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25 January 2015

How to build the CRAZY Music Generator Kit

This weekend I had a go at building my "Crazy Music Generator" kit that I bought from Maplins a short while ago. It's meant to be a sort of Theremin, and I guess it is. Can you sense that I'm not buzzing? Let me explain why.

This is how I was hoping to feel. This short video is from Cirque Berserk which I caught yesterday. If you get a chance to see the show then I highly recommend it.

Okay, here's the kit as it arrived. Everything looks good so far. I couldn't wait to get it open and to start exploring the bits...

Uh oh! You don't get instructions with the kit, just "instruction hints". Oh dear. My heart was beginning to sink a little at this point. What I'd been hoping for was a chance to learn something about what I was doing, not to just do it and hope for the best.

At this point I considered putting it all together on my breadboard so that I could experiment a bit, but having looked the circuit-board over in detail, I just didn't feel confident enough to go down this road yet.

To be honest, this is probably my biggest disappointment with the kit. What's the fun in simply putting something together and hoping for the best? 

Here was me preparing myself for the plunge. I got everything I needed together and immediately realised that I couldn't read the small writing on the capacitors. And then I realised that I couldn't figure out which resistor was which. As you know, I'm colourblind and there were no hints in the kit that were going to help me overcome this.

With a heavy heart, I packed it all away again. 

This afternoon I figured I'd have another go. Out came the magnifying glass to help me figure out which components were which. This is a capacitor. At this stage in my learning, I've got a vague Idea of what these do, but it's only a vague idea. More research needed. I wish this kit could have given me an insight into what they do and why it uses them as it does.

Next up I tried to make sense of the resistors. I did this by measuring them with my multimeter. I stuck on some masking tape and wrote on it the measurements and the part numbers (once I'd figured them out). It was pretty easy to do, just boring. 

Then it was onto the soldering. I should have read up on this a bit and maybe practiced before trying it for real, but I was desperate to get on. Actually, I got into a bit of a rhythm. The feeling that engulfed me was that one you get while doing a jigsaw. I found it quite relaxing, but bloody hell is it fiddly!

Here's an example of how good/bad a job I was doing. On the whole, I seemed to be getting it, but it wasn't long before I was trying out my new desolder tool.

Eventually I got everything where it needed to be and switched it on. Nothing! This is exactly what I had feared from the outset.

How on earth was I going to unpick this mess?

Perhaps I'd soldered a bad join? Out came the multimeter and with it set to "continuity" I worked my way around the board testing all the soldered points that I thought should have been connected. So, wherever there was a line between two, I'd check that there was continuity between them. Sure enough, I found that a couple of my soldering efforts weren't good. I fixed as best I could until everything seemed fine... and still it wouldn't work!

It was about this point that I was explaining the whole sorry tale to my daughter when I accidentally touched one of the solder points with something metal and it popped into life. What?!?!

I took a quick video which you can see below.

I switched it off and on again and it was dead like before. I tried to repeat what I'd done and eventually I touched a connection that started it again. I have absolutely no idea what's wrong, but at least I have heard it make noise!

I'm not convinced it's working as it should. This isn't really the Theremin-like instrument that I'd hope it would be. This one makes quite an annoying sound! Ha ha :-D

Now, I've heard it working, perhaps the next step is to pull it all to pieces again and this time breadboard some modifications. For a start, I want to ditch the batteries. Perhaps if I can figure out what each bit is doing I can break it up into chunks that will allow me to have a better chance of reworking it?

I shouldn't complain too much, because this has been a hugely informative project... even if it's a lesson in how not to do projects.

So there you have it... How not to make a Theremin. Onwards and upwards!


  1. Wow, you should send this link to Maplins. The cheek, sending it out without instructions.

  2. It does seem strange doesn't it Sven. I wonder if I simply misunderstood what the kit is all about? It's my first foray into electronics, so I'm not really that sure what to expect