Chiptunes are all the rage these days, and they’re usually created by programming the sound chips from vintage video game consoles or retro computers. Some musicians will even play chiptunes in real time with a MIDI setup. But, it’s rare to see an actual chiptune instrument, because there is incongruity between the analog nature of conventional instruments and the digital nature of sound chips. Luckily, ARISTIDES Alexandre didn’t let that phase him when he converted his Game Boy into a MIDI Ukulele.
Alexandre, who is a Paris-based electrical engineer, is no stranger to instruments, and has built amps, carbon fiber guitars, and more over the years. In this case, the idea was to build an instrument that was both acoustic and digital. Alexandre had an original Nintendo Game Boy, and decided that it would make a good Ukulele. That seems appropriate when you consider the small size, and the four strings make sense given that the Game Boy’s sound chip has four channels.
The project started with the structure of the Ukulele, which Alexandre built by attaching a 3D-printed neck and bridge to the case of the Game Boy. He even took advantage of the existing holes, so he didn’t have to modify the case at all. With some strings, it could be played acoustically. But, he also made it digital with a basic square wave synthesizer. Because the strings are nylon, Alexandre couldn’t use standard guitar pickups. Instead he used reflective IR sensors to pick up the string movement. The synthesizer isn’t built on the original Game Boy sound chip, but it sounds similar enough to tickle your nostalgia fancy.