Introduction: Cardboard Cat Bagpipes MIDI Controller

Gee, it sounds like fun. What, bagpipes not your bag?

MIDI is the common interface standard used to communicate with electronic musical instruments. It is also used between the controller - the instrument you are playing (piano/organ keyboard, drums, guitar, etc...) and the sound generating device (can be mechanical or electronic).

You can make a custom MIDI controller for electronic music synthesizers.

In NYC, we brake for animals, even the two-legged ones. No creatures were harmed in the making of this ible.

Step 1: I Tawt I Saw a Puddy Cat...

Musicians have always searched for the perfect instrument to express their creativity or to expand their range.

I always thought it would be fun to play a set of bagpipes...or an accordian, but that's just me. Since I have a bunch of electronic music synthesizers that I dabble with, why not make a MIDI controller. The great keyboard players like Jan Hammer or Joe Zawinul have made their own so what I made is somewhat an homage to them( portable keytarish-like and Joe having named his controller "Pepe" for whatever reason)

This was developed over a couple of nights build but there is way more to do or is possible.

This is a basic MIDI controller that plays a few notes. More expressive features like pitch bend or modulation can be added in, especially with using the built in accelerometer on the Adafruit Circuit Playground/Express boards. Modelling the way real bagpipes are played is way more intensive so I just opted to incorporate an on/off setting for the drone note and dispense with the inflating/windbag dynamics.

Most of my gear is "vintage" or use the older DIN5 MIDI connectors and do not have USB. Here is my Leslie Organ speaker MIDI switch. Since the MIDI USB libraries for Arduino were used for this project, I did not wire up the board to output MIDI to DIN5 jacks. And thus the demo with using the CatPipes controller to drive Garageband on a Mac computer through the USB cable.

As with most of my projects, cardboard is the go-to for prototyping and constructing...and a gallon of glue.

Laminating several layers of corrugated box cardboard will yield a stiff boardlike structure.

I made my cat shape and the "paddle switch" board out of cardboard. I used some cardstock to form ping pong ball eye sockets. A strip of fabric was glued at the hinge of the paddle switch to give it some durability when it flexes.

Step 2: Electric Cat...

Rather than brave the cold outside and disregard the winter squall storm warnings to hunt for a suitable fabric covering, I rummaged through what I had on hand. Hmmm, what is this...Calico cat!

I had an Adafruit Circuit Playground Classic board laying around that hadn't been used in a while. I seem to be toasting all the older boards I have by overloading them with neopixels or something. The Arduino IDE seems to be getting wonkier as the versions get updated and the Mac computer gets more finicky with USB.

I initially tried out the MIDI drums from the Adafruit tutorial

Having used capacitive touch in other projects, I have found them to be "touchy". If you are implementing multiple switches, you have to carefully arrange any extended wires so they don't interfere or trigger each other and the distance the touchpad/wire is away from the board affects it's performance.

I wanted to place the playing switches on something to resemble the chanter or flute-like thing from the bagpipes. Hardwiring micro-switches with actual pull-down resistors was the only way to go for reliable operation.

Step 3: Cat-o-nine-tails...

To make a better playing experience, the micro switches which have been hot glued on a popsicle stick to keep them in line, needed a bigger tactile surface. Get that last drop of glue out of your tube of E6000. Since this is not a fine instrument with pearl keys, I glued on some craft wood circles to make bigger switch caps. Nope, all I got is bulk bag of micro switches but not the switch caps. It took several tries to glue them on since I kept moving them around to make sure the glue did not blob around the switch causing an obstruction when the switch is pressed down. You could probably 3D print a ninjaflex membrane cover for the switch assembly and make it a professional looking instrument.

On those four-leg micro tactile switches, just connect to any leg and then to the one on the opposite corner on the diagonal. No need to figure out how it is wired up internally.

I glued on an extra popsicle stick extension so I could secure the cable for strain relief.

This was an exercise in bundling the cables since you had the wires all over the place soldered to the board and the pull-down resistors were soldered in-line. Btw, I am still trying to whittle away at that 1000' spool of CAT5 networking cable I got off of *bay a few years back. 980 feet to go?

Step 4: The End of the Tale...

I serged a tube of fabric/batting to make a tail. It was flipped inside out to give a nice finished look.

The chanter switches and wires are passed through the open end of the tail cover and exit out of a hole cut in the fabric near the other end. The exposed chanter switch assembly is secured to the tail fabric with some hand sewing. The opening where the wires exit were sewn closed so it doesn't fray and rip open wider when the instrument is used and the tail is moved around.

The tail is attached to the main body with a nut and bolt. I probably could have punched some holes to just attach it with a zip-tie.

The neopixels to light up the eyeballs were passed through the openings. The neopixels are secured to cutouts in the back of the ping pong ball and then pressed in to fit the eyeball sockets. The space in the the ping pong ball allows the light to diffuse well from two intense neopixels.

The paddle switch was taped in place and tested to work.

All the rest of the wires were taped in position on the back.

The USB cable passes through the notch by the cat's paws(kinda like the cat's paw nail removal tool which is similar in shape)

Since I had only 7 buttons to press for notes, I programmed it to play most of the notes of a C Major scale. Real bagpipe tunings are different. Really "different". I've got middle C, D, E, F, G, high C and two octaves below, a low C for the drone note. Also adjust the fingering pattern of the switches as desired. I am not a woodwind player so I just laid mine out like a piano keyboard.

And there you go,

Rock on, meow!


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