Tonight I had the opportunity to show the magnetic cello to two cello players (and a viola player) who are students here at Cal Poly. I took down a list of improvements–things that need to be done if the magnetic cello is every going to be a ‘real’, playable instrument.
- Make the size/shape of the neck more analogous to an acoustic cello neck. Right now the neck is a straight piece of molding, and there is no tactile signal as to where and at what position a player’s thumb is at.
- Place the circuit box below the magnetic coil, such that the resistive ribbon can go all the way down to the magnetic coil.
- Adjust the balance or add a brace to the instrument, so that the player’s thumb does not have to support the weight of the instrument.
- Raise the ribbon off the neck to give a clear tactile signal as to where the string is. Right now, the ribbon is about an inch across, with only half an inch actually being touch-sensitive.
- Have the magnetic bow more form fitting, like a fancy computer mouse.
- Improve bowing sensitivity. Right now, the magnetic coil has a core material of, of all things, aluminum (aluminum is not very magnetic). There is quite a bit room for improvement here.
- Work on the bow-mounted buttons. I need to look back into using four buttons to control the four strings. Also, what if there was a set of buttons or a scroll wheel that could switch the instrument between different tunings, positions, or octaves?
These musicians were not able to play a song after immediately picking up the instrument. After fussing around for a few minutes, they started getting used to switching strings with their thumb and only their thumb. As they said, “This is a completely new instrument,” and “it’s not the switch, it’s my brain.” But once they get the hang of it, the button-controlled string switching will mean faster string selection. Once I get the bow a bit more sensitive, they should be able to play classical pieces on it.
I have to find the sweet spot between resemblance to the acoustic cello and total novelty. The magnetic cello will not be a simple translation of the acoustic cello; it will be controlled and be expressive in ways the acoustic cello can’t, at the cost of easily playing double stops. Now I know that the instrument has a purpose, and that musicians that want to get their hands on it. Now that I have a pool of cellist to refer to, I can start contacting woodworkers and fellow electrical engineers, and get this product to market.