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Most EL wire displays are static (and boring) because they use constant-on inverters. Of course, there are inverters that can flash the EL wire on and off at a fixed rate, but that's not very exciting. Another option is to use a sound activated inverter, but most of these are single channel, so they turn the wires (no matter how many colors you have) all on or all off. If you really want to make your EL projects lively you have to use an inverter with multiple output channels, but many of these cost $80 and up! Luckily, I've found that you can use an inverter taken from a "graphic equalizer" T-shirt (aka T-qualizer) to create an inexpensive five channel, sound activated EL wire display.
I've used this idea to create a musically animated gift box from EL wire, a T-qualizer inverter, portable speakers, and an MP3 player. I call this gift box an ELF box which is short for ElectroLuminescent Fun box. The ELF box is a very cool way to give someone an electronic device that plays music; just substitute it in place of the mp3 player and have the gift animate its own gift box! Of course, if you don't want to make a gift box, this instructable works equally well for making a musically driven display. Finally, an optional step gives instructions on how to modify the inverter so that it responds to an audio signal instead of sound, which will enable you to precisely control the animation with a custom audio file and make speakers unnecessary.
Materials and Tools
gift box or other suitable substrate
5 strands of EL wire (I used 20 ft for an 8x11 in box. metric: ~6.1 m for a box approx. sized 21x28 cm)
T-qualizer inverter (not exactly the same as the one I have, but similar)
7x1 ribbon cable (around 6 in or 15 cm)
7x1 crimp terminal housing
7 female crimp terminals
crimper or pliers with knurled jaws
medium phillips screwdriver (for poking holes)
knife (for removing phosphor)
Step 1: Attaching the EL Wire
To connect the EL wire to the inverter I simply copied the same type of connector used by the inverter. This connector uses ribbon cable with female crimp terminals in a 7x1 housing. The downside to this approach is that all of the EL wires have to be grouped together where they meet the ribbon cable so that the corona wires can share the common connection. If each EL wire had an individual common connection then the ribbon cable could be split and the EL wires separated. This would allow two EL wires to be used on opposite ends of the display without wasting EL wire to cover the distance from the shared common to the desired location. I'm using the shared common approach because I'll be reusing the wires and inverter in another project where the shared common is preferrable. If you'd like to use the individual common technique then you'll need to rewire the inverter with a ribbon cable that has ten lines, with common connected to every other line.
My EL wire came pre-stripped, but I did have to scrap the phosphor off the core wire. The picture above shows a razor blade, but I think a regular pocket knife works better for removing the phosphor. Here's a link to a tutorial on EL wire which includes instructions on how to properly strip it. Please read it if you aren't familiar with how to work with EL wire. The main takeaway is to be careful not to cut the corona wires when removing the insulation and to run the inverter only when the EL wires are connected. The outer wires of the ribbon cable are soldered to the corona wires which are further back than the core wires. Therefore you should make the outer wires of the ribbon cable longer so they will reach. I used electrical tape to isolate the core wires once they were soldered to the ribbon cable. You will probably have an easier time with heat shrink tubing. Then I hot-glued the termination to insulate the corona wires/common and core wires. This made a nice, rigid connection that I'll need when I reuse the EL wire in another project. You may want to use a large piece of heat shrink to insulate the connection while preserving more flexibility than you'd get from hot glue.
To construct the connector, first examine a single female crimp terminal. The set of tabs at the edge are meant to wrap around the wire's insulation. The other set of tabs near the middle are meant to contact bare wire. Insert one strand of ribbon cable in to the connector to determine how much insulation you should remove. Remove that much insulation. Reinsert the wire and line it up so that the tabs will grab the proper part of the wire when they are crimped. Normally a crimping tool is used to press down the tabs but you can use pliers with knurled jaws to do the same thing. Here's a link to a very detailed article explaining how to attach female crimp terminals. Once all the terminals have been attached you can insert them in the housing. The terminals have a metal catch that springs out when it reaches the hole on the side of the housing. Therefore you should make sure all the terminals are facing the same way, that you insert them into the housing the proper way, and that you insert them far enough. Wrap some electrical tape around the housing to insulate any exposed metal since EL wire is driven by high voltage.