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October 11, 2018


Posted in hydra, midi, sparkfun

SparkFun Music Instrument Shield Build

Adding a multitimbral MIDI SoundChip to Arduino

Part two of a multi-part blog post on building a MIDI synth instrument. 

The basic idea is to use 3 Arduino's to make a visual / sound instrument. 

Arduino 1) Send control data.

Arduino 2) Generate wav audio from MIDI input. 

Arduino 3) FFT EQ visualization. 


Solder on Stackable headers. 

Careful to try get the headers aligned. ProTip is to put your stacking headers to the table & set an old shield underneath with pins facing up (into the receptacle end of the headers) to line them up for easy soldering. So a shield underneath this one in the photo below. 

I just went for it & tried to hold it still, so stacking headers came out a tiny bit wonky, but the pins still lined up perfectly with Arduino, so yay!


The chip driving this board is the VS1053, essentially the brain / heart / guts of a MIDI Synthesizer. I will admit one of my main reasons for building this is playing DOOM and other DOS games which can send MIDI to the shield. Modern update for an old SoundBlaster16 or  Roland Sound Canvas

And we're done. 


Stayed tuned for the next episode. 

October 04, 2018


Posted in midi, sparkfun

SparkFun MIDI Shield Build

Control MIDI the old fashioned way. With knobs. 

Part one of a multi-part blog post on building a MIDI synth instrument. 

The basic idea is to use 3 Arduino's to make a visual / sound instrument. 

Arduino 1) Send control data.

Arduino 2) Generate wav audio from MIDI input. 

Arduino 3) FFT EQ visualization. 

Yes, it would be simper to do this with an Arduino Micro (or RPi3) + a teensy for similar functionality. But not as much fun. 


Soldered the MIDI jacks first. Make sure to solder them flush to the board.

Since they need to withstand plugging cables in & out, good to get them perfect. OR make a case which takes some of the brunt of the insertion force. 

Soldered the rest of the surface components. This kit is relatively quick to assemble. 

The variable resistor traces are quite close to the push buttons so watch out for that. I may look at these solder joints again under a microscope. 


So theoretically you should use stackable headers, but the SparkFun Instrument board which I'll be sending signal to (from this) is pin incompatible, so using breakaway headers. Measure the length of the MIDI shield's headers & gently snap off what you need with a set of needle-nose pliers. 

Ideally you have an old unused shield around to act as a brace for soldering the header pins, but in a pinch can use a breadboard to keep pins in line.

Snap Male headers attached.


All done !

Really useful additional tutorials

MIDI Tutorial

MIDI Shield Hookup Guide

MIDI Wikipedia

Stay tuned (pun!) for the rest of the build of the Hydra instrument !

Things We Sell ! Wearable Electronics : Adafruit Flora, Gemma & CPX

A new regular Blog series.
Featuring quick overviews of the various platforms Elmwood offers.

Intro to Wearable/Sewable Electronics aka 'e-textiles' : Adafruit.

Common Elements:

  • Conductive thread instead of copper wire or circuit board traces.
  • Sewing
  • Fun !

Different Product lines:

  • [Adafruit's evolving wearable ecosystem explained with Starbucks Sizes.]
CircuitPythonExpress aka 'CPX' ( Venti )
Flora ( Grande )
Gemma m0 ( short )
Trinket m0 ( tiny ! )  m0 uses Circuit Python Language. 


    Older models, aka 'counting all the chickens' :

    There were non-CircuitPython ArduinoIDE 'C' based versions of most boards in the past.

    Flora is still ArduinoIDE based.  Adafruit has slowly moved it's product line to be programmable with CircuitPython (a smaller subset of the Python language targeted to small microcontrollers).
    Also slightly confusing, there are a handful of previously existing (& still amazing) Trinket Boards : 
    1501 - Standard Trinket 5V - ArdunioIDE / C
    2010 - Pro Trinket 3V - ArdunioIDE / C
    2000 - Pro Tinket 5V - ArdunioIDE / C
    The Circuit Playground Express  Board (CPX) is the most versatile learning tool, as you can start with Microsoft MakeCode block-based tool, then move to Javascript , or Circuit Python and for the low level coders,  ArduinoIDE. 
    CPX is quickly becoming a favorite in North American schools, giving the Micro:Bit a run for it's money. 

    Important People in wearables from Adafruit :

      Becky Stern & Lady Ada

    Adafruit's Wearable World :

    Adafruit originally went big with wearables with the FLORA arduino based product line. They have been slowly transitioning to CircuitPython based boards such as the Circuit PythonExpress, Gemma m0 and Trinket m0.

    However, if you WANT TO, you can still flash the firmware on those & use good old Arduino 'C'. 

    CircuitPythonExpress is flagship board which can hold all the CircuitPython Library Functions at once. Gemma m0 is a similar board with a smaller set of features & onboard memory for specific use smaller wearable projects. 

    Ideally, learn & prototype with the larger CircuitExpress first, then for build-specific-use projects switch to the smaller Gemma m0 which can hold one or two libraries of code.
    ( Libraries are pre-written code that utilize expanded features of the boards.)

    'Neopixel' is the most commonly promoted library which can drive LED strips to make things like the FIREwalker sneakers
    or the Flora RGB Neopixel button sized lights.

    One could as easily start with Gemma and work with that for quite a while before needing the expanded feature set of the Circuit Playground Express. 

    Adafruit Kits

    Circuit Playground Express Educators Pack


    Gemma v2 Starter Pack 


    Gemma sensor starter pack


    Gemma talking toy guts sound pack

    Flora v2 (ArduinoIDE  / not python based)

    Flora budget pack

    Flora sensor pack

    Getting started with adafruit flora book pack

    Suggested Companions Out of the box:
    • Many scraps of practice Fabric
    • Sewing skills
    • Clear Nail Polish for sealing ends of conductive circuit knots.

    Recommended Viewing:

    Powering Wearables

    Conductive thread basics

    Intended Use :
    Learning & creating wearable electronics.
    CPX start with Blocks visual language, then move on to Javascript or Python or even C. 

    If you want to make more out of the box ideas with many lights or UV sensors or larger projects, choose CircuitPythonExpress to prototype.
    Then miniaturize to Gemma m0.
    Or begin with any of the Gemma starter kits.
    Adafruit has a vast library of tutorials over many years with a huge selection of projects to learn from. No (reasonable) upper limit on what you can eventually build. 


    Performance :

    These devices seek to be as low powered as possible, so integer performance isn't really a valid measure here. CircuitPythonExpress and Gemma m0 have very snappy processors for the purpose.

    Hackery Tips :

    Good generic platforms for about anything soft & flexible you can imagine.
    Avoid water.

    Things We Sell ! Wearable Electronics : Lilypad

    A regular blog series featuring quick overviews of the various platforms Elmwood offers.


    Intro to Wearable/Sewable Electronics aka 'e-textiles' with Lilypad.

    • Conductive thread instead of copper wire or circuit board traces.
    • Sewing
    • Fun !

    Lilypad Ecosystem { SparkFun promoted Wearable platform }

      Out of the Box :

      Featuring a novel 'protosnap' approach: you test your circuits on the board & then snap them off & sew into your project when ready.
      Lilypad has many kits & options.
      Full range found here

      All Lilypad products are Ardunio IDE based.

      Kits have a very quickstart approach & can get going immediately.
      Protosnap kits generally don't require any programming, the other boards are more versatile. 
      We recommend you try some of the kit projects & then move to individual component based projects.
      Individual Boards :

      USB Based.


      FTDI Based

      * FTDI cable versions came before USB ProtosnapPlus boards.

      Suggested Companions Out of the box:
      Inventor of the Lilypad : Dr. Leah Buechley

      Intended Use :

      Learning & creating wearable electronics.

      If you want to start with ready made, little-to-no programming kits,
      with lights and touch, go with lilypad protosnaps.


      Avoid water.
      July 13, 2018


      Posted in el wire, hoodie, projects, rh, tron

      TRON Hoodie 2.0

      v 2.0

      As much fun as the 1.0 hoodie was, realized could take it up a notch by adding a 


      That way it would flash along with the beat when you wear it to a concert or on stage. 

      We stock a 6v and a 12v. To drive one length of EL Wire you need to use the 6V. 

      high-brightness-aqua-electroluminescent-el-wire-2-5-meters  +

      el-wire-6v-sound-activated-pocket-inverter + a 4x AA Battery Pack


      Before soldering anything, it's a good idea to make sure the circuit works with alligator clips. 

      From Left : EL Wire adapter to sound activated inverter to 4xAA battery pack. 


      The dashed white lines on the inverter go to the RED lead on the battery pack. 

      Then I cut some heat shrink tubing. Important to slide this on the wire BEFORE you solder it. 



      At this point realized I needed to strip the ends of the battery pack a bit more to get a good connection.

      Attempted to do it 'old school' by rolling a boxcutter along the wire. Then found out it was Stranded Core and gave up to go find the excellent set of Hakko wire strippers

      If your wire is solid core you can get away with rolling it under a boxcutter, stranded core you end up cutting through half the strands & won't work. 



      Once you have the insulation cut, for stranded core, roll it off with your two fingers. This will twist the wire to make it easier to solder. 

      Tin both the leads 


      If I have very fine wire, rather than trying to horizontally solder them, 

      I will sometimes twist them together with needle nose & then solder that connection. Especially for clothing which will have more movement and torque on the joint.



      Slide the heat shrink back over & apply light heat with a lighter or heat gun in smooth back & forth motions.

      Don't hold the heat source in one spot or you may get smoke & eventually possibly fire. 

      Also the tube will only shrink so much, so use the right guage. 

      Success !



      The hoodie being modded is a BetaBrand Reversible Disco Hoodie from San Fransisco.

      For larger (non-hoodie) projects, If you want to drive 3+ meters of EL Wire, you would need to use

      el-wire-12v-sound-activated-pocket-inverter + an x8 AA Battery Pack

      For the x8 you would have to cut off the barrel jack adapter & strip the leads a bit. 

      July 13, 2018


      Posted in el wire, hoodie, rh, tron

      TRON Hoodie 1.0

      v 1.0

      For a good sewing starter project, I decided to replicate Adafruit's Tron Hoodie

      You only need a hoodie, needle & thread,  & some EL Wire with a battery pack. No soldering involved. 

      tron hoodie


      Relatively straight forward, sew thread loops around the EL wire about every 3 inches.

      To get a nice curve along the hood, use a tighter spacing of stitch. 


      Good idea to measure the inner length of your hoodie first as I ended up having enough EL wire to do half the back too. 

      A second consideration is if you want it inside the zipper or outside. 

      Inside you won't see half the EL if you zip it up. 

      I chose a reversible hoodie, so could wear it inside or out. 

      Sew the battery connector close to a pocket, so that can sit in there undisturbed. 

      Completed Hoodie : 


      The standard EL Inverter has 3 modes for the EL Wire.
      Fully lit, flashing & seizure mode. 

      Good times. 


      July 09, 2018


      Posted in makerbuino, projects, rh

      Makerbuino Build

      Click here to get your own !

      Intended as a companion to read before the OFFICIAL BUILD GUIDE

      Some additional hints on things to be aware of during assembly. 




      Use the buttons to prop board up to make it even for soldering. 


      Little containers are great for organizing kits with many parts. 


      You need to save your component lead 'off-cuts' so clip them off FACING AWAY from you into a small box. 




      Careful to distinguish between similar LOOKING parts. 


      Can use needle-nose pliers to bend leads out a little to make it easier to mount on the board. Be very gentle. 



      When preparing to insert the IC, gently & SLOWLY roll / bend it against a firm non-static, non-scratch surface. This will make the pins easier to insert. 



      I pulled the battery JST connector out to make it easier to move the board around for soldering. It was firmly in there, so used two sets of pliers to remove. IT's VERY easy to DAMAGE your board like this, so only do this step if you are super confident in your abilities.  Not recommended & NO REFUNDS if you damage your product. Mini linesman (square pliers) must be parallel to sides of JST mount on board.

      If you haven't recently trimmed your fingernails, I'm sure a motivated person could do it without tools as well. 



      A real PROTIP is to use tools to prop components FLUSH to the  board from underneath & solder them in on top. 

      This will keep it even when you solder.

      The serial programmer,  in this instance. 

      The LCD will no longer let you sit it entirely flat. 


      The Volume & Brightness Dials ESPECIALLY must be soldered in flush, or they will not be able to turn as they will hit the LCD. Check it on both sides to make sure no gaps are under one of the Dials connector legs. 



      Use a microscope (or magnifying glass) to make sure all your solder joints are not overlapping. 

      For the curious, I viewed the USB microscope output on Ubuntu using Cheese App. No drivers were necessary. 



      Almost done...


      Booting !


      All that's left is the case assembly. 

      I used clear gorilla tape to affix the speaker to the back plate. 

      Can now play all the demo games on the card !

      Remember to sleep!

      *We had some extra colored buttons around the office, so used those to spice it up a bit. The standard kit comes with black buttons. 

      IF you hit any snags, check here first : 

      IMPORTANT NOTE : Had a brief panic it was dead, as I accidentally shut it off while it was loading a game. When you turn it back on, the screen will be lit, but no content shown. 

      If this happens to you, follow the C-button (top left) reboot method here :

      BE PATIENT while games are loading, up to 30s each. 


      Click here to get your own !