A remarkable final project from Fab Academy 2024

Introducing “The Marimbatron” by our colleague Leo Kuipers, a remarkable final project from Fab Academy 2024! This fully featured digital marimba, created at Fab Lab Waag Futurelab Amsterdam, showcases the incredible possibilities of digital fabrication and hands-on learning.

Leo’s Marimbatron is a testament to the innovative spirit and technical expertise fostered at Fab Academy. It combines advanced digital making techniques with musical creativity, resulting in a unique and versatile instrument. Watch the Youtube video “making of” over here

🌟The Marimbatron is a fully featured digital marimba made by Leo Kuipers with machines from Saxion FabLab. The Marimbatron is a MIDI-based USB musical instrument that you play with drumsticks and/or mallets. It supports an isomorphic key layout which maintains consistent musical intervals between keys, allowing for the same shapes to be used for chords and scales regardless of the root note. It also supports the traditional piano key layout. All source code and design files are available on gitlab for non-commercial, non-profit purpose. https://gitlab.fabcloud.org/academany… Fabacademy is part of the Fab Foundation https://fabacademy.org/

the why

I’m a drummer. But unlike lots of other drummers, I like melody and harmonies as well. So as a teenager I learned myself to play chords on the guitar. I can also play the clarinet and saxophone. I tried hard to learn to play piano as well. And the marimba/xylophone. But those black and white keys, the penny has not dropped yet. I just don’t “see” it. Maybe a different key layout will work?

An electronic melodic instrument that you play with sticks. Kind of a digital marimba but with a key layout created for a Concertina or Bandoneon (a specific type of Accordion, well known in Argentina and after the wedding of King Willem-Alexander and Máxima in the Netherlands as well).

From an electronics point of view I made:

  • a mainboard with the microcontroller, some pushbuttons, an LCD / OLED and maybe a rotary knob.
  • sensor boards where a series of sensors connect to using flatcables. The sensor board is attached to the mainboard to create a modular and maybe expandable system. I think I will use multiplexers to drive the RGB LEDs and read the sensors. Perhaps they can communicate to the mainboard over I2C.
  • Pressure sensors. They will have to be (semi-)flexible, but not too bouncy because I want them to be quite close to a real marimba-key (made of wood). It has to be flexible to absorb some energy because you should be able to play “silently”. The sensor technology could be:
    • Resistive (velostat?)
    • Capacitive
    • Piezo-electric

Want to know more about this project? You can read the entire story on Leo’s website