Onyx Ashanti Lets His Geek Shine


Working here at SparkFun Electronics, I find that many of the projects I stumble across arise out of a need. Sure, there are a lot of projects that are just created for plain ol' fun, but most of the projects I see answer the question, "How can I solve this problem in a better way?" Onyx Ashanti, professional beatjazz musician, built his project to solve a problem he was having. The results are pretty cool.

Ashanti is a U.S.-born musician living abroad in Berlin. After years of playing traditional instruments, he decided he wanted to start exploring electronic music. So he picked up a wind-midi controller and interfaced it with a synthesizer. This was a big step, but he wasn't satisfied. He felt restricted - felt he had inner creativity he wanted to get out, but just couldn't do it through his current instrument. So he decided to invent his own.

His background in electronics was limited, so he ordered an Arduino and started searching the web for any information he could find. He devoured tutorials, example code, project examples - anything that would help him realize his invention. When he learned about the Arduino Fio and XBee, he decided to make his instrument wireless. It would be part wind-midi controller, part saxophone, and part keyboard. He wanted the music to be controlled not only by how he blew into the mouthpiece, but how he moved, so he incorporated accelerometers.

Onyx, who has no engineering degree or formal background in electronics, wanted a way to create music "outside the box." Rather than shrug his shoulders and say, "There's just nothing out there that fits what I want," he set out with a goal in mind and learned, worked and tinkered until he had exactly the thing he was looking for. Onyx found a way to let his geek shine.

How have you let your geek shine? Do you know anyone who invented their own instruments? Let us know in the comments section below. To learn more about Onyx and his electronics journey, and to see a wishlist of the parts he used, check out this page. To submit your own project to be featured here on SparkFun, check out our project call.


Comments 13 comments

  • Onyx, that’s very cool!

    In the 1940’s, a California inventor named Leo Fender had made some custom guitars and amplifiers in his radio shop. Eventually, Leo would create the world’s very first instrument amplifiers with built-in tone controls. More importantly, though, was Leo’s vision of better guitar. With his knowledge of existing technologies, he knew he could improve on contemporary amplified hollow-body instruments … and improve upon them, he did. In 1951, he introduced the Broadcaster, the prototype solid-body guitar that would eventually become the legendary Telecaster®. The Tele®, as it became affectionately known, was the first solid-body electric Spanish-style guitar ever to go into commercial production. Soon to follow the Tele were the revolutionary Precision Bass® guitar in 1951, and the Stratocaster® in 1954.

    It seems to me you’re heading down the same road as Leo Fender.

  • Yeah, this is cool for a number of reasons; one that may be less obvious - is that this guy put together enough technology to appear on TED; and all without using Ohm’s law, or the debilitating minutia of analysis paralysis in technology.

  • I am locutus of rythym

  • Awesome project, for sure! Is anyone else seeing the BOSS PCB-inspired tribal tattoo, though? Am I reaching the conclusion that it’s PCB inspired by my on bias?

  • Very inspirational and unique story. Its great he is able to do two things he loves in life instead of just one and at the same time travel the world! Also love the variety of articles spark fun puts out. Have not found a site that is even close to the type of service you guys provide. I am always spreading the word about this site!

  • I teach several students who happen to be musicians. Since the subject I teach is technology, this makes a wonderful connection piece.

  • One of the coolest nerdiest things ever! Keep it up Onyx!

  • This is incredible. Awesome how he interfaced all of these different components with his music. Very well thought out projects! Got my respect!

  • Major mad respect for this guy! As a musician and as an engineer. Very cool.

  • Awesome! Has he thought about making it Open Source?

    • It pretty much already is! If you check out this page, there is some more info about the project in general. At the bottom there is a link to a build - it includes fritzing files, part lists, code, etc.


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