. Music boxes only play one song, but I want to create something where you have control over that distinctive plucked metal sound.

How will it look? I’d like it to look like a real piano, just shrunk down to tabletop size. The keys should be playable by adult fingers. The back of the piano I still am not sure how it will look. Will it be like a baby grand, with a flip-up lid, or will it be a more saloon style? A lot of this depend on how much room I have back there taking the board and motors. Because of the size of each motor, my comb will have the individual spines spread far apart, probably a couple of inches. This can make for a very long piano, unless I can stack them in some way. I also want to make sure the sound resonates well, so will have to figure that out as well.

What skills from class will be a part of my final project? Hopefully most. Parts of the piano will be milled (frame), parts will be 3d printed (keys), the board will take input form the keys and then drive a motor. Given time, I’d like to network the keys together so I can sent a preprogrammed song to trigger each individual board in sequence.

How can I make this modular? While it would look a lot cleaner to have all the keys and motors connect to one board, I have decided to make a one key per one board. I think this will be beneficial for a number of reasons: -I can start with a proof of concept with one key plucking one note. I won’t have to build a more complex system only to realize there are things I need to change. -I’m not sure how many keys I will have time to add. If you by a mini usb keyboard they don’t come smaller that 24 notes.

What materials is it made out of? The frame I’ll make out of wood They keys I’m still deciding if they will be milled out of wood or 3d printed (probably in formlabs for a smoother surface) The biggest thing I’ll have to figure out is what the metal comb will be made out of, and how to tune it. Here is a not too detailed guide on how to make a comb I could always buy them, but that would be cheating wouldn't it?

I really like the look of these wooden keys, from this site where a guy tried to make a steam calliope.

How will the note get triggered? The notes will be hit by a solenoid. One challenge I’ll have is how the note will be stuck once as the solenoid pushes up, but not strike it a second time when it goes back down. I need to ask Rob about the solenoids, as they look more expensive than I thought, especially if I'm buying a bunch: Jameco or McMasters or cheaper but poorly reviewed ones on amazon

What will the board look like? I’d like it long and thin to tuck back behind the piano key. It will be two-sided. What will the motor be that I use? I’ve decided on a solenoid, which will be the simplest solution.

How will I pluck the note once, making sure it’s not plucked a second time? Good question. More on that to come.

How will I make the spines (comb) that are plucked? After I find the correct medal, I may cut them with a dremmel.

How will I power everything, especially if I am going with one board per note? Each board will have a header. That can be powered. Because the modular build, I can add more power sources as needed.

What additional features can I add if I have time? If time permits, I’d love to have pre-programed music that with a push of a button can play whole songs. Song thoughts: Peanuts Christmas, Claire De Lune, City of Stars


latest work:

This week I designed my final board. I started of using Eagle, but then switched to Fireworks, which is a Illustrator like program. I draw everything out on graph paper first, then made my traces in Fireworks. I imported past traces to get the sizing of everything correct. I just like having the control of everything with the graph paper.

I have a lot on the board so made it a two sided board with vias going through to the back. Richard had done this on a board and advided me on changing the tool diameter. Rob showed me how to thread a wire through the holes and solder them. In the end, I didn't have one go all the way through and only found out when my board wouldn't flash. After testing I found the one bad spot and re-soldered with a londer wire.


I ran into two other problems milling, rookie mistakes. One was leaving the mill that was on there without checking first. most of my material was cut away. The correct bot was also pretty old and the cuts looked in rough shape.

I stuffed the board, and all worked well. Thanks to Olga and Rob for advice along the way.
Next up will be adding and coding for the solenoid. Then add a button connected though wires onto the board to trigger the solenoid. I'm having it on wires instead of the board is so I can position it to be triggered by the piano key.
Another big thing I still have to figure out is how the sloenoid will strike the note (the end of the spine), hitting it once on the way up but not again on the way back down.