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Guy Marsden
Artwork Engineering


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Electronic piano with lights
for the Guggenheim Foundation fall 2009 fundraiser

Piano artwork showing red illumination from left key
I was contacted by Ted Lawson an art fabricator in New York to see if I could engineer a small toy scale electronic piano with colored interactive lighting, each key illuminates the base in an unique color from red to violet.  This was to be built as an artwork edition for the Guggenheim Foundation fundraiser in the fall of 2009.  The artwork would be given to a select group of donors at the fundraiser. The design constraints were pretty stringent; there was a short lead time, and it had to be very inexpensive.

I began by prototyping a simple circuit that would create a relatively pleasing tone with a slight tremolo to add some charm.  My next step was to build a working prototype circuit board in the desired shape and size that the artist-designer had specified.  The design uses touch pads for each key because they are much cheaper than buttons.
top of first piano prototype circuit board bottom side of first piano prototype with small coin type batteries
After some testing I quickly learned that the 2 small coin type batteries I had used would not have enough power for the lights and sound.  The design would need 4 AAA size batteries instead.  So I re-designed the board to accommodate the larger batteries (below).  The colored LEDs are in a circle to the right of the miniature black piezoelectric speaker in the image below.
2nd piaon prototype with 4 AAA batteries
The clock was ticking at this point since we still needed time to run a final prototype before production.  The artist-designer decided that the circuit board had to be a color other than green and should have very specific artwork on it that he would design.  We explored the various color options, settling on basic black with white art.  I did some research and found a circuit board manufacturer that was willing to integrate his artwork from a pdf file into the white silkscreen layer of the circuit board and print a black solder mask layer.  The manufacturer went to great lengths to incorporate this design into the board and it paid off despite their first reaction that they simply could not do this.  The artwork creates a clear correlation between the notes and their corresponding colors.
top view of piano showing artwork
Meanwhile art fabricator Ted Lawson was struggling with how to make the 1 inch thick translucent plastic base that would transmit the colored lights out to the sides of the piano in a cost effective way.  It was ultimately fabricated from 1 inch thick acrylic sheet, hollowed out with an NC mill and cut out with a water jet to get the matte exterior.  This job became an endless series of difficult challenges for both Ted and myself as the deadline loomed over us and fabricators kept running behind for a variety of reasons.
back of piano  back of piano with colored lights showing  piano showing violet color illumination
Ultimately the project was completed at the very last minute and I think it came out very well despite all the challenges.  It is a charming toy like piano that plays notes and lights up in attractive colors.  I have been told that the Guggenheim donors appeared to enjoy it at the fundraiser event.

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