• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Whenever you search in PBworks or on the Web, Dokkio Sidebar (from the makers of PBworks) will run the same search in your Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Gmail, Slack, and browsed web pages. Now you can find what you're looking for wherever it lives. Try Dokkio Sidebar for free.


How To Build Exertion Instruments

Page history last edited by Noah Vawter 8 years, 2 months ago

Welcome!      How to Build Part 2 is here


     This page explains how to build an Exertion Instrument, by using the reference design, the Electric Eel.  This is the same instrument that was featured on the first big youtube video hit "Ievan's Polka." To make your own instrument, get the parts shown below and put them together.  If you have questions, you can ask them in the forum.  


Electric Eels are comprised of the following parts:

The Generator is the most important part of the Exertion Instrument.  For your first design, we recommend using the carriage from a computer printer.  Sliding the print head back and forth back-drives the stepper motor, generating enough current to make an instrument sound!  There are more generator designs on this website.

This is the body of your instrument.  It bears the force of your sliding, holds the speaker in place, and acts as a resonator for amplifying and coloring the sound.  There are more bodies and how-tos here.
You'll need one standard loudspeaker.  For Exertion Instruments, the larger the speaker, the better.  Also, use speakers of 8 Ohms or less.  There are more discussions of various speakers' desirable characteristics over here.

 This is the keyboard, a row of 10 switches.  They can be programmed to do anything, but the standard setup is a pentatonic or major scale. Building instructions are in the Controls section.


These switches were chosen because they have springy action, and they're inexpensive.  Future keyboards may use other ways to enter notes, such as a theremin!


This piece of electronics serves two purposes: 

  1. It rectifies, or cleans up, the electricity coming in from the generator. 
  2. It amplifies sounds from the CPU. 


This module was designed to be very simple to construct.  You can see more about it on the Rectifiers page.


The Electric Eels use a chip similar to the Arduino - the Atmega32 microcontroller.  This one runs faster than the Arduino.  It also has more programmable pins.  On this synthesizer board, there are dedicated inputs for controls, sensors, and keyboards.  You can read more about them in the section on Synthesizers.

This is a simple rack of 6 knobs that controls the sound, just like on a typical synthesizer.  There are many different programs, but in the reference design, they control:

  1. Octave Range Select
  2. Pulse Width
  3. Pulse Width Modulation Speed
  4. Pulse Width Modulation Depth





Once you have all the parts shown below, you can begin to wire them together like this:








For reference, this is one of the older sets of Exertion Instrument parts.   It uses the same modules, they're just in rawer, prototype form:




Keyboard * CPU * Generator Electronics * Speaker * Belt/Gear * Generator






Generator                                  Amplifier Module                 Synthesizer Module                      Speaker





























Chip                              Pros                                             Cons               Power Consumption          Price               Features               Environmental Footprint

Atmega32                    mucho I/O                  lots of pins to solder.

Atmega8                         cheap, low current?

ATTiny                             low current? 

DSPIC 33 MHz               Fast, multiplier.

DSPIC 40 MHz               surface mount version of 33 MHz

PSOC                         Reprog. Analog Sections.              Win. only?                    






What CPUs would you like to use? 


Old sound chip?  If you use an old sound chip, you will need some way to send it register messages.  You may use a second, small chip to do this.


Example sound chips:

MOS 6581 SID, AY-3-8910, Yamaha YM3812




Voice synthesizer? 




Generator Electronics



This circuit conditions the instrument's generator output so it can run the CPU and amplifier.  It is an area of constant technical improvement. 


Early Generator Electronics


In the earliest generations of Exertion Instruments, hand-cranked generators utilized plastic gears to transfer the slow-movement of a handcrank into a fast-spinning DC motor shaft.  Their generator electronics simply regulated the DC output to 5 or less volts in order to protect the CPU.  They used the familiar 7805 regulator.


Later Generator Electronics




Since the generator drives the instrument by sending current through its coils into a capacitor and the CPU, the internal resistance and inductance of the motor should be matched to the rectifier's capacitance.  This results in a charge curve which can be measured on an oscilloscope. 


In general, supplying unnecessarily high voltage to the CPU is not recommended.  If the motor/rectifier combination leads to voltage which is much higher than the CPU's normal operating voltage, try swapping the voltage doubler, for a bridge rectifier with a single output capacitor.


Currently Researched Generator Electronics


Switching generator - At very low thresholds of movement, the instrument should respond, even if is quietly.  This is analogous to a very lightly plucked string.  With a linear power supply, the minimum movement necessary to make sound is limited by the voltage the generator can provide.


Switching generators


Possible Future Generator Electronics


Self-Interrupting FET/transformer combination -  These oscillators work as low as 27mV with common parts like Junction FETs and a transformer.








This speaker was chosen because it was small and cheap.  Since then we've learned that larger speakers are usually more efficient.  This is because larger cone excursions carry the cone beyond its most efficient range of motion.  It's better to have longer magnets than voice coils, which is precisely the architecture of many woofers. 





This makes it so that a side-to-side strumming motion, like writing with crayons, spins a rotating generator.






This generator is a backdriven. two-phase stepper motor.  It provides 0-50V to drive the audio amplifier and synthesizer CPU.

When building exertion instruments, the motor/generator is the source of all electrical energy in the instrument.  Its size is roughly proportional to the amount of energy it can put out.  Bigger motors put out more energy.  Smaller motors are less efficient :(

Motors with neodymium magnets are preferred.  The stronger field results in more wattage and louder volume. 










For selecting/buying/scrounging parts, go to this page.



Advanced topics:

How to Install an Exertion Instrument Server!






Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.