8-bit arcade guitar synth
Mike Davenport has hand-built an 8-bit “arcade guitar” synthesizer as part of a DIY senior project for his studies at the University of Florida. Inspired by classic video game consoles, it uses an FPGA (field-programmable gate array) for logic and function, and has strings and a joystick for adjusting the pitch and LFO rate, and even has selectable oscillator waveforms and memory locations.
My goal was to combine aspects of an arcade machine and a guitar. My inspiration came from arcade fighters, where you had to press two buttons (or possibly a button and a direction) to perform an action.
The button “combos” will play either chords or arpeggios depending on the position of a selector switch, and the rotary encoders perform a number of functions, including selecting from a number of waveforms:
Beyond the waveform selector there are a number of parameters a user can edit, such as ASDR envelope, LFO depth, octave, chord combo notes.
The ‘strings’ are actually membrane potentiometers (ie ribbon controllers). They have the exact same length as a guitar string, and sliding your finger around the ribbbon changes the string’s pitch.
Slides and hammer-ons actually do work, but in a bizarre way:
When going from zero points of contact to one (i.e., from open string to finger on 5th fret) the result is as you would expect. However, from one to two, three, etc. the pitch is determined by an averaging of the multiple contact points. For example a finger on the first and third frets would likely produce the note at the second fret.
What does this all add up to? Well, and awesome sounding guitar-synth that’s sure to make any tech geek squeal. Check out the video:
- guitarsynth diy