Macro Music Box – Design Review

My final project is based on the concept of a children’s music box, the wind up kind that have been played for centuries (see below). I have a fascination with old school mechanical movement, anything from clocks to watches even to old pinball machines that don’t use electronics at all, but instead rely on complex and creative mechanical movement to move different pieces in unison. There are countless examples of this in existence today, although in my opinion with the dawn of simple electronics a lot of mechanical design beauty is lost, substituted for electronic simplicity.

Music Box


Complex Gearing in a Watch


My idea was to combine these things with wall art to create a completely mechanical music box piece that will hang on a wall as an artwork. Additionally, I wanted to make the piece completely customizable and tunable such that any tune I wanted to could be “loaded” onto it. I’ve decided to do this with a circle of tensioned strings that are all plucked in pattern. I’m fairly into guitar, so that conveniently plays into this circular self playing “guitar” so to speak. The original design sketch is below.



The plan was originally to mount dozens of “keys” (single guitar strings tuned to different notes) in a circle, mounted on a metal tube bent in a circle. After calling many tube bending and rolling and manufacturers in the area, I figured out the circular tube wasn’t exactly in my price range (keep in mind, this is wall art, so I was looking for 3-4 foot scale). I’ve since decided to cut it out of wood and mount the keys directly to that. I’ve made a mock up of the wood plan and am going to laser etch the pattern onto the wood so I can cut it out more accurately. The CAD is shown below.



I have also made one of these keys, just to prove to myself that the guitar string idea would work, and verify that it could hold a tune with only one real guitar peg (anchoring itself between two nuts on a bolt). This prototype is shown below, and it does in fact work and hold a tune (I’ve been testing for 4-5 days, and it’s still fine). The real ones I plan to make out of walnut or some other kind of dark wood, so don’t let the unattractiveness of the prototype scare you away.


Finally, I’m going to go for a jazz guitar/old style record player aesthetic. Imagine an old jazz club with dim lighting, dark woods, mellow music, that kind of thing (see my inspiration post for some pictures). I’ve found some bronze plating I can put on the piece to accent, and plan on using dark woods for the keys. I do have to use chain to make the entire thing move and play, but I’ve found some mellow bronze chain as well as some brown; both are ordered, I’ll see what looks better and implement that in the final design. All in all, I’m well on my way. I’m definitely focusing more on the appearance of this that I do with any of my other projects, which is kind of a good exercise to do as an engineer always focused on functionality.





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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Roshan Misra
    March 6, 2016 11:54 pm

    I love this idea! It is a great way of harnessing mechanical ingenuity to create music AND a piece of art! Are you going to make it an adjustable music box? You could potentially add in some different sets of gears to help make the timing different and then tune the strings. That might be out of the scope of this class, but might be a pretty fun way to “jazz” up the music.

    For the wood, like Nick suggested, the veneer might be nice. If you’re looking for nice, cheap, woods, this website is great:

  • I love this Idea. I really like the points you made on your design. I feel that they don’t make music boxes like they use to, it is all electrical and it is great you are thinking of doing it all mechanical. some times it is the little thing that count, but in your case making it bigger is a great way to go and highlight the aesthetics and art that comes from a music box. I cant wait to see the final result.

  • Brittany Warly
    March 4, 2016 12:49 pm

    this is a creative idea and I like the you are combining music, electronics, and aesthetics into one. I agree with you using dark wood or maybe you could stain wood and try to give it a shiny clean look

  • Nicholas Flood
    March 4, 2016 12:28 pm

    This is a cool idea for a music box. You can buy dark wood veneer to give the aesthetic you want, instead of buying blocks of expensive wood.


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