The MechBass

The MechBass is just another ill-conceived attempt at relegating the bass player to obsurity.  It won’t work.  We escaped the synth wave, the sampling craze, and we will continue playing the root after this as well.  Bassists are like zombies – slow moving, malodorous, unattractive, and unwelcomed at most social events – but we are tenacious.


MechBass: Not cool, dude. not cool.

MechBass: Not cool, dude. not cool.

Much to the chagrin of bassists everywhere, engineering student James McVay recently created a robotic bass guitar. Surprisingly enough it actually sounds pretty good. McVay created the robot for his honors project at Victoria University of Wellington, but the educational intentions of the project didn’t stop him from having the robot rock out to Hysteria by Muse.

He designed the rig in SolidWorks, a 3D mechanical CAD program, and either lasercut or 3D-printed the parts, and assembled it all himself. Each horizontal section of the machine is home to one bass string. If you’re wondering how the robot can play bass without frets, McVay attached a pitch shifter that made an aluminum carriage slide across the string, acting as a fret when needed. Regular bass machine heads are used in order to tension the strings.

Taking "fingerpicking" to a whole new level.

Taking “fingerpicking” to a whole new level.

McVay used a control board based on the ATmega328, and each string unit is assigned their own channel through a MIDI bus, and only responds to the messages sent through their specific channel.

Normally, a bass guitar uses a magnetic pickup to capture the vibrations in a string to turn them into noise. Due to the sheer amount of electronic parts used in the project, the magnetic pickup would have to deal with too much electromagnetic interference. Instead, McVay used an IR emitter and IR-sensitive phototransistor to act as an optical pickup that wouldn’t be disrupted by the electronic equipment.

The end result, dubbed MechBass, is a machine bass that can rock out and doesn’t have feelings that can get hurt by bassist jokes.

MechBass by James McVay