Introduction: I Converted a Bookshelf to a Voice Activated Music Center

About: Alton Brown taught me how to cook, now I want to tackle diy projects.

My wife has been begging me for a record player for as long as I have known her. I wanted to do something a bit fancier so I decided to make this for her as a surprise.

This was a great opportunity to have a place to put all of our music makin' machines. I wanted someplace to put a record player, records, a nice radio, maybe an 8-track player and something bluetooth-y like a simple receiver. I definitely wanted it to work with an Amazon Echo. The most important thing, however, was to make it easy to use. Too many times you walk up to somebodys stereo and it's next to impossible to play anything without intimate knowledge of how it is setup.

The wife tends to hate gifts that she can't understand, which is totally respectable.

Step 1: Mock It Up and Go Shopping

Before I got my hands too dirty I had to figure out how to make all this happen in the space I had. I had a rough idea of how it was going to shake out and putting it into an image editor was helpful to make sure my thoughts made sense.

I then hit up all the big-box-stores to find some sort of cheap bookcase or cabinet to kick this all off.

I knew I already had a big thick slab of reclaimed wood for the top so the shelves didn't need to be terribly fancy, they just needed to hold things. I ended up with this one via ye-ole Amazon that had the right dimensions for my needs.

Step 2: Make More Shelves

I knew before I even got the bookshelf in the mail that it would be thin, flimsy, hard to work with but making a bookshelf from scratch was out of the question. My table saw is presently broken down into pieces getting rebuilt. Like most of us, I have too many projects and not enough time. Besides, who is kidding who, I'm no woodworker. It might have looked like crap if I tried and I didn't have the luxury of time to find out.

I instantly needed more shelves in this bookcase, and that was a simple enough task. I just made some new holes, and moved the existing shelves where I needed them and ripped some plywood to the proper size and screwed those in as well. The new shelves added a considerable amount of lateral rigidity to the unit so that was a nice perk.

Step 3: A Wee Bit of Paint and the Additions Are Done

I shot some brown paint on the new plywood shelves and unless I told you I bet you'd have no idea I added them.

Step 4: Be a Smart Human, Attach the Back

I have seen many many times people make the mistake of not putting the back on the bookcase/bookshelf. If you don't put the back on, even if it's made with cardboard, you are leaving out a major structural component and the unit will rack horizontally and look terrible and most likely fail.

Always put the back on.


I ramped the process up a bit and used staples instead of the included tiny nails.

Buttloads of staples.

This gave me more contact points and the added bonus of being super fast and, well, let's be honest, more fun.

Step 5: Time to Make the Control Panel

Like I mentioned earlier, making this super easy to use was one of my highest priorities. I was hoping to boil down most of the major controls to three items.

  1. Power on/off
  2. Volume
  3. Device you want to hear

My plan was if you wanted to play the fm radio all you had to do was press the power button, the radio button and adjust the volume.

I was able to accomplish this by using an RCA audio cord switcher, a simple RCA volume knob and an electrical wall outlet to handle the power.

Now I just need to jam all those onto a chunk of wood, make it look like it was from the 70's and install it.

I started it all off with taking a small piece of sheet metal, cutting it to size and gluing it to a scrap of plywood.

Step 6: RCA Switcher Install

I found this nifty, (and cheap ta boot), switcher on the Amazonszz. When I tore it apart I was pleased to find out It was easy enough to break apart into smaller pieces and simply epoxy it to the new wood/metal panel I made.

You can't see it in the pictures, but the switcher has a breakout panel that has all the audio input and output holes on it. That will stay hidden.

Step 7: Onward to the Volume Knob...

...and yes it will go to 11.

I went off to Amazon again for a basic cheapo RCA volume potentiometer. You will see these used a lot for people with aftermarket stereos who wish to have a knob for the bass volume.

To make this work all I had to do was carve the back of the wood panel out a bit, pull the knob off and screw it directly to the metal via the knob.

I bought the biggest, heaviest upgraded knob I could find online and it attached to the potentiometer perfectly.


I wanted a single switch that turned everything on and off and the easiest way to do that was to just wire in a lightswitch and a junction box and make it legit. This would feed a regular outlet on the back which would feed into a powerstrip.

All pretty basic stuff.

Step 9: Faux Finish?

I was shooting for an old, 1970s style look to this setup, that is why I went with basic steel and that typical brown wood together. I hit the steel with a flap disk to rough it up a bit, then clear coated it for some protection.

Step 10: Not Too Bad

This came out pretty much how I hoped. I plan on adding labels to it with a labelmaker here soon but didn't get that done before I shot the video. The ones you see above are edited into the picture.

Step 11: Put It All Together

Now it's just a case of putting all the individual components I have on the bookcase and assembling it all.

Step 12: Put the Stuff in the Place With the Things and the Flavens

The best part of the process is putting all the electronics and pieces in place. I had tube amplifiers I bought relatively cheaply, a nifty radio that looks really old but is actually filled with new electronics and an old 8-track player, which quickly became one of my favorite things to play with.

Rounding it all out I added our record collection, some used 8-track cassettes and modern amenities such as a Bluetooth receiver and a tablet for Amazon Music streaming. (this is free with Prime and perfect for us)

I also added an Alexa enabled electrical plug so I could turn this entire system on and off via my voice.

Step 13: The Record Player

The record player was a headache. I bought a relatively cheap one for 100$ and it ended up sounding like 100$. When it comes to record players, know this, if it's around 100$ either new or used, it's not gonna be all that great. I ended up going over my budget on this Audio-Technica, but was able to keep it still somewhat reasonable by going with an Amazon refurbished unit. That alone knocked 100$ off this expensive player. It's profoundly nicer than the first one I bought and is direct drive so it will most likely last you the rest of your life.

This was somewhat of a centerpiece for the music station so I didn't want some cheap junk being the star fo the show. I am incredibly happy with my choice.

Step 14: Top It Off

I found some solid core doors on craigslist that were removed from an old church. They had some sort of laminate on one side, so when I cut it to fit and cleaned it all up I had a nice slab top with 2 colors of wood. I clear coated this for durability as well as chamfered the edges to make it feel nice to the touch.

I'm not a woodworker by any means, but I like to at least try.

Step 15: Amaze and Annoy Everybody by Using Voice Commands

I added an Echo Dot and a WiFI enabled power outlet so I can do more voice control stuff with the system.

"Alexa, turn on the music center and play blues music everywhere!"

Yelling at Alexa will now kick on the power of the entire system, start playing blues music streaming from Amazon Musc to all the Echo Dots I have in the house. (this was a no-brainer for me since the Dots were on sale for 29$. I bought way too many) This is all great fun when you have guests over.

Step 16: The Grand Finale

It's done!

All said and done this was a super fun project and well within anybody's skill set. Building a flat-pack bookcase, adding components and plugging it all together is an exercise in planning and execution.

The wife was thrilled to pieces and everybody fully understands how to use it without having to drag me into the room to show them how to do something.

Welp, what do you think?

Follow me on YouTube for more weirdness, DIY stuff, and general debauchery.

I also have a website too. How very forward-thinking of me right?

Voice Activated Challenge

Runner Up in the
Voice Activated Challenge

Homemade Gifts Contest 2017

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2017