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Three Button Tradeshow Video Player Controller

Custom USB Controller for trade show video playback

I was contacted by a trade show company about helping with a project on a tight deadline. At first it seemed as though they had a solution but just needed some hardware or some advice, but I did a call with the software developers and it seemed like the quickest (and most solid) plan was to create a drop-in replacement for what they were working on (and were stuck on) that would do exactly what was required.

Custom USB Controller for trade show video playback

One of the requirements was for each button to be lit a specific amount of time to match the length of video playback for each button. Since we didn’t yet know the lengths of the video, and I had to ship this across the country, I suggested an easy method of setting the time for each button to be lit. This would allow them to dial in (literally) the timing once they had the videos completed.

Custom USB Controller for trade show video playback

We did know that the videos would be under 75 seconds. Just to be safe I set the timers to go up to 90 seconds (1 minute, 30 seconds, to be precise.) The controller plugs into a computer via USB and sends commands that the custom software needs to play the appropriate video.

Cabinet

There are a lot of details I didn’t know, but it seemed like I had enough to do my part. They sent me a rendering of a cabinet the controller would live in (which I’ve replicated in the simple sketch above). When I was building museum exhibits much of my work lived inside of cabinets and was never seen by the public, only technicians… that doesn’t mean things shouldn’t look nice.

Custom USB Controller for trade show video playback

There’s a small OLED display in the controller which shows the time that corresponds to each button, and can be adjusted by the appropriate dial. The dials are 3D printed because I forgot to pocket out the back of the lid where the potentiometers are placed. There’s a few compromises that were made due to this being a rush job. (I completed this build in under a week, using only parts I had in my shop at the time.)

Custom USB Controller for trade show video playback

For other controllers I’ve used TRS jack and cables to connect the buttons, or on occasion, Cat5 cables and connectors. Both are nice because they are easy to obtain in any length, and trade show companies usually have a bunch in their inventory.

Custom USB Controller for trade show video playback

The bottom of the enclosure has four mounting holes, and I included screws to allow it to be attached inside the cabinet. Alternately, VHB or hook & loop could be used to attach it.

As always, if you need a device you can check out raster.etsy.com for some of the more popular stock items I make, but if you need something custom just get in touch.

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NeoPixel 7 Segment Display (Part I)

I had been looking for a 7 segment display for a project and the ones I found were similar to the ones I used about six years ago… Had things not really changed since then? Eventually I found these on Tindie, which seemed like they could work, except they were out of stock, and the were a kit of SMT components, and I didn’t want to hassle with all of that.

But what I did like about them was the Arduino library, which supported using NeoPixels for a large multi-digit 7 segment display. Someone pointed me to this Ninja Timer: Giant 7-Segment Display but that too appeared to be way too much to take on. Instead, I went a different route. (Note: I’m going to use the term “NeoPixel” even if I mean WS2812 for the rest of this post.)

Instead of using the flexible NeoPixel strips, I planned to use these NeoPixel sticks. They have mounting holes, so no need to hot glue them down or 3D print some holder. I just laser cut a plate to hold them. I did need to solder them together, and while it wasn’t the easiest thing it also wasn’t too painful.

So hey, getting 7 sticks attached to a plate and soldering them together? That was the easy part. Well, the code was also the easy part. I loaded up an Arduino UNO, connected the segment with three pins, and bam. We’ve got numerical success.

Now, there’s more to come, of course… I next made a front diffusion plate. I started by laser cutting a piece of black acrylic and sticking a piece of white vinyl to it.

I know there needs to be a midsection with walls to isolate each segment, I just haven’t got that done yet… I did get a little ambitions and did a test print without properly measuring everything and it showed I should totally measure everything. I should also note this is the maximum size I can print a single object on my Prusa MINI.

Now, the white vinyl was just a test. The idea was to use translucent white acrylic as a diffuser. The plan is to cut the black front panel, then cut the white diffusion segments so they fit perfectly into the holes when the panel is flipped over and the angled kerf of them makes the magic happen with the two pieces mating together. This worked. What didn’t work was the acrylic I got, which was 32% translucent. I got some 55% translucent later and that worked much better. (Photos of that will be in the next installment.)

At this point, there are many pieces that work, but not all the pieces. Seems I got a bit busy with some projects for customers and had to put things on hold. So I figured it was worth writing up where this project stands so it will remind me to finish it at some point.

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QLab Four Button MIDI Controller

I was contacted by a QLab user who wanted a custom controller. He wanted a device with a 5 Pin DIN MIDI output and rectangular buttons for go, stop, next, and previous. It was a bit of a rush as well, and since he wanted something similar to the MIDI Controller 4 Button LC I had previously built, I started with that as the base.

I did up a quick sketch to make sure I knew what I was building (mainly to determine button spacing) and then got to work making it. We just used four different MIDI noteOn events for the buttons. I should also note that while USB is used to power the device it can also operate as a USB MIDI device. This means you can choose between the 5 Pin MIDI output, or the USB MIDI output, or use both… going to two different computers even. I think that’s a nice feature.

The one snag on this project (which I blame on doing it very quickly) was that I accidentally swapped the position of the red and green buttons! I did not notice until it shipped, and offered to correct it if needed. It turned out it was very easy for the recipient to pop off the red and green covers and swap them on his end. Problem solved!

The one other think I did here was separate the cover from the enclosure so it could print separately, which makes it a bit more modular of a system for future changes, and also allows printing without support. So, less material, and faster production. Nice. The black screws on the top are also a good fit.

We also used a USB-C connection for this one. I’m normally not a fan of USB-C but if requested it’s certainly an option that can be provided.

Do you need a custom controller? Get in touch with me!

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MIDI Control for Delay Guitar Pedal

MIDI Control for Delay Guitar Pedal

I was recently contacted by a guy named Marcus who was looking for a custom MIDI controller that could be used with a guitar pedal that accepted MIDI input. First of all, I’ve never seen a guitar pedal that could take MIDI input but… that’s pretty cool.

Marcus said it was a bit of a rush because they were leaving for tour in two weeks. That was a bit rough, and I wasn’t sure I could get something custom built (and delivered) in two weeks.

Well, we traded a lot of emails, and I sent a render of what I thought I could get done in time using hardware I had on hand. (Marcus also suggested some large knobs.)

It was a bit large, and Marcus suggested a specific Hammond enclosure. It seemed a little small, but I did a render and included the size of knobs I usually use, and thought it would work…

So I decided to go for it, told Marcus I would order some of the enclosures, and while I waited for them to ship I did a 3D print of my model to test the fit of things.

Once I put it together I realized I had to move things bit, but was confident it would all fit okay.

Marcus shared a video with me Neil Finn & Liam Finn Of Crowded House [Guitar Rig Tour 2022] to show the existing setup. Wait. What!? Yes… Marcus is the guitar tech for Neil Finn from Crowded House, Split Enz, and Fleetwood Mac. Okay, that was wild! I was building hardware for Neil Finn.

MIDI Control for Delay Guitar Pedal

Also, I did not built one, or two… but three of them. As Marcus says “If you have one, you have none. If you have two you have one.” And this is because things break. Getting three was probably a safer bet, since if two broke they’d still have one. (I really hope these don’t break though!) Part of what a guitar tech does it make sure the guitarist always has equipment that works, so that involves a lot of spares. (This isn’t a new concept to me as it was a good rule when I built interactive exhibits.)

MIDI Control for Delay Guitar Pedal

And the pedal that takes MIDI input? It’s the Art Van Delay by Bondi Effects. (How can you not love that name!?) The manual goes into depth about how MIDI can control it. I believe the Art Van Delay will replace a Boss DD-3 delay pedal Neil has been using.

MIDI Control for Delay Guitar Pedal

This is probably one of my favorite builds. Marcus was just awesome to work with. I ended up checking out a few interviews with him and he seems like a great guy, so that make things even better. Also, I built hardware that will be used by Neil Finn while Crowded House tours across Australia. Hey now, hey now… that’s pretty cool!

MIDI Control for Delay Guitar Pedal

My only regret is that I wish I could have got the enclosures powder coated as I’m not a huge fan of the bare metal. Since this was a rush job there was no time for that, but I did polish them up a bit on the buffing wheel before they went out. Otherwise I do love how they came together and I’m proud to have built them. Cheers!

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USB Footswitch

I made a USB Footswitch. Someone got in touch with me and wanted a button that could work with QLab and that they could easily trigger with their foot. I designed and printed an enclosure and I made it pretty darn solid. I’ve stood on it and it hasn’t broken yet.

You can find this USB Footswitch on Etsy if you want or need one. It can be programmed to do pretty much anything you could do with a computer keyboard, and it can alternately work as a USB MIDI device. Which, as long as you need only one button, might be useful!

Here’s a shoe for scale. It’s a shoe that belongs to my wife. I asked her if I could borrow a shoe and she didn’t even want to know what I was using it for. Anyway, it shows how you might trigger the button with your foot.

There’s a port for a Micro USB cable, and you’ll get a 6 foot USB cable with it. You could use a 10 or 15 foot cable if you have one, or use a pair of USB over Ethernet if you want to go even further. Maybe your computer is in another room, or another part of the building. Maybe it’s in the control room and you’re in the booth. I don’t know.

Those rubber feet on the bottom should prevent it from sliding around. It’s also fairly heavy for its size, so that should help it from sliding around. Stay put, footswitch!

Here’s a computerized rendering of the device. I model everything I 3D print using OpenSCAD because I love it.