adventures with megabyte: tunefast harps, and béla’s craigslist percussion adventure

A homeschool mom that I had met at comic-drawing club had turned me on to the Adafruit website and ohhhhhhh dear. While I am steadfastly working through our pile of partially-completed projects — yesterday we took the whiteboard down and short-listed our goals for the final stretch of the learning year — I did take the time on the Adafruit website to get some teeny little breadboards and other items to make teeny little Infinity Mirrors in 3D printed frames (Ben has bought many rolls of different kinds of filament for the 3D printer, so it only makes sense that I round these out with the other necessary hardware for actual projects to use it for.)

The Infinity Mirrors are a little beyond my scope of wiring (although I would like the kids to be soldering again, and I’m trying to at least have some working knowledge of the things they are getting ahead of me with). But I found a project — the TuneFast Harp from MakeFast workshops — and knew it was achievable. We could print the bodies at home. All the tiny, mysterious metal bits were challenging to source (even with the suggested links) — I could not do it all on Amazon, and had to make some substitutions — but it was a nice exercise in identifying materials I do not normally use in “making”. This was not “crafting stuff”. This was HARDWARE!

An acoustic TuneFast harp runs about $7 in materials, and the body can be printed in, eh, to be safe say five hours on our printer. I think we made six bodies. We bought two weights of nylon fishing rod.

One afternoon, Tuck, Claude and Béla sat down and made two harps.


The math that describes how the instrument is able to tune to itself and create multiple tones with just one string is a little over the kids’ heads right now, but at least they know that it’s math — the deliberate distance between the segments of string — that makes it work. It was interesting to look at all the iterations of the harp that had come before the finished file was offered. We are just starting to experience that kind of thing in our homeschool “making” (and chalking a lot of projects up to experience, and starting over).

Here is Claudia playing a “standard”, acoustic TuneFast harp. That is 40 lb nylon fishing line, so that single guitar peg can be turned pretty hard. Not a beautiful sound, but she has tuned it as close to C as she can, and is plucking out her solfege vocal exercise.

A pal of ours — whom we shall call Megabyte — came over to play. We were saving parts to make a harp especially for her, because she is a musichead, and is into cool synth stuff, and just seems ready to jump in and make anything anytime.


Megabyte had 30mm piezo pickups and, lo and behold, we took one of the harps (maybe the one she made, because this one was strung with an actual guitar string), and suddenly, it was electric!!!

We did that using Claudia’s bass practice amp. Ben felt pretty sure that the parts to make a bunch of little tiny amps would be not that hard to get (probably from China.) The idea of making our own little amps to go with the little wired harps sounded very enticing.

These little piezo guys (and this is the “large” — the “small” is less than half this size) are a lot of fun. Claudia tried it out on her throat. You could get into some Laurie Anderson stuff here.

Meg has skills that we don’t yet, and was able to get the printable file for the harp’s body — originally on — and mess with it so that the piezo unit could be set into the back of the harp flush with the body, and so that there was an opening for the cord to come out to the amp. As of this writing, she is still playing with this — looking for placement of the piezo unit on an electrified harp, and looking for places on a guitar to mount an acoustic harp. Because why not.

Do we have an end goal here? Having just watched a clip of a very young, clean-shaven Frank Zappa play two bicycles on “The Steve Allen Show” in 1963, I’d say we don’t have to articulate our “goals” here as long as we are still having fun and learning stuff. There’s more than one way to tune a TuneFast harp, so there’s reason to have them in more than one set of hands. I have been trying to feel out if this is a good homeschool group project (something we are always open to at our house), or something we could play with at School of Rock (there are certainly some teachers there whose input I would love to get on the possibilities of these little things!) We are moving ahead with it, and will keep folks updated! (We currently have everything it takes to make at least three more harps, “acoustic” body without ports or divots for pickups, here at home. Feel free to come make one, or we will bring them to you. I would just rather string them with wire-wrapped guitar cord than nylon cord — it makes a big difference in the sound.)

Messing With A Thing Intermittently For A Long Time is one of my best dances. It seems that Megabyte is this kind of dancer as well. In addition to working on the harps, conversation with Meg led to the idea of LIVE IMPROVISATIONAL MUSICAL SCORING AND SOUND EFFECTS at our upcoming Dungeons and Dragons games (!!!!)

AND, it was Meg who told us about a big percussion sale on Craigslist. Béla has really wanted to start personalizing his drum kit, and so we went to this sale, where the seller turned out to be incredibly cool and nice, and Béla came away — having spent thirty dollars of his own and just five of mine — with a mountable agogo.

Expect to hear an agogo in an original composition, probably also with TuneFast harps in it, coming to your eardrums — or your D&D game — soon.