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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Adding External Triggers – Kawasaki I-Soundz Drums

Trigger Inputs Drum Pad

A few weeks ago during one of my usual thrift store exploration I picked up a Kawasaki I-Soundz drum kit. Even before doing any bending I started having a great time with this toy. It has a large and varied vocabulary of samples and surprisingly high quality stereo audio driven by an internal TDA 2822 operational amplifier. I was also pleased to find that rather than the tactile buttons I’ve seen on many toy drum pads the Kawasaki kit is driven by piezo disks similar to higher end drum synthesizers. Unfortunately the device does not offer any polyphony but given the price point I did not expect it.

external triggers drum machine
The drum pads also contain a number of interesting on board rhythm samples. Unfortunately these samples only play for about 30 seconds before stopping (regardless of whether you are playing the kit). Since I was looking for something I could use to set up repeating rhythms while I played other devices this left me with a need. I wanted to set up external triggers for the drum sounds. By using these external triggers in conjunction with my recently completed 4017 gate sequencer I could turn the Kawasaki drum pads into an 8 step drum machine and unlock a world of new rhythms.

The Build

external triggers drum pads
The first step whenever you are setting up external triggers on any toy is to create a ground share point. This can be done by simply adding a banana jack or binding post and connecting it to any ground point on the circuit. If you are using grounded connections from your trigger source (such as 1/4 inch, 3.5 mm or RCA cable) then you can simply connect the ground point to the ground on your trigger input jacks rather than having a separate plug.


Because (in it’s normal operation) this toy is triggered by piezo disks most of our work is already done for us. When the pads are hit the piezo disk creates a trigger pulse. This pulse is sent to the base of an internal transistor (highlighted above), which switches the circuit on momentarily and causes it to play the sample associated with the drum pad hit. All we need to do to set up external triggers is send our external signal to the base of these transistors to switch them the same way the triggers from the piezo do.

External triggers solder points
One thing I am admittedly not incredibly comfortable with is soldering onto SMD (surface mount) circuits. That being said this is something that I feel I need to improve and develop my comfort with. Surface mount technology becomes more prolific and through hole circuitry becomes rarer and rarer each day. Further developing my comfort with SMD will open up near endless possibilities of new circuits I can work with. For this reason I have made it a goal not to shy away from these circuits. I will take the necessary care but am determined to become as familiar and comfortable with them as I am with more traditional components.

Where possible I soldered my leads to resistors adjacent to the internal transistors as there was less risk of damaging these components.

To solder I held my soldering iron to tinned wires to heat them up prior to touching the board. Once the solder on the tinned wire was liquified I lowered the wire and soldering iron to the soldering point together. I raised the soldering iron from the board almost immediately after touching the two down and held the wire in place until the solder solidified. The key here is to spend as little time as possible with the soldering iron on the board. The components are significantly smaller and the solder connections are significantly weaker than traditional through hole circuitry. This means any excess heat on the board can damage components or loosen their solder connection knocking them out of place.

Since my solder points were weaker and the circuit was so crowded I also added a small amount of hot glue to each connection. This gives each connection added strength and also insulates the wire from the other components to ensure it doesn’t touch any other solder points.

For reference the solder points I used for the triggers were on R10, R13, R8, Q3, R2 and R4.

External triggers drum machine

Finally connect the wires from the trigger points to the trigger inputs of your choice. I was short on plugs so I have used bolts but you can easily use banana, 1/4 inch, 3.5 mm, RCA or any other type of input you have on hand.

Now that I have the external triggers set up on this drum pad I will be going back into the circuit and completing some more traditional circuit bending. I will be adding a pitch bend and hopefully will be able to find some other interesting bends and effects to give me an even wider range of sounds to use.

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Build A Simple Gate Sequencer

Gate Sequencer

For the past week or so I’ve been working on building a 4017 based matrix gate sequencer. I originally started thinking about this project after purchasing a set of Kawasaki electronic drum pads from a local thrift store. I wanted to create a tool I could use externally to trigger the drums in a continuous loop. As I began to design This build though i began to realize it’s full potential went well beyond that.

As this sequencer goes through each step it outputs a voltage (approximately 5V) at the top most pin on the matrix. By connecting this top pin to any of the 6 pins directly below it you can send this signal out through the associated output on the side of the gate sequencer. Because these signals are being sent at approximately 5V they are perfect for switching low voltage transistors such as the 2N3904 (essentially allowing it to turn on or off an electronic switch wherever you send it). By using these outputs to switch on or off transistors they could be used to trigger a sound from a toy, gate an oscillator, turn on or off a channel on a mixer, trigger an envelope or anything else you desire.

Click here for details on setting up triggers in a drum toy

Gate sequencer 4017

I’ve also included some basic controls common to more traditional sequencers like the Baby 8. These include a rate control to adjust the clock speed, a hold switch which pauses the sequence, a step selector switch which allows you to select how many steps the sequencer goes through before restarting and a clock out for syncing other sequencers or circuits to the gate sequencer’s clock rate.

Parts List:

  • 555 Timer IC
  • 4017 Decade Counter IC
  • 2 – 4.7 K ohm Resistor
  • 1 – 100 ohm Resistor
  • 200K ohm potentiometer
  • 1 – 10 uf Electrolytic Capacitor
  • 1 – 0.1 uf Ceramic Capacitor
  • LEDs (one for power and one for each step)
  • 1N914 Switching Diodes (One for each step)
  • Rotary Switch (number of positions equal to number of steps plus 1)
  • Toggle Switch – power
  • Toggle Switch – hold
  • Hook up wire (lots)
  • Ribbon Cable (Strands equal to number of steps)
  • Proto-Board
  • Clock out jack (I used 3.5 mm headphone jack)
  • Ground Connection Jack (I used banana)
  • 6 – Output jacks (I used bolts but banana jacks are ideal)
  • Matrix connections (I used pin headers but you can use whatever you have available, requires 1 out and 6 in per step)
  • 9V battery clip

Schematic:

This is the schematic I drew up while building the gate sequencer. For simplicity sake I did not draw out all of the steps but they will each mimic the first two shown on this schematic. Bear in mind though that the 4017 output pins do not go in order, make sure to check the pin out diagram to make sure you are setting up the steps in the correct order. For 8 steps you should be pulling from pins 3, 2, 4, 7, 10, 1, 5 and 6 in order.

I wanted to mention as well as it is not clear on this schematic. If you are using fewer than all 10 steps from the 4017 counter you will need to wire the output of the next pin higher than the ones you have used to the final position of your rotary switch so that the counter resets after going through the steps you have used rather than the full 10. For example my gate sequencer uses 8 steps (outputs 0 to 7 on the 4017) so I wired output 8 (pin 9) to the final position of my rotary switch.
AND gate for gate sequencer
If you are using this device to trigger circuit bent toys you may also run into an issue where you are not able to trigger the same noise for two consecutive steps. This is because if you send the signal to the same output for multiple steps the output will remain high rather than sending a pulse for each step. I was able to find the fix above from Peter Edwards of Casper Electronics who used it in a similar project he built a few years ago. In order to correct this you can place an AND Gate on each output and send the clock pulse into the second input on each AND gate as shown above. This will cause the output to pulse in time with the clock when the signal from the matrix stays high for multiple steps.

The Build:


The first step of the build was to populate the circuit. Following the schematic I had created while testing and designing my gate sequencer I placed and soldered all of the on board components. I also used a number of short leads to put the steps in order on the board so that I could work with them easier going forward. One thing I want to mention is the row of diodes shown in the above picture were actually removed and placed on a secondary board (more details to follow) to simplify the finished product.

At this point I also mapped out the surface of my project box and populated the off board components (switches, knobs and LEDs). Due to the number of components on the box I used a piece of graph paper cut to the size of the surface to plan the device locations then used a pin to mark each one through the paper. From here I drilled the holes for the larger components and secured them in place.

pin headers

Due to the sheer number of connectors required to build the matrix I was not able to use banana jacks (which would have been ideal). What I did have on hand though were a number of male to female jumper cables and a pile of pin headers. I cut 8 of the female heads for the top posts and used individual pin headers for the connections. To mount the individual pin headers i ran fairly high gauge solid core wire through the holes and soldered them to the short ends of each pin header. Next I pulled the wire back down the hole until the plastic guards on the pin headers sat securely against the top of the box. To secure them I poured a substantial amount of hot glue onto them from the underside of the box.

gate sequencer ribbon cable

In order to limit the rats nest I foresaw forming between the top of the box and the main board I used a small scrap piece of proto-board as a junction. From here I ran all the connections needed for each step. The ribbon cable shown here is attached back to the main board (orange is step 1 through to black for step 8). From the board there is an orange cable for each step to go to the rotary switch (attached to the reset pin), a green wire to connect to the LED for each step and a red wire to go to the top pin of the matrix for each step. Note the red wire is after a diode on each step while the orange and green are before it.


Here is a picture after each wire has been soldered to its place on the back of the lid. I also used hot glue to attach the small proto-board to the lid of my gate sequencer. Make sure you test all of the connections thoroughly prior to gluing it down. Check for any bleed between steps and that all the solder connections are strong. Once you glue it down it will be very difficult to modify.


I connected all of the pins on the matrix (excluding the top row) in rows and connected each row to the corresponding output on the side of the box. One more coating of glue and I was ready to make the final connections. First I connected the ribbon cable to each of the 8 steps on the main board. Then I worked my way around the components which needed to be connected to the main board. Once everything was connected I wired up the battery, power switch and power indicator LED. I secured the battery with some Velcro and after some brief troubleshooting (There was a faulty switch I had to change) it was ready to go.

I am currently in the process of setting up trigger bends on my drum pad. Once they are completed and running smoothly I will have another article up describing how you can use your new gate sequencer to trigger noises from circuit bent toys  and down the road you can expect to see me using gate and trigger voltages to control a variety of other devices. Within the next week or so I should also have a demo video of this device uploaded for you to check out.

Thanks for visiting and happy soldering!

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