How To Make A Synthesizer From A Pencil

Beatmaker and designer Jan-Willem Otto, aka jwotto, shared this look at making a synthesizer pencil.

“This synthesizer pencil is the perfect project for a beginning maker wanting to make a musical artsy project,” says Otto. “With this musical instrument you can draw and make music at the same time.”

See his site for info on the Drawdio.

4 thoughts on “How To Make A Synthesizer From A Pencil

  1. There are different hardnesses of pencil (2H, 4H, 4D, etc.) as any art student will tell you. Harder pencil lead has more clay and less graphite, thus higher resistance. Might be able to add that function to the repertoire.

  2. The question is always how best to connect the wire to the pencil. You can use a 1/32 inch Dremel bit to make a hole, push a #22AWG wire through the pencil, and tape it to hold it down. See here:
    https://musicalcircuits.com/2016/02/07/musicalstylus/
    If it isn’t stable enough, drill a second hole and snake the wire through both before taping it down.

    This pencil “design” should work just fine with Otto’s circuit. But once you have the pencil “wired,” you can obviously use it as an analog input for an Arduino that pushes out a midi message or for one of the newer Adafruit CircuitPython boards that output MIDI directly to the computer.

    Anyone interested in some seriously hacky musical DIY sensors should check out Nicolas Collins’ “Handmade Electronic Music” or Forest Mims’ “Engineer’s Mini-Notebook Sensor Projects,” an entire book of sensors built using stuff a kid might find around the house. Mims’ notebooks were the first place I ever saw anyone use a pencil for a resistor or a paperclip for a switch. There would not be an Atari Punk Console without him. And Collins’ “Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking” is the bible of experimental music DIY.

    Mims and Collins are the OGs of musical circuit hacking. Respect.

  3. I led a DIY workshop with a group of students making Drawdio kits (and others). The older version of the kit didn’t have a dial, and was based around a AA cell rather than a coin battery. But otherwise is the same circuit. Works well. Satisfying pay-off as a ratio of build-effort to fun-in-use. However, one must feel a little empathy for innocent bystanders who must listen to the “endless fun”.

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