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Building A Plasma Piano Ain’t Easy

Aug 22, 2023Aug 22, 2023

Electronic arcs can be made to "sing" if you simply modulate them on and off at audible frequencies. We’ve seen it done with single Tesla coils, and even small Tesla choirs, but [Mattias Krantz] took this to extremes by building an entire "plasma piano" using this very technique.

The build relies on ten transformers more typically used in cathode ray tubes. The transformers are capable of generating high enough voltages to create arcs in the air. The transformers are controlled by an Arduino, which modulates the arcs at musical frequencies corresponding to the keys pressed on the piano. Sensing the keys of the piano is achieved with a QRS optical sensor strip designed for performance capture from conventional pianos. For the peak aesthetic, the transformer outputs are connected to the metal hammers of the piano, and the arcs ground out on a metal plate in the back of the piano's body. This lets arcs fly across the piano's whole width as its played. Ten transformers are used to enable polyphony, so the piano to play multiple tones at once.

Building the piano was no mean feat for [Mattias], who admitted to having very limited experience with electronics before beginning the build. However, he persevered and got it working, while thankfully avoiding injury from high voltage in the process. This wasn't easy, as Arduinos would regularly freeze from the noise produced by the arcs and the system would lose all control. However, with some smart software tweaks to the arc control and some insulating panels, [Mattias] was able to get the piano playable quite well with a beautiful chiptune tone.

It bears stating that HV work can be dangerous, and you shouldn't try it at home without the proper understanding of how to do so safely. If you’re confident though, we’ve featured some great projects in this space before. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Dr Jon for the tip!]