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S3 Game Controller

Here’s another custom controller that was requested by someone. They were interested in the S1 Rotary Controller but wanted three knobs, and wanted potentiometers instead of encoders. No problem!

I should note that I rushed this one out the door and totally forgot to take a photo of it. I’ve included some renders and sketches below to take the place of photos.

The main edit to the S1 was to widen the device to accommodate three knobs instead of one. The sketch above was used determine the spacing and then this file was used to laser cut the acrylic top surface.

Here’s a photo of the device in use that I got from the customer. It’s attached to his larger game controller with some 3M double sided tape and it controls the X,Y,Z axes for the flight simulation game IL-2 Sturmovik.

I may build another one just so I can get more photos. In the meanwhile, enjoy the renders below.

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Four Button MIDI Box

A musician got in touch with me about building a custom MIDI controller. This one works in conjunction with a Roland TM-2 Trigger Module. The way the TM-2 works is that it has two physical trigger buttons, but you can use two more by pressing a “shift” button so you get a total of four buttons. He said this worked fine for recording, but was not great for a live setup, so wanted a device with four physical buttons to press. He was looking for something about 2″ by 4″ in size.

I asked if he wanted all four buttons in a row, or two rows of two buttons, and we went with the latter. He also wanted buttons closer to 20mm rather than 30mm in diameter so that meant standard arcade style buttons would not work. I found some nice (metal) push buttons thar were solid so we went with those.

Here’s the 2D sketch I provided to the client. These sketches also help me determine the dimensions of the final unit. I basically create these sketches at actual size so I can determine spacing of all of the components. I also use the sketches to get approval from the client.

Like the Handheld 5 Button MIDI Controller we decided to go with a 3D printed enclosure rather than track down an existing metal or plastic enclosure that was the required dimensions.

The one difference from the 2D sketch is that the power LED got moved to the opposite corner just to allow more spacing between components. Speaking of spacing, I do wish I had made this enclosure just a wee bit larger, as stuffing all of the components and wires in was a bit tricky.

Somehow I managed to not take a photo of the power plugged in, but it goes into the smaller socket to the right of the MIDI jack. The LED turns on when power is plugged in.

This was another fun project and I learned a few things in the process. Hopefully the group using this (who makes music described as a “euphoric collision of post-punk, trance, and deconstructed opera”) finds this controller to be useful in their live shows.

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Handheld 5 Button MIDI Controller

Here’s another recent build. A five button handheld MIDI controller. This one is not USB MIDI but has a 5 pin DIN MIDI connector to go directly to an instrument. (This one will control a BOSS RC-505 Looper.) A musician got in touch with me about this, asking for a “small detonator style device” and that’s what we designed and built.

I’ll do a quick walk-through of the process for this project with some notes and illustrations.

This was the sketch the client sent, so I could get some idea of what they had in mind. My first question was about the dimensions of the unit, since finding an enclosure would probably be the largest challenge for the project.

Here’s the second client sketch showing dimensions. (You’ll also notice six buttons, though we knocked it down to just five for this iteration.) With the dimensions in hand I started looking for enclosures. Metal would have been preferable, but plastic would be acceptable.

Sadly I did not find any good enclosures the desired size, so I suggested using a 3D printed enclosure so we could make it custom and the exact size we needed. The client agreed to that and I started designing.

Here’s my first design sketch. It’s got some transparency because I often want to see how things fit inside the enclosure to ensure we’ve got enough space for everything. This one shows a rocker style power switch on the top.

A quick change moving the power switch to the side of the unit instead of the top, per the client’s request. This increased the length of the unit a bit.

Here’s the final sketch for the device. We switched to a power button with a built-in LED so it could also serve as a power indicator since this is battery powered. This sketch got final approval which meant I could start designing the 3D model and putting together the electronics.

Since durability was important the walls for this enclosure are 4mm wide and the infill is at 30%. The print came out great. I printed it on an upgraded Creality Ender 3 with black Hatchbox filament.

I was really pleased with how this came out. Rather than design a battery compartment I used an off-the-shelf battery holder for an electric guitar, which I think worked well.

This project took a lot of time, but it was a fun challenge, and it feels good to be able to help a musician expand their performance capabilities.

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1/2/3 USB Controller

Here’s the story on this one. A local tradeshow company bought some of my controllers about six years ago. Since that time I’ve worked with them on other projects where I was the client, and I’ve worked for them (in various capacities) on other occasions.

Back in December the owner got in touch with me to purchase a few controllers and I got them built and programmed that night, and delivered the next day. Tradeshow exhibits can change on a dime, so he then texted a day after that with a more custom request. We texted around 5pm and by 9pm I had a device built and programmed and ready to be dropped off the next morning so they could get it installed over the weekend.

It’s not the prettiest thing I’ve built lately, but speed of delivery was the primary goal with this one. I also took some photos and wrote up a small manual to describe the operation and installation of it. Below are some of the notes from the docs.

The 1/2/3 USB Input Device consists of three buttons (with wires) and one controller box with a USB cable connected to it.

Each button connects with wires to the solderless snap connectors on the box. All of the black wires go into the large connector, and then the yellow wire(s) from buttons 1, 2, and 3 each go into the corresponding numbered connector.

The snap connectors have orange levers that open to insert the wire, and then close to lock the wire in place. Make sure the wire is inserted all the way. Once you lock the lever in place give the wire a light tug. If it comes out it was not inserted all the way. Open the lever and try again.

If longer wires are needed just strip the ends so you have bare wire, and twist them securely onto the ends of the wires connected to the buttons and wrap with tape. Then strip the other end and insert into the solderless connectors.

Note: The wires connected to the buttons do not have polarity, but one is black and one is yellow to simplify making the connections to the box. As long as one wire from a button goes to ground, and the other goes to a numbered connection, it will work. Color coding was implemented so that making the connections is easier.

If a longer (or shorter) USB cable is desired, the enclosure can be opened and a new Micro USB cable can be swapped for the existing one. Note that strain relief was added to the USB cable to prevent damage to the controller board.

A few more notes: I just happened to have this plastic enclosure in the shop which was handy. It’s been sitting on a shelf for years and it saved me the trouble of building a custom enclosure. (I often 3D print or laser cut an enclosure, but this was enough of a rush job I didn’t want to spend time doing that.)

The connectors I used are not Wago connectors but “Glutoad” connectors. They are cheaper and not as good, but I had a bunch in the shop so I used them. I know the tradeshow company has used Wago connectors before so I figured this would be familiar to them.

I tend to write documentation like this not just for the client, but for myself. Chances are they might want another one in the future and the docs help me remember exactly what I built. In a previous life I built exhibits that needed to be supported for five years or more, so some documentation was always required. Reading the docs now I realize they are not great, but again, this was a rush project so I figures something was better than nothing.

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S1 Rotary USB Controller

You may already know that I’ve been building (and selling) USB controllers for the last 9 years or so. Most of them have been for photobooths, tradeshows, exhibits, museums, etc. Well, the pandemic blew things up, in a bad way, with no events happening, so I’ve tried to keep going, and occasionally do custom development, and then turn custom things into products, so here’s the S1 Controller.

It consists of a rotary encoder, meaning it can turn forever in either direction, with a built-in button. Just like the scroll wheel on your mouse! So, what can it do? Well, what do you want it to do? The first one I built was for an audio nerd who didn’t like spinning the scroll wheel on his mouse and then clicking the left mouse button to set the dials in their audio software, so this gives a real-world analog to turning knobs and setting values. I can appreciate that!

It could also be programmed as a volume control and play/pause button, or some other custom thing. I never really know what people will come up with, but 99% of the time I can program what they want. Maybe you want one of these? If you do, you can grab one from my shop or from Etsy. (Update! Lots of people have wanted these for MIDI related applications, and that works too. If you need a special MIDI controller, we can do that.)