Drummer in a Suitcase

"Samson" is a portable percussion unit housed in a vintage suitcase. It can be remotely controlled by any Bluetooth MIDI enabled sequencer.
None I play guitar and needed a drummer to keep the beat during my gigs. I've played with drummers in the past. But I wanted to continue playing solo. Of course, there are many electronic drum machines out there -- but I wanted something acoustic.

At the core of the unit is an Arduino Uno driving solenoids. The Arduino just listens for incoming MIDI notes from an external sequencer and triggers the corresponding solenoid. I installed a MIDI shield on the Arduino and connected it to a Yamaha MIDI Bluetooth controller.

This lets me design and deploy patterns from any Bluetooth MIDI enabled app. For gigs, I just put my iPad on a music stand and control the unit from that.

Of course, I didn't want to reach over to the iPad during a song to turn patterns on and off. So, I modified an old volume pedal and connected it to the Arduino. This lets me fade the unit in and out at will.

Side story You might have noticed the glove bouncing up and down on Samson's bass drum. Some people think that it is playing the drum.

When I was working on the bass drum I didn't like the sound it was making. Awfully 'boomy.' So, I tossed a work glove on the drum to dampen it out a bit. That worked. But I then noticed that the glove bounced up and down with the rhythm. Perfect!

The glove now tempered the timbre of the drum as well as providing a bit of flash.

Of course, it took a bit of work to find a simple flat glove. Most nowadays are formed to mimic the shape of a hand - with curved fingers. But I did and filled it with small beans. And voila!

Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired you to do this?
I play solo guitar gigs and needed some accompaniment.
How long did it take to make it?
I probably worked on Samson for a year or so, on and off. The suitcase needed to be reinforced. Then there was a lot of experimentation with finding the right cymbal. The same for the drums. The bass drum was rebuilt three times to get the right fit and sound. Of course, there was soldering, wiring, programming and a lot of testing. I also had to learn about drumming. It wasn't going to be useful without solid patterns. So, a lot of things to do across a number of disciplines.
How long have you been doing things like this?
About a decade or so.
How much did this cost to do?
About $1000 USD.
Have you done other things like this?
Yes, I created a few standalone 'New Music Boxes' that used a lot of the same ideas. I also used the same techniques to connect a prepared piano to a cell phone. People could send text messages to the piano and play it.
Are there plans available to make this? Do you sell this?
Not really. The components are readily available from places like Adafruit. Arduino, solenoids, MIDI shield and MOSFET drivers are the core of the project.
What’s next?
I keep thinking about adding a bass player. Or extend the project to include some external drums, like a nice tom-tom.
Electronics surplus sites, like AllElectronics for general electronic components. The solenoids I got from Amazon. The MIDI shields came from an outfit in Bulgaria. The Bluetooth MIDI interface is from Yamaha. I use FingerLab's DM1 drum sequencing app.

Josef Szuecs : pronounced SOOCH
The maker Josef Szuecs
I primarily work with wood and electronics, although most projects incorporate other materials as well. My workshop is equipped with standard woodworking equipment along with CNC machines and a laser cutter.

Along with the making of physical things, I am also a jazz guitarist. I try to integrate my passions of making and music whenever I can. For example, in projects like the Drummer in a Suitcase project.

From 2006 to 2017, I provided software development and fabrication services to Maker Faire. I also exhibited numerous award winning projects.

I currently serve as the President of the Board of Chimera Arts Maker Space in Sebastopol, CA. Chimera Arts provides facilities and training to our local maker community.

In October 2018, I produced the first Maker Music Festival. A celebration of people that make their own instruments.

Chimera Arts
We are a maker space in Northern California.

Connect with Josef Szuecs
How I can help you:
I offer training and demonstrations of DIY instrument making, and other maker skills, to schools and other organizations.
How you can help me:
Follow me on my Instagram and YouTube channels. And support your local Makerspace!