Introduction: Episode 18: the Self Playing Harmonica

Picture of Episode 18: the Self Playing Harmonica
There are lots of different types of Self-Playing Instruments, but we here at Stupid Inventions wanted to create something new!

So we decided to build the Self Playing Harmonica!

Made from an old printer and a vacuum cleaner, the Self-Playing Harmonica will play different songs based on the image you print!

Watch the video to see it in action!

What you'll need to make this device:
1x Printer
1x Vacuum Cleaner
1x Harmonica
Tape, Scissors, Sharp Knife, and a computer.

Step 1: Preparing the Printer

Picture of Preparing the Printer

This step will vary based on the printer and harmonica your using.

Basically what you want to do is make sure there's enough room for the harmonica to be able to go from right to left while attached to the ink cartridges.

I didn't take a picture of the printer before I cut parts of it off, but you could see where the main cuts were. I only had to cut pieces of plastic in order to fit the harmonica, so the printer should work perfectly despite the cosmetic surgery...

Be careful with whatever knife or scissor you use to remove the plastic parts.
This is the only hard part to this Stupid Invention

Step 2: Adding the Harmonica

Picture of Adding the Harmonica

Once you've cleared a path for the Harmonica, attaching it to the printers Ink Cartridges should be a snap!

Just make sure its attached as securely as possible, and try not to cover up any of the air holes of the Harmonica.

Once attached, turn the printer on and give it a test run to make sure the printer can fully function even with all the modification.

Step 3: Adding the Vacuum Cleaner

Picture of Adding the Vacuum Cleaner

Depending on your Vacuum Cleaner's nozzle, you may need to attach it to something heavy to keep it in place.

I had to attach it to a weight to keep it sucking in the same spot.

Choosing where to place the nozzle is entirely up to you, but you may want it to be near the middle so you can be sure the complete harmonica will pass by the vacuum cleaner.

Step 4: Fine Tuning

Picture of Fine Tuning

You need to make sure the vacuum nozzle is close enough to the harmonica to make a noise, yet far enough that it wont attach itself to the harmonica and disrupt the printer. Again, you'll have to experiment with the vacuum nozzle, printer, and harmonica that you have to get results.

Once everything is in place, the real fun part begins!

Try printing a few random images to see what sounds the Self Playing Harmonica will play.

Once you get a feel for the device, try "drawing a song" for it to play.

If I was more musically inclined I would have developed this further, but you can see in the picture the song that I drew. Watch the video in the first and last step to see the Self Playing Harmonica in action and hear what this song sounds like!

Note: I had to cut a piece of Printer Paper in half, so that the printer would still print and that the paper wouldn't interfere with the vacuum and the harmonica.

Step 5: The Self Playing Harmonica Is Complete!

Picture of The Self Playing Harmonica Is Complete!

Now you have a fully programmable Self-Playing Harmonica!

Try drawing different songs and see what plays!

P.S. I decided to decorate the Self-Playing Harmonica... consider it one of the Robot Blues Brothers...

I hope you enjoyed this instructable and please rate, comment, and subscribe!


usl52 (author)2010-09-27

Instead of putting solenoids, blowers, dryers etc... why don't you just use your plain old just might end up playing the harmonica better !!

REA (author)2009-08-19


spectacular (author)REA2010-09-27


StupidInventions (author)REA2009-08-20

happy to help!

usl52 (author)2009-08-21

If you like to play the Harmonica that be it !

StupidInventions (author)usl522009-08-21

it can play the harmonica better than ican..


rimar2000 (author)2009-08-19

This is not a STUPID Invention!. Very clever.

thanks! glad you liked it!

I am doing it, I want to play the Beto's Ninth Symphony. But in black and white only, because my printer hasn't color ink.

lol, good luck! Beto's 9th sounds way better in black and white! :)

Doesn't everything?

spectacular (author)2010-09-27

LOL love the sunnies and hat. They just give it so much more character

Reminds me of this:

The stepper motor moves so it plays Ode to Joy!

stringstretcher (author)2009-08-20

There is nothing wrong with the music being made by this invention... It is the demands of inappeasable ( my spell checker chose this word :P) listeners that are expressed here... don't listen to them, just rock on and enjoy the rich variation that creativity can bring to music. It SHOULD sound like nothing else ever heard before. Good one!

Thank you very much for the kind words! Believe me, compared to comments I've gotten on other sites, even the worst comments here on Instructables are a welcome relief.. At least on Instructables people take the time to explain the technical difficulties they have with a project, and that's why they don't like it. Also, as you said, the people hear can also spell correctly, which is another plus. So thanks everyone for your comments and feedback, whether positive or otherwise! I hope to make and post more Stupid Inventions in the future! Zachary Stupid Inventor

jeff-o (author)StupidInventions2009-08-26

Are we referring to the comment trolls on hackaday, perhaps? Those guys are brutal (and yet, have yet to prove that they've built anything of value themselves...)

stringstretcher (author)jeff-o2009-09-03

I don't know about that site, but I did retire from a very exciting idea group, due to the "it'll never work" mentality. Wonder why pop music still uses the same three chords Beethoven used? Do they all eat the same food every day? For me, originality is essential to good music. On the other hand, all original ideas may not work so well! I really liked the printer's music!

jeff-o (author)stringstretcher2009-09-03

Heh, if you get a chance, do a bit of research into how many times Pachelbel's Canon appears in pop music!

EDIT: I did the work for you, when I was looking up how to properly spell "Pachelbel." Link:

kmpres (author)2009-08-21

Good start but needs work, obviously. I'm sure you're aware that a harmonica has in and out reeds every other note meaning that you need to reverse airflow rapidly to get it to play all its available notes. A vacuum cleaner is clearly one direction only, and overkill at that. Good luck refining this project into somethiing that can actually play a tune.

StupidInventions (author)kmpres2009-08-21

You should know that I actually did do a little more work then i mention in this instructable.... A way to get the "exhale" notes on the harmonica would be to have a blow dryer blowing into a funnel... I was able to get this to work, but the heat from the blow dryer would melt the plastic... So if i had the money, time, and skill, i would have taken out the heating coils and tried to add that to the Self-Playing Harmonica.... but alas i only used the vacuum... im still quite happy with the result :)

kmpres (author)StupidInventions2009-08-21

Your results so far are good, and it's an interesting project. Except for the programming function, you've essentially followed the path automaton makers did over 100 years ago, and the printer takes care of most of the mechanics. Regarding the hair blower idea,most hair blowers have a heat-off, blower-only function which would require little or no hacking, but it yours doesn't, disconnecting the heater element shouldn't be difficult.. Just be careful, because you'll be working with line-voltages. You could regulate the fan speed with an ordinary light dimmer (about $10 at a hardware store) as long as the heating element is not part of the circuit. A solenoid could also reverse the airflow direction on command from the computer/printer giving you the full range of notes in your harmonica. A bigger problem, though, is how to keep the noise from your air blower and printer from drowning out the relatively small sound the harmonica makes.

jeff-o (author)kmpres2009-08-26

Yeah, a solenoid to direct airflow is definitely what's needed. Something to rapidly turn on and off the airflow, since you can't spin up a blower motor fast enough.

ripstik juggler (author)2009-08-20

yay a new way 2 bug the hell out of my parents!!! keep at it....

lol thanks... my parents were bugging me to "clean that mess up" so i guess itll work

Trigger_Happy (author)2009-08-21

Awesome. When I saw the first pic, I imagined that you would interface with the printers stepper motor using a microprocessor etc - I thought it seemed like more work than fun... But your method of 'printing' the music using the existing windows print driver is simple and elegant - truly creative! :-)

hahhaha thanks! Don't have such high expectations when you see it's from Stupid Inventions, lol. Glad you enjoyed it!

masterochicken (author)2009-08-19

5 stars!

um, did you actually rate it 5 Stars? because it says my only rating is a 3, lol

I did. They do this weird thing where if only one person rates it 5, it won't actually be 5. I've always wanted to figure out how it works.

lol, ok thanks for rating!

Warlrosity (author)2009-08-20

OM&(*&)_&_)* I needed this, I wanna make a sefr blowing saxaphone

good luck with that!


thunderstruck7 (author)2009-08-20

if you ever make one for a tuba or ukulele, contact me.

lol, i will keep you posted...

guitarman63mm (author)2009-08-19

It has potential as an idea, but I'm not sure if it's evolved far enough to really be called a 'self-playing' harmonica, being that it's just moving air over the reeds in a static motion-there's no music being made, just a whole lot of noise. A fully-capable one would involve solenoids, air tubes to each reed on the harp, and a microprocessor, as well as the software to control it. At least, it sounds good on paper.

very true, and i would love to build a fully capable one! Unfortunately, as this is Stupid Inventions, my supplies and skills are limited.. so this is the best I could make right now... I'm actually in school now for Electrical Engineering, so maybe after I graduate I'll go back and retweak and revamp some of these Stupid Inventions... Either way, thanks for watching and commenting! I hope you at least go a good laugh out of the video!

Yes, yes I did laugh profusely. It's almost as goofy as Bleep Labs's noise-maker, the!

In all seriousness, kudos on the idea. I've tried playing diatonic harps, but it always manifests itself into some sort of Bob Dylan-esque blow/draw game...

well then mission accomplished! wow, that is a cool yet pointless device... thanks for the kudos! ha, it's funny how many Bob Dylan comments im getting

porcupinemamma (author)2009-08-19

voted 5 stars (BTW. My husband is an engineer) Engineers rock!!!

Yay Engineers! Although i'm not to happy about going back to school next week... its going to cut into my Stupid Inventing time...

porcupinemamma (author)2009-08-19

I LOVE it! You are so much fun (and by the way, you have an enchanting smile) Love from Lyn in Canada ;0)

Glad you enjoyed it! It was really fun to make... hahaha someone left a comment requesting that I make a big smile at the end, so I decided to comply...

TRIPLEC (author)2009-08-19

i agree with guitarman..its just a bunch of noise..i'll do this when its actually capable of making music

StupidInventions (author)TRIPLEC2009-08-19

Please see my response to guitarman, im too lazy to retype it, Thanks for watching and commenting!

hyperactiveguy (author)2009-08-19

I LOVE IT! it's great, keep it up!

thanks for watching and commenting! glad you enjoyed!

StupidInventions (author)2009-08-19

ZOMG! This Instructable was featured! Woohoo! I'm very honored, thanks Instructables!

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