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Author Topic: Creating a electronic harmonica  (Read 3851 times)

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Xcer

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Creating a electronic harmonica
« on: January 18, 2012, 05:00:19 AM »
Hi!

I've talked with my teacher at school and we came up with an idea for me to create a electronic harmonica.
I told him I had never seen one and that there was probably a good reason for that but he insisted that I try to make one and even if I fail it will be OK because I tried something difficult.
I was wondering if it is even possible?
I was thinking of implementing some sort of "sensor" like the pick-ups on an electric guitar. To get 20 of those little round things and attach them to the inside of the cover plate just above the reeds and have them connected to some sort of extension on the bottom of the harmonica where a cable will be able to go in and get it connected to a amplifier.
Obviously on a diatonic harmonica because a chromatic seems to difficult.

Is it even possible?

Offline Grizzly

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2012, 05:07:18 AM »
working on my second 10,000!

Offline Vern

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2012, 11:24:33 AM »
James Antaki has made one already. 
See http://www.turboharp.com/Products.asp?pid=69&tid=16&did=&sid=

There are several approaches to an electronic harp:

1. Tiny microphone(s) under the covers or buried in the comb.  These will capture the characteristic sound of the harmonica.  A British fellow named Smith sold some harps with a tiny electret mic buried in a hole in the comb.
see http://www.planetharmonica.com/VE/GearUK.htm#The%20haRmonic%20Solutions%20Electric%20Harmonica

2. Magnetic pickups that sense the motion of the reeds as in an electric guitar.  This requires steel reeds.  Because the reeds move sinusoidally and the airstream is chopped in a non-sinusoidal manner, magnetic pickups won't sound like a harmonica.  The sound will lack the harmonica's rich overtones. Years ago I made some steel reeds for an experimenter but I never heard of any results.

3. Sense air flow through the slot and generate the sound in a synthesizer.  You may as well play a keyboard with a synthesizer.  I think that this is the Millionizer approach.

4. Optical pickups to sense reed motion. This is Antaki's approach.  It has the same disadvantage as magnetic pickups but Antaki uses an audio effects processor to add overtones. This would be difficult to implement in the presence of windsavers.

5. An external mic that attaches to the harp as does the AMT HR3 has the advantage that it can be used with different standard harps.

What about an oscillator with a speaker using positive feedback that you tune with your embouchure as though you are whistling? 

 Good luck with your project.  You have picked a very tough but interesting problem to solve!

Vern
« Last Edit: January 21, 2012, 11:58:57 AM by Vern »

Xcer

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2012, 11:58:16 AM »
Thanks for the information guys  :)

I was thinking of that option 1 you said. To somehow use a wooden frame for my harmonica and build in 20 tiny condenser microphones and have an extension at the side of the harmonica that allows for direct plug into an amplifier.

Offline Vern

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2012, 12:18:20 PM »
You might be able to get by with less than one mic per reed.  Sound emanates in all directions from the slot. Richard Smith needed only one mic.

Vern

Xcer

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2012, 04:24:04 PM »
You might be able to get by with less than one mic per reed.  Sound emanates in all directions from the slot. Richard Smith needed only one mic.

Vern
Thx for the advice  :)

deirdrehbrt

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2012, 07:53:05 PM »
It's not only possible, it's being done.
I'm an engineer building a completely electronic harmonica, and last year we completed a proof of concept. We now have a functional prototype. If you like, you can see the proof of concept model in action at www.xharp.com. This version was very limited - it did not have the dynamic capability of a harmonica.

The new version has individual dynamic control for each hole. It can be programmed so that any hole can play any note, and it can sound like any instrument the player desires. Like any wind instrument, the player has the ability to increase or decrease volume (swell), while the note is being played. I expect videos of the new instrument to be up there soon.

No reeds, no microphones. It doesn't play exactly like a harmonica, but any harmonica player will be able to play this instrument easily. An expert with this instrument will be able to do things that simply cannot be done with a harmonica or any other instrument.

Offline Danny G

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2012, 04:01:41 AM »
Glad to see you're making progress and wondering if there's a chromatic version on the horizon ?

Offline Jim Watkins

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2012, 05:38:15 AM »
I had an uncle who played the harmonica and had always wanted to become a conductor.
He suddenly became a conductor when tried to play an electrified harmonica in the bathtub.

 
Nothing is impossible!

deirdrehbrt

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2012, 08:48:39 AM »
Yes, this instrument will have chromatic capability.

Offline Gene D

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2012, 01:28:17 PM »
How does this differ from the Millionizer?

Regards,
Gene Dodson

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deirdrehbrt

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2012, 08:34:13 PM »
It's a quite different instrument than the millioniser.
Firstly, it's quite a lot smaller - the entire instrument is smaller than the controller of the millioniser, and there is no large processor box attached. There is an on-board synth and a Midi-out to control an external synth.

Rather than a sliding mouthpiece to control pitch, this instrument has holes, like a harmonica, with volume being controlled on a per-hole basis, based on blow or draw pressure. So you can blow in one hole, and have just a bit of pressure in an adjacent hole - you'll hear one note loud, and the other soft - just as in a real harmonica.

It's really a completely different instrument.

deirdrehbrt

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #13 on: June 24, 2012, 08:37:00 PM »
Oh, and importantly, the X-harp is battery powered and portable - no need to connect it to mains to operate it.

Offline Vern

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2012, 05:17:04 PM »
Yes, this instrument will have Chromatic capability.

A standard 12-hole Chromatic has 48 reeds with 36 or 37 pitches over 3 octaves.    On a standard Chromatic the player pushes a button to play the "black key" notes.  On the Hands-Free-Chromatic he moves the mouthpiece down by nodding his head.

What will he do on the X-harp?  Can he do it while playing a guitar or will it require use of a finger?

Vern

Offline jonclayton

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #15 on: August 03, 2012, 11:48:10 PM »
a Barcus Berry violin transducer can be buried inside the wood and would sound natural. You can also experiment with one using stickum before imbedding it. It will even pick up your hands and breath. Probably best place to put it would be in the bass area of the comb. Might be tough since a harmonica is somewhat longer than a violin bridge, the notes at both ends might drop in volume.

Another idea is a pressure zone mic, these measure sound pressure not sound waves. Radio Shack used to make them for just a few bucks, and there are expensive copies out there. They used to put them inside grand pianos and you get even response from end to end. We used one in a live performance for a singer who couldn't handle a mic. He would miss the sweet spot of his mic and some notes would boom and others drop off. We turned his mic off and put a pressure zone mic on the music stand in front of him. Everything within a 4' sphere came through with more or less equal intensity. No more booming or lost notes. Also they can take a lot of signal without feeding back. I put one inside my banjo and it sounded great and no feedback.

They come attached to square metal plates but the metal plates can be removed, and then you could screw it to the comb or perhaps behind it from where the sound is emanating.

You might also try a Radio Shack transducer type mic, made for attaching to lapels, that have small batteries. They don't feed back either. I was dangling one inside a ukulele, and it works. A cheap experiment.

Offline jonclayton

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #16 on: August 03, 2012, 11:54:38 PM »
Oh, if you really want to do it magnetically, off the reeds, there are long bar pickups that players like for string bending - no signal drop off when you push the string to the side. Two or three of those lined up with steel reeds would probably work. Or figure out how they're done and make yourself a really long one. Be careful you might shock yourself when the saliva starts flying.

I think overall you'd be better off with a mic or transducer.

You know Les Paul's first electric pickup was a phonograph needle imbedded in a guitar.

mmika70

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #17 on: August 04, 2012, 04:46:52 AM »
Interesting idea...
I would suggest a complex, but complete solution:
i) A 12 holes chromatic harmonica with wood comb + 2 * hexaphonic  piezo with adjustable distance guitar pickup (2 x 6 mini piezo pickups) aplied on the backside of the wood comb, thus able to record the individual sound of each reed - it will record the sound from the wood comb vibration (it's a piezo). And a dual mini piezo microphone for stereo sound (e.g. Shadow ElectronicsTwin disc transducers) if you don't want separate reed signal. A 3 position mini switch may change between hexa or stereo piezo or a combination of those two (somehow similar with MIDI guitar approach).
ii) Also one may us a 2 * hexaphonic  guitar pickup,  similar with Roland GK3 guitar pickup (2*6 mini-humbucker magnetic pickups), beeing able to record directly the sound of each reed.
One should experiment which type of pickups (piezo or magnetic) will sound more harmonica-like...and choose proper above solutions.
Such an approach will allow further expansion...including a SF MIDI harmonica :D...using Guitar to MIDI converters such as Yamaha G50, Axon AX100 MKII etc.
But the cost of the prototype will be close to 1000 USD, MIDI converters not included :(
iii) a much cheaper solution: Shadow Electronics Twin disc piezo transducers ob the backside ow the wood comb...stereo sound and easy to implement
Regards,
Marius

Offline jonclayton

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #18 on: August 04, 2012, 11:36:36 PM »
I would think that stereo sound would be particularly advantageous with a harmonica

Offline jonclayton

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #19 on: August 06, 2012, 12:06:27 PM »
I have been thinking about this, it's a very interesting project. I think the main thing is to electrify a regular harmonica, rather than creating an electronic MIDI one. At least for this thread.

If you want to do a magnetic bar pickup you might not need steel reeds, you might be able to paint your brass ones with a something that has powdered iron in it. After the paint dries or evaporates, it would leave the powder on the reed and that might be sufficient to activate the pickup. Might not last though.

One flaw with the ideas thus far is that they would electrify just one harmonica, while most players have quite a few. And it's debatable if the solutions here would create a natural sound. There is another way...

A banjo pickup is a magnetic pickup that reads the vibration of a thin metal strip placed under the bridge. That strip is about the size and thickness of a harmonica reed. The strip picks up vibration from the drum head and transfers it to the pickup.

A banjo head tends to pick up sympathetic vibrations easily. Remember idiotic noisemakers? The "reed" is a piece of waxed paper glued to a cardboard washer. Anyway, make up a small frame with a membrane and a thin strip of ferrous metal trapped against it. The banjo pickup is positioned about 1/32" away from the strip of metal, and when the membrane vibrates, the metal vibrates, and you have a bona-fide electric signal. Perhaps the membrane is not drum head, but sheet brass, with that strip of ferrous metal in the center. Might sound more like a harmonica.

This would be something about the size of a Seydel horn with a cord coming out the back, but you could use it for all your harmonicas. 

Offline jonclayton

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #20 on: August 06, 2012, 12:12:06 PM »
by the way, I tried to type in the word "k_a_z_o_o" but the software replaced the word with the term "idiotic noisemakers". I was trying to be more specific but the basic idea is that a membrane picks up vibrations from the air, this could be applied to the harmonica.

Offline wolfman

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #21 on: August 06, 2012, 01:17:11 PM »



      "..idiotic noisemaker" Was that your phrase,Gary? ;D

Offline Gnarly He Man

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #22 on: August 06, 2012, 01:50:25 PM »
Nope, blame AJ . . .
BTW, idiotic noisemaker=I Into More Sick Idea
« Last Edit: August 06, 2012, 01:57:17 PM by Gnarly He Man »

Offline John Broecker

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #23 on: August 07, 2012, 07:43:00 AM »
Hello, Electrochroms.

Hering produced a Richard Smith Harmonica Solutions slide chromatic harp in the mid-2000s.

I think it used only one, maybe two condenser mics embedded in the comb.

More information tomorrow.

Best regards

John Broecker
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Offline John Broecker

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #24 on: August 08, 2012, 08:06:03 AM »
Hello, Lightnin' Harpists.

Here's the information on the Hering Richard Smith HarmonicaSolutions electric harmonicas, listed in the 2002 Hering products catalog.

These are real harmonicas, with microphone inserted in the harp comb. There is a Chromatic version and a diatonic version.

This may not interest Xcer. Apparently, he is designing and building a new and unique electric harmonica.

ELECTRACHROM 48

This is basically a Hering Velvet Voice slide Chromatic electric harp, product #EC-48 Electrachrom, with "antique gold" covers, 12 holes, 48 reeds, solo system. It has a mini-jack connection direct into the instrument, may be used with any guitar effects pedals, with a belt-mounted volume control, replaceable  reed plates, Harp keys of A,Bb,B,C,D,E,F,G are available. With this system, background sounds are eliminated.

LIGHTNIN' HARP

This is an electric diatonic 10-hole Richter system harp, product #LH-20.1 black plastic body, chrome covers: and 5 other varieties of comb colors and covers'colors, with the same akooter-mints as the Chromatic model (see above).

LH-20.2 white comb, matte black covers; LH-20.3 yellow comb, yellow covers; LH-20.4 red comb, red covers; LH-20.5 blue comb, matte gray covers; LH-20.6 amber comb, matte gray covers. It appears in the catalog listing that these covers may be aluminum, with various translucent colors added.

Hering makes high quality products. I don't know if these harps are available today.

The Hering company is difficult to do business with, at least in the USA. They speak Portugese, we speak English. The Hering company's headquarters are in Blumenau, Brasil.

Best regards

John Broecker

« Last Edit: August 08, 2012, 08:09:13 AM by John Broecker »
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mmika70

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #25 on: October 22, 2012, 04:46:01 AM »
Hi all,
as a computer/digital instruments "nerd/geek", I was excited about this subject, and I've started to think about how this thing  could be done properly (including a MIDI harmonica). Fortunately, I've read Mr. Broecker posts and comments (thanks!) and I think that I have a solution and also the proper devices to try it:
So, is it a (relatively cheap) MIDI harmonica possible??? I am prone to confirm it !!!
I just bought an new/mint Hering ElectraChrom chromatic set harmonica and I'm waiting for it  to arrive (by the way, I've bought it together with a brand new CBH 2016, but this is another story of my dreams fulfilled:) ).
Hering Electrachrom has already a proper/carefully selected microphone inside it and also an pre-amplifier provided with it. So, I imagine that I will be able to use it together with my pitch-to-MIDI devices, such as my guitar to midi converters. Those devices has already an input source from pre-amplified guitar solo, and all the requirements  inside them  to make the MIDI programming a dream.
I have already programmed such devices to accept single Voice-pitch to MIDI conversion from a regular microphone at a decent level (but the results of this this will depend mostly on the microphone used by the singer and on the singer voice pitch accuracy ). But heaving a proper designed microphone (this meaning a reproducible pitch on various conditions) inside a musical instrument of a single voice - such as Electrachrom (the chords will have to wait until I will figured out how to do it), I am almost sure that I may program the devices to accept harmonica pitch to MIDI.
One may wonder, what good will be this solution for regular harmonica player (pay attention that this will not mean that one may replace his harmonica skills/sounds with a computer emulated one):
1. One may play his genuine harmonica sounds (the pitch to midi devices usually have a direct sound output), together with a synth's pad  or sweeps similar to those of Vangelis, and the synth may be programmed to follow your lead. Imagine a "symphony" of sounds started from your harmonica! I already used this approach using my Yamaha Ez TP digital trumpet!
2. One may detune the synth output, to follow your lead on harmonica, but using 3rd or 5th harmony etc.
3. One may even trigger auto-accompaniment of a keyboard/synth module using harmonica and/or a proper MIDI pedal + a single dual/voice synthesized track to follow the main harmonica lead etc etc
I can't wait to receive those harmonicas and, of course, I'm waiting for your comments.
Regards,
Marius

mmika70

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Re: Creating a electronic harmonica
« Reply #26 on: October 29, 2012, 04:27:20 PM »
Waiting for my ElectraChrom 48 to arrive, I want to present you a little demo about how a proper electronic/digital/MIDI musical instrument may be used to emulate or even to enhance a real instrument feel.
It's about another MIDI instrument on my collection: a highly underestimated Yamaha EZ TP digital trumpet. It responds very well to tonguing, articulation, overblowing and also to volume dynamics ... things very hard to be done on a regular MIDI keyboard.
The link below shows you a very difficult to play (on regular instruments) Romanian folklore song, called "Strunga oilor", played with such a digital trumpet using an XG soft synth for the digital effects ( please excuse my "technical" mistakes, but I've quit playing trumpet for over 15 years...until now, when I have a MIDI trumpet:) ).  Just try to imagine, what a future and complete electronic/MIDI harmonica may do...in the musical expression field...and of course in the proper hands, better than mine :).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z7SjWcMdRDE
Thanks in advance for your opinions,
Marius