The Air Harp

A very nice take on an electronic instrument!

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Many of us here at SparkFun are musically inclined (you may remember a photoshoot featuring our very own Testing Guru Pete Lewis and his Rockbox). It turns out, many of our customers are also interested in fusing electronics and music in cool new ways. Check out this project from SparkFun customer Peter DeSimone.

What you see in the above photo is the Air Harp. The Air Harp is an instrument built using a single Maxbotix LV-EZ1 ultrasonic rangefinder which allows the musician to "strum" chords in the air like an acoustic autoharp. There are also four pushbuttons that select up to 15 chords in a given key. A fifth pushbotton allows automatic transposition into any key. Basically, with enough practice, you could play nearly any song on the Air Harp! Check out the video for some more info and to see the Air Harp in action.

You can check out Peter's YouTube channel or the Air Harp website to see more videos of this cool instrument and how effective it can be to play actual songs. Very nice project, Peter!

Comments 25 comments

  • Flux Dispersal, LLC / about 13 years ago * / 1

    GOOD NEWS!! We're now selling AirHarp Shield kits! The AirHarp Shield transforms your hacked Arduino Uno into a class compliant USB MIDI controller. See more at:

  • customer207 / about 13 years ago / 1

    Wow, Charm City Cakes never stops innovating.
    Way to go Arduino, Duff!

  • Flux Dispersal, LLC / about 13 years ago / 1

    Critical Update: the published version of the firmware has been updated to enable the transpose button on the AirHarp Shield. i use this same firmware for multiple instruments i build, including light harps and shadow harps, and sometimes it takes a little shoehorning to get the same code to run on multiple devices with different architectures. i didn't realize anyone was paying attention, so i've been lax in updating the published files! everything should now be up-to-date. :?)

  • Calif / about 13 years ago / 1

    Never did have the goattee windscreen required by the Maxbotix LV-EZ1.

  • Eric-Montreal / about 13 years ago / 1

    Looks like the ultrasonic version of a Theremin, the first electronic instrument ever, invented nearly a century ago, except this one have a pitch but no volume control.

    • Flux Dispersal, LLC / about 13 years ago / 1

      the AirHarp actually started out as a [pitch quantized, MIDI] theremin, but then i had the idea to arpeggiate chords rather than play melodies and everything just fell into place. i have a Moog Etherwave theremin that i built from a kit. it's a fun and magical instrument, though very challenging to play. the theremin is exclusively a melodic instrument while the AirHarp is intrinsically harmonic, so the two aren't really in the same class, though they could be used to accompany each other. :?)
      there's an awesome documentary about Lev Sergeyevich Termen (a.k.a. "Leon Theremin") on Netflix. they interviewed many of the people involved in the early days of the theremin, including the great virtuosa Clara Rockmore, before they died. poor guy - the Soviets nabbed Dr. Termen and dragged him back to Moscow to force him to work on things like laser microphones. i actually built a laser mic in college. ...i hope nobody tries to kidnap me now! :?o

  • TBaumg / about 13 years ago / 1


  • lawrah / about 13 years ago / 1

    That is awesome! Well done.

  • Flux Dispersal, LLC / about 13 years ago / 1

    OMG what an honor!!! SparkFun, you ROCK!! :D
    I just added Eagle and Gerber files to I would have done this sooner, but I wasn't expecting to find myself on the friggin' SparkFun home page!!! :D :D :D
    You guys are awesome. Please direct any and all inquiries to info at lightharp dot com. I love chatting with fellow nerdwads and I'm always eager to help. :?)
    ~ Peter

  • pikachu / about 13 years ago / 1


  • Miros2424 / about 13 years ago * / 1

    Check out his latest video;
    It's standalone, open source, Arduino based, 16bit audio with midi out!!!
    Great project.

  • tpobrienjr / about 13 years ago / 1

    I'm not a musician, but Peter's AirHarp has a very attractive sound, even when he's just demonstrating the chords. It sounds very fluid, just like a harp!

  • weezy / about 13 years ago / 1

    absolutely brilliant

  • Wow! As a professional musician and an amateur nerd, I have to say this is gloriously brilliant!
    TroyMcClure - check out his website, where he accompanies himself as he sings.

  • TroyMcClure / about 13 years ago / 1

    Lets hear a song using one! :)

  • udawat / about 13 years ago / 1

    wow... now this is a nice project to try..

  • Cool! Maybe in V3000 there could be a Hologram of a buncha harp strings in front of you!
    EDIT: Ooh! And you could hit the projected strings for percussion-harping! Is harping even a word?

    • Flux Dispersal, LLC / about 13 years ago / 1

      I'm sure in the not-too-distant future, there will be a machine they strap you into and then you wake up with the memory of having played a harp... on Mars. ;?)

    • Conrthomas / about 13 years ago / 1

      Or you could just make one out of lasers like I did...

      • Flux Dispersal, LLC / about 13 years ago / 2

        Connor: that's beautiful, man! Huge props. Active light sensors are a real challenge to work with and a frameless laser harp is just that much more complex. Stephen Hobley is a certified badass and just a real good guy in my book. What an honor for your project to be featured on his page! I'm still beaming that he took the time to chat with me once or twice (considering that he surely had better things to do, like build a fusion reactor out of a discarded weed whacker). :?P

        • Conrthomas / about 13 years ago / 1

          Thanks man! Yeah it was a ton of fun. He is such a cool guy, he was really helpful in helping me find a soundfont that sounded like JMJ's harp. I have a couple semi-crappy videos of it on my youtube channel (connerthomas24) but the real cool part was playing it through a huge sound system for my school's talent show.

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