Work and World

I Had To Build A Custom Mute Switch For My Violin

So, I play fiddle in a bluegrass band. Even though it’s an acoustic instrument Typically, we’re amplified at our shows. Fiddle is one of the most difficult instruments to amplify. Typically you either use a microphone Which is what I have here–a little clip-on microphone–and you can hear me talking through it or you use a pickup which is embedded here in the bridge. A microphone typically sounds kind of more like what the instrument actually sounds like in person. While a pickup sounds kind of more, I don’t know, “tin canny.” But problem is that sometimes I don’t want the sound to be coming out of them Sometimes I want to be able to tune my instrument, or talk to my bandmates without the entire audience hearing it. It’s really easy to find mute pedals for pickups. It’s a little bit harder to find mute pedals for microphones, but they do exist. But as far as I can tell, there’s really nothing out that you can buy that mutes both a microphone and a pickup together. There are some really really expensive preamps that are like a thousand bucks that will do that also. But I didn’t want to spend a thousand bucks just for a mute. And, of course, probably somebody watching this will tell me right away that they know exactly how to find this but I couldn’t find it after extensive searching so I decided to make one myself. Alright, the parts are here. Let’s do this. So, what do you need to make a dual-channel mute pedal for a mic and a pickup? Two guitar cable jacks, an input and output mic jack, a three channel switch, one channel for the mic, one for the pickup and one for an LED. an LED and resistor, 9-volt battery and battery connector, some small bolts, a box to put it all in, and the makerspace at your local library which has plenty of wire, soldering irons, drill bits, and so on. All in all it’s only about twenty or thirty bucks if you already own the tools or can borrow them from friends or go to a makerspace I started off by finding the wiring diagrams for mute switches. I don’t know much about circuits beyond what you learn in high school physics, so these circuits are very very simple. The pickup is the easiest one since it has only two wires One in black carrying a fixed reference voltage and the other in red carrying the signal from the pickup by connecting these two wires together you stop the signal from reaching the amplifier or PA system or whatever. I tested this all out with alligator clip cables to make sure things worked and the pickup was successfully muted. So, onto the microphone The mic has three wires One with a fixed reference voltage and the other two carrying copies of the signal from the mic. The copies are inverted relative to each other and are later combined in a clever way to help minimize interference from other nearby electronics. Anyway, because the copies of the signal are inverted if we connect the two signal wires together the signals interfere and don’t reach the PA system, muting the microphone. I tested this out too just to make sure it was working test 1 test 2 test 1 test 2 test 1 test :and it worked. As a theoretical physicist, I’m constantly amazed when something actually works in real life the way you predict it should. Oh, yeah And of course there has to be a nice red LED that lights up to show when the mute is on. The LED has a very simple circuit: just a 9-volt battery supplying power and a resistor so you don’t blow out the LED. and I tested this too, just to make sure, because I don’t know what I’m doing. The combination of that click together with the light going on is so satisfying. So now to put this all into the box, which came with no holes in it. So I spent entirely way too long measuring and re measuring to figure out exactly where each of the holes should be. I only had one box and I did not want to mess it up. I learned that step drill bits like this one are good for drilling big holes and thin materials as long as you have enough space On the other side for the bit to go through without hitting stuff. Oh, and this shiny plastic box is ugly and scratches and smudges way too easily. A quick visit to the kitchen scouring pad gave it a sleek brushed look, though it still scratches kind of easily. Then it was time to get rid of those alligator clips and properly solder the connections together. This was my first real time soldering and I’m sure I broke all sorts of soldering rules. But I tried to look things up online and stay organized with different colors of wire and make sure I put the necessary wires through the necessary holes before soldering them. And the heat shrink tubing maybe isn’t necessary, but it is incredibly satisfying to put on. Here’s the LED circuit, soldered and still working and a little while later, here’s the pickup being muted and finally I soldered the microphone connections and could actually put the switch into the box and put the LED in and test that everything was still working. And I’m delighted to say it works. All in all this took me around eight or nine hours to build including filming myself while building it and if I did anything differently it would be to get a metal box. The plastic one is just a tad flimsy and still too easily scratched. So here’s the finished product. It has two inputs, either for my mic or my pickup or both and one button that I can push to mute both of them together. That’s all I wanted. I don’t know why this doesn’t exist, but I had to make it myself. I am so pleased with this. I’m really excited. It’s such a simple stupid little project. But I’m super excited that I made something that didn’t exist or I couldn’t find and it’s exactly what I want, and that’s what’s so satisfying about it. I highly recommend that you try projects like this. It’s really satisfying–you learn stuff and you end up with a product that you’re proud of and that you’re gonna use actually in your, you know, your hobby of playing fiddle in a bluegrass band. If you’re the sort of person who likes to tinker with electronics or making stuff and likes to understand how stuff like this works, I highly recommend today’s sponsor Brilliant is a website with all sorts of puzzles and problems about science and math. You can learn things through their guided courses and quizzes, or you can just do their daily puzzles. They have a ton of stuff on there–courses about circuits and electricity and magnetism how electronics work and the first 200 people to go to will get 20% off of a premium subscription to Brilliant, which gives you full access to all of their courses and puzzles and the daily problems. Again, that’s for 20% off a premium subscription to Brilliant and to let Brilliant know that you came from here. Thanks.
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