Hacker Turns Casette Players Into Creepy DIY Synth

By Maddie Stone on at

Unless you were an audio engineer in the ‘60s, you’ve probably forgotten about the Mellotron, an archaic sampler that played back sounds stored on magnetic tape when you pressed a key on a keyboard.

But in the fine tradition of hacking old hardware to make electronic music, somebody’s now gone and reinvented the Mellotron, using a slightly more modern device: The cassette player.

Meet the Crudman: A modern (ish) take on the Mellotron, invented, but of course, in Brooklyn. It’s a series of hacked cassette players, loaded with tapes that can contain single, droning tones, spoken words, or whatever other samples you heart desires. The players have been re-engineered with an Arduino-based Teensy microcontroller that responds to MIDI signals from a keyboard. Simply press a key, and the tape motor speeds up or slows down to generate a musical note.

The overall effect is a Mellotron-esque synth that sounds pretty spooky — especially when you start adding multiple cassette players and building chords! Just another reminder that old hardware is always good for something, right? If you’re interested in doing this yourself, the hacker behind the Crudman has laid out the instructions online. You’re going to need to read them carefully.