Basic Bends – Kidtunes Electronic Keyboard

I’ve been working on a new toy and I wanted to give a quick update on my progress with it. Today I’ve been working on a Kidtunes Electronic Keyboard which I picked up at Value Village. The Kidtunes electric keyboard is made by a Chinese company called Scientific Toys and though I wasn’t able to find an exact year I would assume based on the circuit that it came out in the early 2000s. The keyboard itself is a little odd as it has two octaves (from G to F)  but is missing the second F sharp. I guess they assumed kids wouldn’t notice. The toy is monophonic (only one note can be played at a time) but has two distinct voices. There is a sustained organ voice as well as a shorter cleaner piano sound. The Kidtunes keyboard also features a demo mode and a low-high volume control.

One thing struck me as odd on the circuit board of this toy. It looks like, though they have used a black blob IC, they manufactured it separately and then added it onto the board. This has left easy access to the pins of the IC where it was connected to the main board. Though the majority of these solder points are triggers for the keys it still allows a level of access which is rare with modern toys. Additionally all of the components outside the main IC are though hole which allows for fairly easy bending and modification.

The first thing I added to this keyboard was a simple pitch bend. To do this I located the pitch resistor and removed it. On this toy the pitch resistor was located immediately below the IC. The resistor I removed was 220K ohm so I replaced it with a 100K ohm pot and a 150K ohm resistor in series. While playing with the pitch bend I also noticed I could illicit some very interesting glitches by attaching one of the legs of the pitch resistor through a capacitor to the base of a transistor on the far left of the board. I wired this up through a switch and moved on to see what else was available.

The next two bends I found were fairly straight forward point to point connections which I wired through switches. The first (red wires) involved connecting one of the resistors on the board to the trace running across the emitter of the transistor I mentioned in the pitch bend. This bend seems to impact the sustain of the Kidtunes keyboard. By connecting these points all sustain is removed so that the keyboard sounds like an xylophone. The second (yellow wires) connects one of the trigger points to a resistor on the board. When the keyboard is in organ mode this has the effect of holding any note played indefinitely when the switch is turned. Further in demo mode this will cause a note to play repeatedly. This second functionality will be extremely helpful while searching for further bends as I will no longer have to keep pressing keys.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten with this one so far. If I am able to find more I will be sure to provide an update. Also I should have a video of this toy online within the next day or so.

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555 Based Piezo Trigger

I’ve always been drawn to drum pads and kits. They are lots of fun and offer a slightly more tactile method of control then rows of pots and switches. So today while I was playing around on my breadboard I was drawn to pull out some piezoelectric disks and start experimenting.  What I’ve come up with is a very simple drum trigger circuit that you can build and experiment with.

This circuit uses a 555 timer set up in monostable mode. A monostable 555 timer will output a square wave pulse whenever it receives a trigger pulse from the piezo disc at pin 2. The pulse output from the 555 can then be adjusted through the 500K ohm pot placed between V+ and pin 7. The output pulse is then sent into the base of a 2N3904 transistor which works as a gate between the audio source and the speaker. This means when the pulse from the 555 is high the audio will pass through the transistor and when the pulse ends and the 555 output goes low the transistor will block the audio from passing.

If you are interested in adjusting the pulse length beyond what is available using the pot this can be achieved by adjusting the electrolytic capacitor between pin 6 and ground. By lowering the value of this cap you can shorten the range of pulse lengths available. Conversely by increasing it you can access a longer range of pulses.

By setting up 4 or 5 of these piezo trigger circuits you could create a fairly versatile set of drum pads. Since the audio source can be switched out or developed further there’s a lot that you can do to expand on the acoustic possibilities of your drum kit. You can try experimenting with different oscillators, Filters, LFOs, White Noise Generators or anything you want.

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555 Oscillators in Series

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately playing around with 555 timer chips and wanted to quickly share my latest creation. This project uses four 555 timers each set up as a standard astable oscillator. I’ve then connected the output from pin 3 of each oscillator to the control voltage at pin 5 of the next subsequent chip. Essentially this means each 555 timer is working as an LFO for the next oscillator to it’s right. I also increased the size of the capacitor between pin 6 and ground of the two left-most oscillators in order to  lower their frequency.

I was quite pleased with the range and depth of sounds it produced however, it should be said that I built this as a proof of concept and it is not fully flushed out. I would be very interested to try a similar setup with a different waveform. I feel like this idea would really come into it’s own if used with a triangle or sine wave oscillator which produced a wider range of tones. I have also been experimenting, with some success, with adding capacitors between the output and control voltage inputs to smooth the square wave slightly and create a saw tooth pattern. Without an oscilloscope on hand however this is proving difficult to optimize.

This is also a circuit which can be easily expanded by adding additional oscillators and admittedly there is a little voice screaming in my head to take it to it’s logical conclusion. I expect in my near future I’ll spend a rainy afternoon stringing together as many 555 circuits as I can fit on my breadboards and see what I end up with. I’ll be sure to share the results.

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