Bass of the Week: MechBass
Science just got a whole lot cooler thanks to Victoria University of Wellington engineering student James McVay. As part of Bachelor’s degree, McVay designed and built the MechBass, a 4-string robotic bass guitar. And yes, it rocks.
Built with lasercut and 3D-printed parts, MechBass has four separate units for each string controlled with PCBs. The strings are plucked with picks mounted on spinning wheel that can pick about 50 notes per second. The volume of each note is adjustable thanks to a servo that adjusts how hard the pick strikes the string. Another servo with wool felt is used for dampening the strings.
Notes are fed to the MechBass via MIDI as well as an audio programming language called ChucK, which is used when a piece hasn’t been manually written for MechBass. An interesting note is that the pickups are optical. McVay took this route due to the high amount of electromagnetic noise from all the actuators in the machine.
The MechBass is an incredible instrument, but don’t worry about it taking your job anytime soon. “MechBass possesses its own characteristic sound that is similar to that of the real bass guitar, but not identical,” McVay writes. “As it was never intended for MechBass to replicate the sound of a real bass guitar but instead provide an acoustic complementation to electronic music, the sound features investigated demonstrate a perfectly acceptable result.”