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oneString: an Open Source USB Ribbon Synth Controller's video poster

Inspired by the one string Diddley Bow of Blues origin, oneString fills the gap for a sub-$200 USB MIDI synth ribbon controller. Read more

Reading, PA Sound
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This project was successfully funded on April 6, 2012.

Inspired by the one string Diddley Bow of Blues origin, oneString fills the gap for a sub-$200 USB MIDI synth ribbon controller.

Reading, PA Sound
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About this project

*( Check out the new video sample above of the final prototype in action.^The oneString is really starting to become an expressive device! More info in the latest update)*

The Seed:

About six years ago, while working with some new music interface ideas, I stumbled across some images and audio of an early Blues instrument called a “Diddley Bow.” The Diddley Bow is a homemade one-string instrument used by Blues player and buskers when nothing else is available. A piece of broom wire is strung across a long board, and played using a glass bottle as a slide and a stick or finger plucking for an expressive percussive sound. I realized that this instrument was a true “folk instrument,” being cheap, homemade, and incredibly expressive in its simplicity.

Why in the age of DIY electronics and cheap or free music software is their no electronic folk-instrument?

After years of struggling with this idea, and prototyping numerous interfaces, the oneString controller has come to life.

The Project   

Here's the link to the 1st youtube demo:

And a 2nd demo with more playing styles (same as above video):

The oneString controller is a super affordable, easy to construct open-source USB MIDI ribbon controller for musicians looking for a new means of expression.

  • USB Powered, allowing for only one cable. This means easy setup and portability in our wire-filled lives.

  • Uses a standard MIDI signal over USB allowing compatibility with almost all music software packages. (ANYTHING that takes keyboard input: Reason, reNoise, Energy XT, Ableton, FL Studio, Max-MSP, PureData... the list is endless!)

  • Uses free and open-source drivers to allow the most economical cross-platform (WIN, OSX, LINUX) solution.

  • Uses a minimum of parts, making it cheap and allowing for simple build instruction that even a beginner builder can finish in a day.

  • Body construction based on simple parts, allowing for everyone to easily make cool unique instruments without a wood-shop or plastics prototyping shop at their disposal.

  • Uses Arduino firmware allowing for augmentation and support from a HUGE open-source community.

How it Works – What's a “ribbon controller”??

A “ribbon controller” is a long position-sensing strip that can control the tone or modulation of a synthesizer, much like a slide-able guitar string. The sensor is read by a condensed USB powered “Arduino” circuit, which sends the MIDI synth signal to your laptop. Once there, the signal is translated by open-source software and transported to the music software of your choice.

The device will have a dip-switch to allow for 16 preset interface modes (ex: pitch-bend continuous tone, individual note sending, multi-octive ranges, control of other MIDI “CC's, etc... ). A potentiometer (knob) allows the user to chang the tuning of the instrument on the fly. Unlike currently available ribbon controllers in the >$200 range, the oneString can be triggered by a second “rhythm tap” sensor, allowing for a unique 2-handed play-style.

Who am I?

My name is Wil Lindsay. I am a career hacker-artist, performer, college professor and entrepreneur.

I've been creating and distributing various levels of open-source and DIY kits through for nearly 4 years. I am most well known in cyber-land for a similar open-source kit called the “Bliptronome” which married the idea of the MONOME 64 button synth controller with a cheap toy from called the “Bliptronic 5000.”

Another well known project I've created is the YM_MINI synth kit which allows cheap control of the soundchip from an Atari ST to respond to midi output from your laptop or computer.

Years of teaching have taught me that at the heart of any successful open-source project is simplicity and affordability. That means low parts-count and VERY detailed instructions and photographs for new and seasoned builders. Check out the documentation to my other kits and projects at:



  • You selected
    Pledge $2 or more

    8 backers

    By being a sponsor of oneString, Your name and/or website link will be permanently etched into the digital memory of the Internet, as part of a list of supporters that will be posted at and accompany the documentation of all kits and source-code distribution files.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $20 or more

    8 backers

    A oneString PCB from the first production run: If you're a hacker at heart, this printed circuit board, your parts, and the freely available source-code and instructions will be all you need to build your own oneString controller.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $45 or more

    6 backers

    A oneString Basic DIY kit (PCB & Electronics Parts) including everything except the finger sensors and USB-Serial FTDI cable, commonly available from your favorite parts supplier.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    12 backers

    The full oneString DIY 24" kit: (PCB, electronic Parts, all sensors, and USB-Serial FTDI Cable). All you need is a cool body or piece of wood, and a little bit of building time.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $150 or more

    21 backers

    A fully built oneString controller: built and tested by me, and ready to play. This will be the 24" kit built on beeswax finish red oak and including all sensors and the USB cable.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $850 or more

    0 backers Limited (2 left of 2)

    Feature Contributor!
    I am leaving two of the 16 stock settings unused in software. contributors at this level will receive a fully built 24" oneString device (same as $150 level award) AND a firmware feature of their choosing. I will code this feature into the final open-source release of the software and distribute it on the website and with all kits. Your name and idea will become part of the final distribution. If you're interested in this; contact me to see if your idea is feasible. And yes, I do think coding is fun!

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (30 days)