Poor Man’s DIY Moog Taurus with CAUSTIC, ANDROID, OTG, and QWERTY Keyboard

Hello… it has been a while…. anyway let’s get back in business.

As a fellow guitar player I’ve always been a fan of bass foot pedals, like the famous Moog Taurus (Rush, Malmsteen, etc.). I was trying to find an affordable alternative (e.g. Roland PK-5,), however those are really expensive (Tauruses are over 1000$us, Pk-5’s around 400$ if you find one, etc.).

Thus, I decided to go the DIY way… This idea (DIY Taurus) is not new at all (e.g. here)… but most of the solutions involve recycling old physical keyboards or hijacking/stripping pedalboards (I live in Bolivia now and it’s unlike you can find old spare parts easily).

So.. one day I’ve read this wonderful post on the Caustic App site of how you can “hack” Caustic to use a QWERTY USB keyboard with it on Windows and Mac (BTW…”Caustic is a music creation tool inspired by rack-mount synthesizers / samplers rigs. Everything is real-time and optimized for mobile devices…”).

Fortunately this hack also works like a charm in Android Devices (iOS ones could work as well, using a Bluetooth keyboard instead). So, as we can indeed branch a USB keyboard to Android via a simple OTG cable, I thought that by “hacking” the USB Keyboard (wiring it differently, as described here and here) you can build your own “variation” of the keyboard.

So here’s the schematics for this easy hack:

 

DIY Taurus Moog

DIY Taurus Moog Schematics

Interested? This is a wonderful piece of gear for musicians!! Here the details of how I made it (around 3 days and 25$us in materials):

Software
I’m using a Moto X (1st) with Android Lollipop 5.1… but basically this should work in any Android Version that supports Caustic App.

Of course, I’m using the amazing Caustic App. This is an outstanding app.. and this keyboard hack works even with the free version! I was not able to find a similar app that interact with a USB Keyboard. Caustic covers all the aspects related to sound generation (it has pcm synths, samplers, vocoder, a modular synth, sequencer, etc… so sound-wise it has it all).

Caustic App

Hardware

You need an OTG cable (around 2$US). And also you will need a standard USB QWERTY keyboard you don’t use anymore, as you are going to fully dismantle it. We need to disassemble the keyboard as we just need the USB Cable and its PCB (the internal printed circuit board of the keyboard). Then, as described here you will need to “extend” the PCB with your own wiring. Basically you extend each of the PCB pins with a corresponding cable extension. An image worths a million words (English is not my native language BTW):

pcb

This is the most tricky part (I must admit my soldering skills suck!, I ruined 1 PCB in the process…).
HINT: For the extension cables use stranded ones, they won’t break as you may need to -eventually- manipulate the PCB for the connections (yeah… I know, we can improve this).

Once you are at this stage you can already branch the USB Keyboard to Android and test the key combinations. This is the mapping for the keys / notes from the man himself REJ-DEV, the genius behind Caustic.

Mapping Keys / Notes / Functions

Pretty easy right? Just find the good pin combination to trigger a specific key. For this project, as I’m interested mostly in a-la-moog tones I was focused in this mapping:

Z =C,
S=C#,
X=D,
D=Eb,
C=E,
V=F,
G=F#,
B=G,
H=Ab,
N=A,
J=Bb
M=B

Also, I was interested in mapping the PLAY Key (e.g. you can play a sequence or pattern in Caustic, WOW!!!). That function is mapped to the SPC (Escape key to pause/start). It’s important to remark that the PgUp and PgDb are very useful as well (will switch the current octave).

Ok, now that we have the list of keys we’re interested into, we need to build the triggers/switches that will act as keyboard keys (e.g. the controller itself). For this, I thought it will be nice to have something that resembles a real keyboard. As in Bolivia we have plenty of wood.. I used a wooden design… I just asked a local carpenter to cut the “keys” and the “frame” of the wooden keyboard, here’s the idea:

wood

I asked the carpenter for 8 standard keys (10cm x 4cm x 2cm) and 5 flat/sharp ones (5cm x 4cm x 2cm), plus a wood frame (55cm x 4cm). The assembling is, IMO, very interesting and CHEAP!, just using a thumbnail and a rubber band for the “pressing” mechanics, and for the joints I used standard hinges… believe me.. it just works quite well (I know people often uses springs… but this just worked… K.I.S.S):

detail

 

det2

test

Ok, the keys “push” mechanics were solved at this point. Now need to continue with the wiring and the actual “switches”. The switches basically will make the contact of 2 pins of the PCB, simulating a keystroke.

I’m really BAD in handcrafting, so please do not laugh on my “glue-ing” skills here.., I’ve used small switches as triggers, each one mapping a specific keys (Z, S, X, etc..)

switch

I’ve put all the switches over a plywood piece (around 55cm x 12cm)

floor

Voila! I also joined the key wood frame with the plywood also with a hinge. I’m a Computer Science fellow, and I understand the need of “testing”, so obviously if things go wrong I have a chance of reviewing the circuitry and connectors without disassembling the whole thing.

full

For the connections between switches and the actual pins extension I used a “bridge” to minimize PCB manipulation and ease the wiring:

circ

I ended up without space for the PCB!!! So I need to improvise and “extension” (an ugly error I know… it happens in software too):

ext2

ext

and here.. the keyboard finished and painted:

finished

I’ve also forgot about the SPC key… or not? I thought it was better to have “special functions” outside the keyboard (following the SoC principle), so I ended up with an external trigger for the SPC (Pause/Play sequences), I used an old DIY switch I made, just a switch that is wired/mapped to the SPC key (just the yellow trigger at this time):

ext_soc

Ok.. but does it work???? Hell yeah! I’ve used that even in a live concert (will post footage soon). Right now, I just have these 2 basic videos (crappy camera audio and neighbor’s dogs are barkin’… ):

Example 1: Rush’s Tom Sawyer Growl… there’s no latency BTW (the sample has a special setting in the attack… also I didn’t press properly due to the filmin’…). Certainly Caustic reacts immediately to the USB keystrokes (e.g. better than MIDI triggering I assume),

Example 2: This is an intro from a song of my favorite Bolivian band Track, it helps to illustrate the external triggerin’ (sorry it was hard to film and press buttons at the same time… out of beat … a better video to come once I find a stand or somebody around to film)

Improvements

What I did is a just a nice PoC of what can be done, it can be improved in several ways:

  • Adequate dimensions on the keys,
  • More robust design (to support a gig at least),
  • More space for the PCB, or even better, a separate module for the PCB (e.g. interfaced with RJ45 connectors),
  • Use a Bluetooth Keyboard instead… will be easier to manipulate (less cabling),
  • Implement triggers for the LEFT and RIGHT keys, so we can also switch “programs” (sounds) in Caustic,
  • Creating a real MIDI CONTROLLER with this same technique is just doable as well!!!,
  • Proper wiring (It’s a mess as it is… but it works hehe).

Acknowledgements

  • Kudos to REJ DEV for his wonderful APP. Thanks to the PCB wiring info sources as well.
  • Thanks to my beloved wife and children for their patience (3 long nights in a row in the making…).
  • Thanks to you all for visiting this –kinda abandoned– blog.

Your comments are highly appreciated! I’ll try to post a decent video soon.

Greetings from Bolivia.

Javier a.k.a. Rocamatics

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15 Comments

  1. sergio cossio said,

    January 27, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Excelente pedal. A costo minimo. Gracias Rocamatics. Un genio

  2. JP said,

    January 27, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Bravo Roquita, mucho ingenio y creatividad!

  3. Willy said,

    January 27, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Excelente idea y mejor aùn la llevada a la realidad …

  4. oopscene said,

    January 27, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Javiersán! Genius!!!

  5. Gaspar said,

    January 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Great Idea and thanks for sharing

  6. Gonzalo El Chivo said,

    January 28, 2016 at 1:28 am

    Genial hermano! Quiero uno!!! Abrazo!!!

  7. MSP said,

    January 28, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    Genial tu proyecto!!!!

  8. January 28, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Excellent work, let me try to replicate.

  9. January 28, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    Excellent work, let me try to replicate it.

  10. Anil said,

    January 28, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    Barbaro !!! ingenious as always bro

  11. Fish said,

    February 3, 2016 at 1:18 am

    Excelente trabajo, chequea el Subsynth para el sonido de Tom Sawyer. El pedal es de caoba?

    Fish (from the Caustic forum)

    • rocamatics said,

      February 3, 2016 at 11:49 am

      Hola Fish,

      Jajaja, no tan lujoso como la caoba, esto es un prototipo con “madera-encontrada-en-el-suelo-al-azar” por el carpintero que me corto las maderas.
      Voy a ver tu subsynth para integrarlo (cargarlo a Caustic simplemente).

      Saludos!

  12. David Nicklin said,

    April 9, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, this has really inspired me.
    I have seen people adapting old electric organ pedals and wiring via an Arduino or similar, but the programming and cost etc of these put me off. However, I did get as far as taking an old organ apart to salvage the footpedals, and today I started to take a usb keybaord apart and solder to the pcb 🙂
    However, as I have started to ‘map’ the keyboard switches, I have come across a bit of a problem you might be able to answer….
    On the keyboard map, the ‘z’ is quite a high octave, c4 I think, and everything else is above this so not really great for ‘bass’ pedals…
    You mention using page up and page down, will these effectively move the octave that the qwerty keyboard is active over when pressed? Otherwise do I have to doe something clever eith the casutic app? BTW I am running Caustic on Android

    Hope this makes some sort of sense?

    Dave N

    • rocamatics said,

      April 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Hi David,

      Great to know you are working on a similar project!. Your questions make perfect sense indeed!!. Regarding the ‘octave’ setup you mention, there are possible 3 solutions I can think of:

      – Use the Oct+ and Oct+ buttons available in the Qwerty Map, this is the most versatile solution, but requires more wiring…

      – Use Caustic APP to configure the OCT setup. Yes! this is possible, for example, if you are using the PCMSynth, you can set the “range” of the sample (where it starts [LOWKEY], where it ends [HIGHKEY]), and then use the [ROOTKEY] to set the lowest Note (so you can shift it to suit your needs). This is something you can save per patch (yeah!!).

      – In PcmSynth, tweak the “Octave” parameter in the Pitch settings.

      TIP: Although Caustic for ANDROID rules (I use it myself in actual GIGs), you can also use the Desktop Version (WIN, MACOS, both FREE) to fine tune your settings, and then save in your Mobile (easier for “complex” tunes, mouse, file system access, etc.)

      Hope this helps! Please share pictures/audio from your project!

      Kind Regards,

  13. Carla Doria said,

    September 28, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    This is super genius!!! Excellent work 🙂


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