Hacking the Macetech RGB Shades


Some of the more in-your-face pieces of wearable technology are macetech’s RGB Shades and LED Matrix Shades. They’re shutter shade sunglasses with a twist: the front surface is crammed with individually controllable LEDs. It’s an attention-grabbing effect, and the person wearing the Shades can see through the LED array just fine.

The newest RGB Shades prototype was unveiled at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014. It uses the popular WS2812 RGB pixels, has an integrated Arduino-compatible controller, and folds up neatly thanks to some hinges made of PCB material. It’s all powered with a common USB rechargeable battery pack. The LEDs are so bright that they’re usually run at 1/5th maximum brightness.

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I’ve been having a lot of fun programming patterns for the RGB Shades and LED Matrix Shades, and decided to demonstrate adding an audio response circuit. Since a few of the spare analog and digital ports on the Arduino-compatible controllers are brought out to wire pads, I only needed to build a small audio processing board, wire it up to the RGB Shades, and tweak the code to use the new sensor.

The external circuit is pretty simple. It’s an electret microphone, a microphone preamp, and an MSGEQ7 [https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10468] audio analysis chip. The microphone preamp was implemented with an LM358 op-amp chip (SOIC because I didn’t have a DIP version on hand), and the MSGEQ7 accepts audio input from the amplifier and outputs seven different analog values corresponding to available frequencies in the signal. In short, the purpose of the circuit is to pull in sound and output the amount of bass, mid range, and treble detected by the microphone. 14487428560_20c6ff71bd_z

Everything was assembled on a small piece of proto board, using the printed out schematic as a constant reference. Aside from the two ICs and the microphone, six resistors and five capacitors were needed. All the connections were made with 30AWG wire-wrapping wire. After a quick test on the oscilloscope, the new audio processing module was soldered to the RGB Shades controller. I already had a few projects using both WS2811/WS2812 LEDs and the MSGEQ7, so it was easy to whip up a few test patterns. The code uses the Adafruit NeoPixel library, which makes it simple to output the finicky WS2811 single-wire protocol.

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I also took the same circuit and added it to the LED Matrix Shades (single color, but more resolution and built-in battery). Since the controllers are Arduino-compatible, the code to access the MSGEQ7 works on both devices without modification.

The final result appears to respond to music very well, providing real-time visual effects that match the beat. There’s definitely a lot of potential for more sound-reactive patterns. Or maybe other sensors could be added, to detect heartbeats, or skin resistance…as long as you can solder and whip up some code, it’s all possible! Arduino sketch for the RGB Shades: Download zip file Arduino sketch for the LED Matrix Shades: Download zip file

Vintage Internet Connected Radio


This retro radio project brings back old to meet the new. A trendy old radio that plays any music you want, not just the boring stuff that you can get through the radio waves!

Using the credit card sized computer, Raspberry Pi–the sky is the limit. To get the best streaming music experience for this project once you have the Raspberry Pi, use the free Linux distribution, Pi MusicBox. Pi MusicBox offers the cream of the crop:

  • Spotify, Google Music and Sound Cloud
  • Remote control it with a nice browser-interface, or with an MPD-client
  • Web Radio
  • AirTunes/AirPlay streaming
  • Last.FM scrobbling
  • Play music files from the SD, USB, Network
  • and more!

Select any old Radio of choice. These can be found everywhere; eBay, garage sales or your grandma’s basement. Don’t worry, they don’t have to be in working condition because all of what is inside them will be thrown out!

Follow the creator’s instructions for disassembly, installation and reassembly:

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Now you can have the best house cleaning day of your life with your own retro radio!

The Most Face-Melting Music Video You’ve Ever Seen

In a fascinating new music video directed by Yoonha Park for experimental rock band Liars, we get to see the process of creating realistic sculptures of the band’s faces using 3D scanning techniques and CNC routing to produce molds for wax casting. The result is essentially a beautifully shot process video, which makes perfect sense because process videos always look great set to music.

There are a whole bunch of professional people in the world who are great and valuable because they push these things forward in a way that’s by the book. I feel there is a responsibility on artists and musicians to take what is going on there and set it on fire or throw it in the pool.

– Angus Andrews, Liars

liars-music-video-1 [via ANIMAL]

Midi Controlled Edison Bulbs


As Colin Mann’s fingers dance along the pearly whites, filaments burn to life in front of his eyes. This midi controlled light display using edison bulbs is quite the thing to behold. The soft orange glow of these antique bulbs ads a whole new dimension to Mann’s music.


If you were only interested in a lamp that featured these hanging antique style bulbs, you could just follow the first few steps of Colin’s great tutorial on building this. Only instead of moving on to the section where you build the complex box that determines which light will illuminate at what point in time, you’d simply wire your bulbs to the power directly.

In Colin’s case, however, he chose to connect them through a control box that takes his MIDI input and flicks the lights off and on in one of several modes:

  • CLASSIC – MIDI notes are mapped to bulbs Cn-Bn mapped to bulbs 1-12, intensity of bulbs is fully on, sustain pedal holds notes of same time, clears all bulbs when released.
  • VELOCITY – same as Classic, but intensity of bulb is controlled by the velocity of the note played.
  • SCROLLING (shown in video) – in this mode, bulbs are lit up sequentially as more notes are played, with intensity of the bulb based on velocity of the note. Releasing the sustain pedal clears the bulbs.
  • AUTOMATIC – Slow moving algorithm that creates a changing visual display in random patterns.

Check out Colin’s instructible on building this beautiful display where you would find much more information on how to assemble each piece as well as a quick introduction to relays so that you could power those bulbs.

Mechanical NXT Keyboard



You have definitely have heard of a piano or a digital piano before, but have you ever heard of a flexible Mechanical NXT keyboard piano? Pianos are one of the most interesting and popular instruments for billions of people to play and learn, but often cost more than what everyone can afford. My piano only costs around 200 dollars whereas the digital piano costs minimum around 400 dollars and averagely around 1000 dollars, so everyone can afford it and create their own music. They can also learn about programing, circuit design, and mechanical assemblies in a fun way.

There are five circuit boards on the model and each has five sound buttons. Digital pianos create sound when the key that is pressed down by our finger hits the sound buttons inside of the piano. However, instead of pressing down the buttons, I place my circuit board on the wall of my piano so that you need to push the key toward the buttons in order to create sounds. I created a special “seesaw” with two keys on top of another with different angles. If you press down one key, the end will bump up the other key. I put a bumper with special angle on the end of the second key so that when it is bumped up by the lower key, it would push the key button to make sounds. Every digital piano uses springs to control the motion of keyboard by pressuring when it goes up and release it to gain force. I used elastic energy instead. The middle of two keys are connected using elastic bands so that after I press down the lower key and bump up the upper key, the elastic band will tightened and release automatically after my finger leaves the key board.

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Although I didn’t really calculate the actual time of building each part of the piano, I can still estimate the time and the whole progress of making the MechNXT keyboard. I spent almost a week thinking about different interesting projects that can bond both music and mechanics together. After I decided the topic of my project, I made three different types of keyboards, each with a different solution to make sounds. After I finally decided and built one key by using my favorite and interesting mechanical structure, I spent around 30 minutes building an independent keyboard with 5 semi-notes. I spent another 30 minutes thinking about how to connect two or more independent keyboards together by making special and fixed connection.

It took me another week thinking about an innovative way to let my piano makes sounds. I first thought about using different length and depth of woods, however, I decided to use some more high tech solutions. I got my circuit board idea when I was playing around with my Electronic Snap Circuit. I found out that resister acts to reduce current flow while acting to lower voltage levels within circuits. Therefore, I put five sound buttons, which are like switches, each with a different value of resister so when one button is being pressed, my MechNXT can identify which one is pressed. In order to do that, I need to make something that can identify the current of the circuit and know which specific key is pressed.

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Afterward, I spend few weeks making a program that can identify the value of the pressed button. Because I made a program to let the NXT brain know the individual key tone for every value of the resister, sounds will be played from my piano after keys are pressed. At last, there is one port on each circuit board to connect with the four ports on the NXT brain. Because there are only four ports on one NXT brain, I need to make the circuit board larger and fit more key buttons on it so that one NXT port could hold more key tones.

While building, I met some problems too. Firstly, the minimum number of key buttons for playing a whole song should be around 20 key buttons. However, there are only four ports on the NXT. The solution is putting 5 to 10 buttons on each circuit board and connect the four circuit boards to the NXT. Secondly, digital Pianos are too heavy and big to carry around whereas you can construct the mechanical keyboard into any sizes that you want. It can always be extended or shortened since I separate every five semi notes into an independent keyboard.

Therefore, there are a total amount of four main sections to build my MechNXT keyboard. The dominant parts are circuit boards, independent keyboards, a program, and one NXT brain. Some other small parts are some ports to connect with NXT, few cables, and at least 20 buttons.

Joytone: An Entirely New Instrument With Raspberry Pi

Dave Sharples and David Glanzman had a pretty lofty idea. They wanted to create an entirely new instrument. Not just another keyboard based synthesizer or grid of buttons. They wanted to make an interface that felt entirely different. The two pulled it off pretty well with the Joytone. At very first glance, it may just seem like a honeycomb shaped grid of buttons, but if you look a little bit closer you’ll see that there is a joystick within each of those hexagonal compartments.

Unfortunately the RGB function was put on hold.

Unfortunately the RGB function was put on hold.

The Joytone has 57 “keys”, each with its own RGB LED inside. Unfortunately, at the time of the first showing, there was an issue getting the RGB part of it all to work correctly so the videos only show the default blue color that the joysticks use when powered. As you can see in the picture above, the added effect of the RGB is quite pleasing, so Dave plans on implementing that a little further down the road.

All of those keys are run through a Raspberry Pi which handles the audio libraries. Even that part of it wasn’t without issue:

We also hadn’t finished writing the code to make it polyphonic, so we were playing in monophonic mode (one note at a time) during the demo. It’s actually a miracle this worked at all, considering we’d been awake for about 48 hours. 14 Joytone with lights

Despite these setbacks, the admittedly limited version visible in the video is still very impressive. Hopefully Dave will share his future updates with us as he unlocks these added capabilities. If you’d like to see more pictures of the build, or follow along with the rest of the Joytone updates, you can find that on his blog.

[via: Adafruit]

Impressions of the Oaxaca Mini Maker Faire



On a sweltering 90°F March afternoon, a crack team of makers assembled from around the world carefully negotiated a wide cobblestone intersection as vintage taxis and VW bugs whizzed by. Standing before us was an ancient 16th-century monastery whose stone walls once shielded the Mexican military. Makers entered where monks once tread as the heavy front gates were swung open to reveal an oasis of succulent botanical riches unlike any other in the world. Lead through the Jardín Etnobotánico‘s vast courtyard, we found a huge event tent adorned with familiar branding: Oaxaca Mini Maker Faire. We had arrived!


Under the tent and out of the direct gaze of the hot southern Mexican sun, the temperature was quite comfortable and a welcome reprieve from New England’s fickle spring. Looking around, there were 3D printers, drones, a VR headset, young geniuses building robots, circuit-bent and odd fruit-powered devices. And despite this strange setting, it was then that I realized: Hey, I’m at home! All Maker Faires share so many commonalities; at a glance, it might have been mistaken for a deep summer Faire in the States. It seems makers everywhere are genuinely interested in sharing new ideas and helping new audiences take ownership of the technologies that are changing our world.

The Oaxaca Maker Faire was no different, it was a great disseminator of information, providing a diverse audience a first look at cutting edge expositores (exhibitors) and their new and original proyectos (projects). Here in Oaxaca, all of this was evident that in the South as in the North, the Faires are pushing this hacedor (maker) movement in the same direction– adelante (forward)!


But what quickly set apart Mexico’s first Faire is the rich heritage and local flavor of Oaxaca. The all-star production crew at Centro de Diseño de Oaxaca could not have picked a better place for this Faire. Being the location of their home office probably made it an easy choice. The Botanical Garden, while absolutely beautiful with rugged and delicate flora, also exemplified the delicate balance of nature and modern life evident in the vibrant streets of Oaxaca. Small touches like the hand-cut papel picado (perforated paper) banners proudly proclaimed that this was a real homespun fiesta. A closer look at many of the exhibitors revealed a strong respect for the local culture and natural materials to a degree that you won’t find in many other cities.

La Perla for instance, demonstrated their process for making artisanal paper, handmade with pulp sourced from native agave plants.

ChocoSol created infamously delicious Oaxacan chocolate treats on the spot with bicycle-powered blenders and grinders.

Olla Sol harnessed the fierce sun in their solar cooking pot and shared a tasty black bean dish with Fairegoers. They’re looking to provide a low-cost cooking solution for people who lack access to the power grid.

Even one of the 3D printers had both feet firmly planted in local soil, Unidad de Protocolos AnaloGo was a completely analog, wooden 3D printer with mud as it medium – hand mixed right on the spot!

For Justin Emerson and myself – the group known as Burnkit2600, the Oaxaca Mini Maker Faire was definitely a special experience. We delivered our Bleep Kit Workshop to the largest and youngest single group yet. In no time at all, the mystic silence of the Botanical Garden was broken with the cacophony of 20 dual oscillator noise synths coming to life for the first time. It always leaves a heartfelt impression knowing that so many of these kids are having their first hands-on electronics experience with us. That feeling doubled when our host, Manuel Alcala later told us that several of the kids in the workshop were from a local orphanage. I hope we inspired them all to continue in the field with our fun and noisy little workshop.


As performing exhibitors, Burnkit2600 did what it does best. We presented a pile of our strange circuit-bent and handmade electronic instruments in a quasi-musical context. My circuit-bent semi-modular Yamaha QY-10 and Justin’s newly made Bleep Drums percussion synth were featured in our set of mellow, spacey grooves with heavy beats.

We worked out much of the brand new material the night before in an impromptu pick up set with Phillip Stearns at a sweaty local dive that Mico Rex had booked – what a great night! Our Maker Faire set culminated in a jam with other makers including Jorge Ramirez from the band Mico Rex on some live code data smashing, DigitArt‘s Adalberto Gómez playing a Kaoss effected noise synth of some kind, and a featured spot by a young drummer on the Blue Man Group-esque “Tubulum” PVC pipe drum made by the guys at Hacedores.com.

Los Magos del Norte de Circuit-Bending

Burnkit2600, Los Magos del Norte de Circuit-Bending

All in all, it was an exceptional experience for everyone involved. I think Mexico is ripe with talent and the Maker Faire scene is going to play a huge part in the lives of so many people there. I was particularly impressed with a few musical makers at the Faire and conducted some informal interviews with them, so stay tuned for that blog post.

It was truly inspiring to be involved with Mexico’s first Maker Faire. Viva el movimiento Hacedor en México!

Lil DJ, Turning Toddlers into Turntablists


In checking out some of the excellent makers coming to Maker Faire Bay Area this year, I noticed Lil DJ, an interesting looking musical toy project being developed by friends Jason Keppe, David Kesler, and Peter Gardner in Berkeley, Calif. Tired of the “pedestrian” musical content found in most toys marketed to small children, they decided to make a toy DJ turntable that would be aurally enjoyable for all ages. One of the great things about Maker Faire is the feedback that makers get from the community, and Keppe and Gardner are excited to share their most recent prototype with the public this weekend. Once they decide Lil DJ is complete, they will be open sourcing the plans, schematics, and source code.

Here are some sample tracks (not recordings of someone playing Lil DJ but the complete compositions which show the flavor of the songs one might create with Lil DJ):



I was curious to learn more about Lil DJ, so I asked them a few questions:

What is Lil DJ?

Lil DJ is a musical toy that enables kids to create their own songs by layering pre-recorded beats and loops.

With Lil DJ, our goal is to raise the bar for musical toys by creating one that has excellent sound quality, design, and craftsmanship.  Most musical toys on the market sound and look terrible (just being honest!). Those toys make grown-ups want to hide the batteries as soon as possible to make the noise STOP. We believe that kids (and the grown-ups who love them) deserve to have a beautiful product that makes pleasing sounds; a toy that truly inspires creativity and fun; a toy that can be enjoyed day after day, year after year.

mf14ba_badge-01Kids of all ages love the experience of activating sounds, beats, and loops by pressing buttons and scratching the records on Lil DJ’s two virtual turntables. It’s an accessible and fun way to experience music, to get behind the “wheels of steel,” and to get the party started right.

Another level of fun will come for makers and hackers because we’re going to release our plans, schematics, and source code to the community. Through those detailed instructions, Lil DJ will be a springboard for adults (and older kids) to get into Raspberry Pi programming. People will be able to source the parts themselves, but eventually we plan to offer kits to make it easier to get all the parts and put it together. Our current plans for the kit involve little to no soldering so, with some interest, motivation, and elbow grease, people of any skill level will be able to build their own Lil DJ. Then, of course, the possibilities expand even further: you can record and upload your own sounds and loops, program the buttons to execute different functions, and invent new features. The excitement of open source is that there’s no end to the possibilities for innovation.


Peter Gardner and Jason Keppe with Lil DJ.


The first prototype of Lil DJ. The red buttons play the loops, the green cranks were in place of turntables.

We’re still in the early prototype stage, laying out the components and figuring out what makes sense for the position of buttons and controls, but the physical design is also on our mind. Right now, we’re using MDF hardboard as the deck for Lil DJ. Once we’ve got the design down, we’ll move on to creating a more visually pleasing toy. We’re going to experiment with laser cut acrylic for a techie look and hardwood planks for something a little more refined. Wouldn’t it be great to have a children’s toy that looks nice if it doesn’t get put away? We’ve got big plans, but first we want to get feedback from people outside the project; people with fresh perspectives and knowledge. That is what is so exciting about getting the chance to show off our project at Maker Faire. We imagine that we’ll be getting a lot of interesting suggestions and feedback, but more importantly, we’re looking forward to getting to see how both kids and adults interact with the prototype and if they are as excited about it as we are.

If people seem excited about the project, we’ll probably run a Kickstarter to get the first run of kits made and in people’s hands. We’ll be keeping our webpage up to date about those plans, lildj.me.


Lil DJ is controlled with a Raspberry Pi.

What are the main components that make it work?

Our first thought was to use Arduino, but we quickly realized that Arduino probably wouldn’t be powerful enough to do all the media-decoding and sound-mixing we need for this project. So, we went with Raspberry Pi. It is such an amazing platform. The interactivity comes from an array of buttons that trigger the loops, rotary encoders for the turntables, and a couple other switches for power and musical genre selection. The software is written in Java, making use of the Pi4J library to communicate with the controls and i/o expanders. The components so far are off-the-shelf purchased from online parts supply stores like Adafruit and Sparkfun. We might end up creating a custom-printed circuit board for the later version of the project, but that’s a ways off yet.

lil dj logoWhy did you decide to build Lil DJ?

Jason Keppe, a musician and father, has been kicking this idea around for a while. When his first son was around one year old, Jason was dumbfounded by the dearth of children’s musical toys that actually looked cool and sounded good. He dreamed up the basic vision of Lil DJ: a kinesthetically and aurally engaging toy that would be fun for everybody. Over the years he shared the concept with some people and got encouraging responses, but the idea remained a pipe dream.

One day Jason and David Kesler were at the park with their kids and Jason shared the Lil DJ idea. The idea resonated with David (a musician, composer, and producer) and he helped refine it.

But it wasn’t until Peter Gardner came on board; with his technical know-how, artistic vision, and generous spirit; that we were actually able to create the toy we had envisioned. Peter is an artist and tinkerer who is always looking for fun projects and was particularly keen to do something innovative with the Raspberry Pi.

When the three of us got together and talked about it, we had lots of laughs and synergy. We decided to move forward and really make this project happen.


The cardboard prototype of Lil DJ.

Then David moved out of town and, the creative process being what it is and life being what it is with jobs and kids and distractions, activity on the Lil DJ project lulled for a while.

But a few months ago, Peter breathed new life into the project again and added a badly needed sense of urgency. Peter said we should make a real Lil DJ and that the best way to complete it would be to give ourselves a deadline. So we decided to aim for Maker Faire Bay Area!  Peter had been going to Maker Faire for years and had a booth where he taught his popular Glovetopus craft for the last two. He said it was a wonderful experience.

When we signed up for a booth, we didn’t have much to show at all, but we’ve kept at it and we’re going to have at least one playable prototype in time for the Faire.

How do you know each other?

Jason and his family moved in next door to Peter and his wife in April of 2012. Our friendship and creative partnership has been fantastic. We’re both amazed and grateful at what luck we had in the neighbor lottery.

This project has been so enriching, rewarding, and fun. To stick with something from idea to full execution is a great feeling. To do it with good friends and with the hopes of sharing it for others to enjoy is even more awesome. Thank you for giving us this opportunity, Maker Faire, and thanks for talking to us!


Visualize your Atoms with Danceroom Spectroscopy

As ethereal electronic music plays, and five dancers sway in front of a large screen, their images — or rather, a representation of their images — weave and grow and glow behind them. It’s no mere projection, and it’s not a recording; it’s danceroom Spectroscopy, a projection technology that represents the dancers’ energy using (of course) spectroscopy.

The project’s creators, whose backgrounds range from chemistry to programming to choreography, use a 3D imaging system to capture the dancers’ movement. The result is fed through a computer that simulates the effect of that movement on the nanoparticles — the molecules and atoms in the air — surrounding the dancers, and projects it in real time. It’s not just a pretty picture; it estimates the position and movement of thousands of individual atoms, and tracks the way they interact, as they bounce off each other.

MF14BA_Badge-01The music, too, is an interpretation of the action of the atoms. The custom software represents their collisions and vibrations as data, and feeds that into music software that represents it audibly so it can be mixed into music.

Imagine the dancers as negative space; they’re these entities in three-dimensional space that are only represented by the air molecules surrounding them. When they move, the molecules are disturbed, and sent skittering into each other. Of course, the camera can’t actually film all that. What it does is film the dancers and simulate it as though they are force fields that the atoms bounce off of — or attract to, forming clouds around the dancers’ bodies.

The whole apparatus is made even more visually interesting by a set of effects that change the way the particles react and interact. Based on custom algorithms, the effects mostly grew out of actual research in molecular physics.

David Glowacki, a chemical physicist, started the project because he wanted a nontechnical way to share his research. But while it’s nice to look at, if you can make it to one of danceroom Spectrocopy’s live events, audience members can actually interact with the installation, dancing and playing with the otherwise invisible microscopic world. And we have just the opportunity for you; Glowacki will be presenting danceroom Spectroscopy at Maker Faire Bay Area on Saturday, May 17.

Reviving an Heirloom Violin With 3D Printing


About 7 years ago I was given the honor of caring for the family violin. What I got was a neck (separated from the body), the body, and one tuning peg. This is an especially sensitive item because the name written on the inside holds the name Stradivarius, and came over with my family from France. Turns out it’s not a Stradivarius, but it’s estimated to be 100 years old. It’s also estimated to have been silent for about 80 years and no living Massie has heard it played

Rebuild Options

I investigated options to pay to have it repaired back to play grade, repaired enough to be an art piece, or just leaving it as is. It is a family heirloom so lending it out for someone to play was selfishly not attractive. Repairing with current parts would obfuscate what was part of the original and what is new. Finally, leaving busted up was just not cool.

At a later trip to the museum I saw the T-Rex had a bright white resin femur place holder unit they could get a real one. I assumed the stark contrast in color was to not confuse what was original and what was a replacement. I.D. Magazine also had an article some time ago about some Dutch students repairing damaged wood furniture with lime green plastic replacement parts inlaid with the originals.

These use cases inspired me to try replacing the parts in some type of acrylic or pop color plastic replacement.

Copying Remaining Tuning Peg



As a Milwaukee Makerspace member I felt the best solution would be to replace all the missing pieces in 3D prints based off original parts (scanned and/or measured out). I additionally chose white cause it stood out against the dark wood.

I measured out the Tuning Peg by hand, rebuilt in SketchUp and printed to a Makerbot Replicator for first run prototypes.



Scanning Like Pieces


Similar models of the tailpiece and the chin rest were purchased, sanded down, painted a flat brown and then scanned on a 3D scanner.

Once all pieces scans were complete, it was time to bring it all together. This was the easiest part, cause it just involved me handing someone a bag of money. Final edited STL’s were sent off to Shapeways to be printed and once returned all parts were taken to someone to be cleaned, assembled, strung and tuned.

Hang it on the wall


… till later generations wish to play it. Everything that is in place, in plastic, is able to be removed without any impact to the original device. Some day, down the line, we’ll expect to remove the plastic and replace with resonate friendly ebony and natural parts. For now it is an art piece of the visual style.

If you’re interested in more details, or finding the actual STL files for download, check out the blog entry at the Milwaukee Makerspace.