Hamish Trolove’s Hobopunk Lap Steel Guitar (with Active Electronics!)

I love hearing from folks who read my DIY books, because they are always up to something that I never imagined, and yet love on first sight.  Case in point:

Last December I got an email from Hamish Trolove, a Junkyard Jam Band reader who mentioned he was building his own riff on a Shane Speal 2×4 lap steel with a build-in Mud-n-Sizzle pre-amp (project 12 in Junkyard Jam Band) and dual LFO box (translation: It’s a junkyard lap steel electric guitar with a built in pre-amp—so things might get loud—and an automated modulator, allowing him to dial in anything from a little honky-tonk tremelo shimmer to a big pulsing metal wobble).

As Hamish explained:

The instrument uses waste cargo palette wood, and TIG welding wire to mark the “fret” spacings. I find that old palettes often have extraordinarily hard wood with some amazing colours when planed down, sanded and varnished. Hopefully by the end of the project I’ll have something that looks fairly tidy-ish in a hobo/steampunky kind of way.

“Fairly tidy-ish” is such an understantement.  Check this thing out:


Lap_Steel_Head Lap_Steel_Tail

Detail of the pre-amp Hamish installed in his guitar
Detail of the pre-amp Hamish installed in his guitar
Front panel of Hamish’s Dual LFO box
Interior of Hamish’s Dual LFO

Oh daaaaaaamn! I love everything about this!  He also included a schematic of his expansion of my old Universal LFO (Junkyard Jam Band project 13), for folks interested in doing something similar:

Hamish Trolove Dual_LFO_Circuit-AsBuilt
Hamish Trolove’s Dual LFO

Hamish also put me on to Frescobaldi, a powerful, pretty, and free sheet music text editor that looks amazing. (For every 100 of you who are wondering why you’d ever need such a thing, there is one musical geek who is gonna click that link and weep with joy.  Trust me, for I have been that very geek.)

Incidentally, while you’re clicking links, don’t miss Hamish’s Baddest Mountain Dulcimer Ever.

More from Our Man in Brussels

Sorry it’s taken me so long to post an update from our man in

Arthur et ses bons amis
Arthur et ses bons amis

Brussels, Arthur Lacomme.  As you’ll recall he and his pals built some frikkin’ awesome! costumes/instruments/noisetoys for the Carnaval Sauvage de Bruxelles.  You can see more pics and vid on Arthur’s website.

I love a lot of things about both this Carnaval Sauvage de Bruxelles thang and Arthur’s contribution to it, bot most of all I love their costumes. When I was very little my mother was a docent at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and so my earliest memories are of that museum, and especially their collections of Native American and African ritual art and “material culture.”  I’ve always loved the dance costumes they have in their collection (similar to those shown below, which are in the AIC), and the dances that went with them, which were exuberant and otherworldly to me (much like the sounds that I like to dig out of unsuspecting electronics).

(Picture Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)
(Picture Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Arthur also pointed me to a few of his fellow Brusselers (Brusselman? Brusselsprouts?) similarly pushing out into the fringes of the Good Noise.  I’m loving this!

Here’s Why the Eye:


and this is Hoquets:

PRO-TIP: Get both of these vids playing simultaneously in separate windows on your computer; the sounds layer-up in a fun way.

Simple DIY Guitar Stompbox Demo: Seeing is Believing; Be Hear Now (pun!)

A reader recently asked for audio samples of a few projects from my first book, so I made this quick lil video:

(Daaaaamn does that fuzz tone wail—and it’s literally ~$5 in parts!)

You might need headphones to hear the detail on the straight tremolo, but the throb becomes really pronounced at the end when I chain the two effects together.

In the process of uploading that demo video, I stumbled across this guy’s build of the Single-Chip Space Invader synth from my most recent book.  Oh, man, do I love that Star Wars lunchbox he used as a case! So rad!

Any of this look rad?  You can download a “jam pack” of complete projects drawn from both books. Click here now to get your free Junkyard Jam Pack PDF!

Handmade Synths from Junkyard Jammers!

I love, love, love(!!!) seeing and hearing the projects my readers build, and sharing them with folks thinking about how they want to tackle these same projects.  First up is Jason Jaknunas’s take on the Bleepbox 8-Step Analog Sequencer (Project 16 in Junkyard Jam Band)—which is easily the best version of this I’ve ever seen (it totally leaves mine in the dust, and I designed the damn thing!)

Everything is just so sweet and just-right here: the knobs, the brushed aluminum label, the wood cheeks, the grommets padding out the LEDs, the labels—but also the little things, the visual balance among the elements, the use of different sizes of knob on different functions.  Give it a look, then give it a listen.  So rad!

An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas
An absolutely lovely Bleepbox built by Jason Jaknunas

Arthur Lacomme in Brussels, who I’ve linked before, sent me a link to a rad lil Single-Chip Space Invader (Project 15 in Junkyard Jam Band) he built. Click thru to hear this bad boy; such chiptune joy!  Arthur and his pals have plans to hit an upcoming “wild carnival” with some noise-enhanced clothing.  I look forward to seeing and sharing video!

Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme
Single-Chip Space Invader by Arthur Lacomme

Keep seeking out the Good Noise!  Keep sharing what you find!

Josh Burker’s Scratchbox Turntable

Josh Burker—an early reviewer of my latest DIY book, Junkyard Jam Band—didn’t just build a sweet-ass Scratchbox (although he did do that)

Josh went one better and adapted it to a hella rad turntable interface.




I love this sooooo much! Check it out:

Wanna build your own Scratchbox (or Scratchbox-inspired awesomeness)? Check out my full illustrated Scratchbox build instructions on the MAKE magazine website.

For a brief history of the credit card magstripe that makes this all possible, check out the first bit of this Planet Money podcast: Episode 695: Put A Chip On It : Planet Money : NPR:

(thx Josh!)

Sex-guns, Tentacle Earrings, Steampunk Santa, and Corsets, Corsets, Corsets! (At the #Steampunk Convention: Up in the Aether 2013)

Over the Memorial Day weekend I worked the Up in the Aether Steampunk Convention in Dearborn, MI. My panels included writing and publishing and speculative fiction, but I was mostly there to run DIY workshops on building Victorian-style kites and lil steamboats. Although the DIY track was sort of an low-expectation tack-on to this con, all of the DIY sessions ran at capacity. After the con, I happened to see this post over on Facebook (just before they banned my book); it’s by far my favorite cataclysmic putt-putt boat failure *ever*:

I did make the boat. That sucker did only slightly better than the Titanic…inaugural trip around the tub went fine. But then, I tried to use a turkey baster to refuel my burner, and the alcohol dribbled (apparently) all over the bottom of the boat. When I lit it, it went up like a viking funeral, and then sank. Kind of entertaining actually. I did salvage my copper boiler, and there’s always more half & half containers . . .

Having done a Steampunk event or two in the past, I can tell you that the folks showing up to these here are increasingly into making and DIY, with a corresponding improvement in costumes. I was *shocked* that not only were most of the attendees costumed (easily over 80 percent, evenly split with men and women), but that most had *multiple outfits per day,* and that these were overwhelmingly high-quality construction, clever, and increasingly representing a wider swatch of the imagined populace (mechanics alongside officers, dirty grubbers and opulent ladies, more cowboys and pirates, a couple time-traveling Star Trek crewmen, etc.) Yeah, the Prussian aspect of many uniforms meant that the crowd often took on an unintentional “affable Nazi” look that I wasn’t not cool with, but even the Third Reich-iest looking folks were 1) super nice and 2) totally oblivious to how badly their costumes were freaking me out.
A few quick pics:

Those wings are articulated; really lovely movement.

(He’s one of the organizers, actually; a bona fide Lord of Steam.)

The night before I took this pic I wandered in to an “Open Knife Fighting” event run by these Western Martial Arts folks as a sort of on-boarding activity. As it turns out, foam knife fighting–which sounds sorta NERFy–is essential getting punched. I’m terrible at fighting, but great at getting hit. This gal stabbed me *so many times* in those two hours. For the next three days I was all bruises down both arms, with actual cuts on my knife arm, a bruised hip, and aching kidneys. Brutally delightful.

Steampunk Santa sat in on a couple of my workshops, and was actually a really rad guy. He totally, and totally unobtrusively, inhabited the best possible Santa persona: He was affable and friendly without getting loud or in your face, always had candy canes (I guess con goers are notorious for skipping meals and getting light headed–which is certainly something I do when running workshops; dude saved me from swooning on several occasions), and always happy to help folks on their projects.

This pic is a twofer, since it 1) gives you a glimpse of the corset effect–overwhelmingly adopted by female attendees, even those participating in the Monkey Knife Fights mentioned above–and 2) *That mask!* That mask is articulated, so that when she talks the jaw moves independently, and it isn’t leather: It’s thin, fired porcelain *super-glued to her face*!

This is one half of the team Whalen & Shimmin, Traveling Tin-typists, who use authentic antebellum materials and methods to shoot tintypes (which, fun fact, were traditionally actually done on steel, not tin). These are really great sharp, bright images–the website totally does them no justice. Tintypes in general have sort of a ghostly depth to them that’s fun, but these are exceptionally nice tintypes. Nice folks, too.
Last but not least, these noble wounded warrior:

And, yup, that pistol–here’s a zoom-in:

It is indeed an internal-usage-approved personal vibrating wand device. As an aside, I met the dude responsible for inventing this steampunk dildo-zap-gun-handicraft; he is very rad, and as perplexed by the fascination as you are (it started out as a gag gift for a lady friend–which is neither a pun nor a literal description). I’m being coy about his identity because he’s also a children’s book author.
Unbeknownst to me a professional photographer snapped a pic of me and the steampunk Robocop at the book signing. The resulting image looks very much like me meeting a much cooler version of me from an alternate continuity:

(I gave him that bespoke print edition of “Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate”, because I was crazy geeked about his outfit, and also was drinking bourbon out of the paper cup resting on my table.)

Continue reading “Sex-guns, Tentacle Earrings, Steampunk Santa, and Corsets, Corsets, Corsets! (At the #Steampunk Convention: Up in the Aether 2013)”

Maker Faire Detroit 2012: The Autokineticons!

One of the best things about presenting at Maker Faire Detroit is that you basically get the run of the Henry Ford for three days, and get to poke around before the gates open and after they close. The conservator/mechanics at the Henry Ford are incredibly open and welcoming and enthusiastic about the machines they’ve restored and maintain–basically, they have the same attitude as the makers who’ve come to show off their projects.
So, for example, before the gates opened on Day 2–and thus before the crowds had poured in–I was wandering around looking for a pleasant bathroom when I came across the Henry Ford’s all-original, fully functional 1922 Detroit Electric, which had just been moved outside to be displayed with some other groundbreaking early automobiles.

This picture doesn’t really do the DE justice. It shows off the idiosyncratic back deck and the wonderful lines of the hood and fender, but can’t capture how wonderfully the body and paint have been restored; it’s smooth and so glossy it’s almost luminous, like puddles of black and blue ink on a white marble counter. And that glass? That curved glass? That’s *original*!
For those not in the know, I’ve included the official signage about this all-electric vehicle here. The Detroit Electric was often marketed as a “woman’s car” because it eschewed the grease and oil and petrol and could be started at the push of the button, rather than risking a broken wrist trying to crankstart a gasoline engine. This I’d all heard before; what I didn’t realize until the conservator pointed it out was that this “woman’s car” notion had influenced the interior design, as well. Check this out:

Those two bars next to the driver’s side door are the tiller steering (the longer bar folds down so that it’s horizontal in front of the driver) and the throttle (the shorter bar–if you look at the sign above you’ll see that there was actually a pretty interesting electromechanical system for varying speed and torque, because the car didn’t have a conventional variable transmission as we think of it). None of that was so special. What I love is the *seating*: The Detroit Electric “opera coupe” was driven from the left rear seat, and the front right passenger seat swiveled so that all of the passengers could sit facing each other and chat. You know, for the ladies.
Here’s another review of that swivel front passenger seat, which also gives a view of the left front passenger “jump seat.”

Finally, two more shots of the exterior, for good measure:

During load-out on the final day I got to take an impromptu joyride in an 1885 Benz Motorwagen–totally on the basis of my yelling at the passing motorist “Hey! Gimme a ride in that!” (I didn’t think he’d stop, because I didn’t think he’d even hear me over the racket of that damn thing’s crazy single-cylinder banger.)

The Benz was the first proper commercial automobile–in that it was actually built, top to bottom, to be a motorcar, and not just some crazy retrofit or barn-built one-off project. That said, it is still an absolutely *insane* vehicle to ride in. Because it was built to share the road with carriages and streetcars, you are really high up; it feels like you’re racing down the lane perched on top of a step-ladder nailed to a wagon. Once again we see a crank-style tiller steering system, which makes sense historically, but feels totally nuts when you’re riding shotgun and the driver has the hammer down and is weaving around a bunch of folks trying to load up their gear and get home as soon as possible. And check out the “engine compartment”–which is entirely open and includes hot things, exploding things, thrumming belts, and a roaring weighted flywheel. On the one hand, it’s behind you, so it’s not like you’ll be pitched into that churning mass of combustion and gear-ratios on a hard stop. On the other hand, if you’re a big goofus with a habit of draping his long arms behind the seat while riding in a car, you can loose a finger in a flash. Speaking of which, here’s me looking like a total goofus on this lil slice of modern human history (all fingers intact):

Maker Faire Detroit: Boomerangs, Conference Bikes, Soldering, and Over-Priced Treats! (@chrissalzman @dgoings @nostarch @makerfaire)

Up to now I’ve focused mostly on the work end of Maker Faire Detroit, which sorta elides the fact that the point of doing the work is in order to get a chance to run around and check out the fruits of everyone *else’s* labors. When we weren’t wigging out with cigar boxes and guitar strings or spreading the water rocket love, we got to gawk and blather and climb a big huge geodesic dome and eat some pretty darn deliciously overpriced faire-food (Big props to whoever tossed $20 of food tickets into one of our boxes. I don’t know if that was an unlikely wind-blown boon, or if someone surreptitiously helped him/herself to a copy of my book and elected to pay in meal tickets, but finding these in the middle of the first afternoon was a God send of ice-cream sandwiches, lemonades, and bottled waters.) Also, I finally got to ride the conference bike (*this exact conference bike,* although clearly none of those kids is me):

My booth at the Faire was directly adjacent to a table staffed by some students from the Henry Ford Academy, a small high school operated on the Henry Ford Museum campus (which is a pretty rad place to have a school; the older kids are out in some converted box cars in Greenfield Village and the first-year kids are tucked in behind the Dymaxion House in the museum itself). I spent a few days working with the kids last month, and they spent Maker Faire teaching folks to play Go, Tafl, Hex, and how to build cardboard boomerangs (a few pics below, once again courtesy of charming Chris Salzman):
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
I also got to help my six-year-old solder his *second* MAKE robot blink-eye project (multi-color LED eyes this year; *very* exciting):

Post-Maker Faire relaxation:
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;

Maker Faire Detroit 2012: Rocking Out on the Cheap! (@chrissalzman @dgoings @nostarch @makerfaire)

Aside from making scads of free water rockets with impressionable midwestern youths, our other big goal at Maker Faire Detroit this year was spreading the Gospel of Rocking Cheap Homebrew Electronic Instruments.
(Again, all photos here are courtesy of the gracious and talented Chris Salzman, who took *lots* more over the course of Maker Faire weekend; check ’em out!)
The $10 Electric Guitar and its Fuzztone effect (which, honest to God, can both be built for under $15 total) are consistent pleasers, and a persuasive argument on the side of “you don’t need to drop much coin to rock the party”
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
The Cigar-Box Synth and Dirt-Cheap amp likewise went over well–and loud!
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;

We also had the fully-amplified Thunderdrum–which makes a crazy vocal reverb if you shout into the can. This little guy ran up out of nowhere, grabbed the can away from a guy who was playing it more conventionally, and *screamed* into it, which was just about the most hardcore thing I’d ever seen. He *rules!*
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
Dave-o on the Thunderdrum:
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
With Dylan rocking the cigar-box electronica rig:
Yes! Photo: Maker Fair 2012 &emdash;
It was really, really a joy to share my enthusiasm for these instruments–which I really do love–and feel it reflected back and magnified by folks who, for the first time, were realizing “Hold up; I could make these things! I could make these things *better!*”
Expect a few more pics later this week!