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Build your own musical instrument

Creating sound with magnets
Author: Pasi Rajamäki
Online since: 28/08/2023, Number of visits: 17911

I built my own musical instrument using disc magnets, block magnets, nuts and bolts. Depending on the size of the magnets, the assembly produces different musical tones that I can tune manually. First, I needed a resonance chamber to mount the magnets. I used a piece of white metal for my musical instrument. If you don’t have a resonance chamber, you can also use a metal plate.
Note from the supermagnete team:
A resonance chamber is a hollow cavity and is usually made of wood or metal. Its purpose is to amplify the produced sounds.

Attaching the magnets

My homemade instrument has eight musical tones. As a base, I needed 16 Q-40-10-05-N block magnets. I placed two of these magnets at a time on the metal and positioned them so one magnet had its north pole and the other its south pole pointing up. Then I set either a disc magnet, rod magnet or ring magnet and a cube magnet on top. (You can find the magnets linked below.) I placed the magnets in such a way that they rest centred on the gap between the two block magnets. Don’t worry, you can’t place the magnets the wrong way round; there is only one possibility to position them correctly. The two magnets will repel each other.
Note from the supermagnete team:
The magnets used here have very high adhesive forces. Watch your fingers and be mindful of surrounding objects in case the magnets attract each other unintentionally. Due to the enormous adhesive force, the block magnets can also damage the coating of the resonance chamber, in this case the white metal plate, when they are moved. That is why you should only use items for your resonance chamber where you don’t mind if they end up scratched.

Attaching the nuts and bolts

Next, I attached the bolts and the nuts. They should also come to rest on the middle line between the blocks. I used the following bolts:
  • 25 mm* long bolts with M10 thread
  • 30 mm* long bolts with M8 thread
  • 30 mm* long bolts with M6 thread
* threaded shank only, hex head not included.

And with that, the magnetic musical instrument is complete. To create sounds, pluck on the disc magnets. The vibration produces a tone. You can adjust the various musical tones by tightening or loosening the nuts. I tuned mine to a C major scale. Since it is difficult to play two or more fast notes with one finger, I also used a guitar pick for plucking. A plectrum will help you play faster. It allows you to produce tones through downward and upward movements.

My tip: If you don’t have an instrument tuner, there are good mobile apps available for download. The tuner app 'Pano Tuner', for example, works well for Android devices.

Aside from the version described here, there are other designs for building musical instruments yourself. Magnet instruments are easy to replicate. In addition, the YouTube video by MagneticGames shows other cool ways to make music with magnets. You can see an example of how you could incorporate the sounds of the magnet instrument into your next piece of music in a YouTube video by Magnet Tricks.

Good to know

The pitch of this instrument with magnets is affected by two main factors:
  1. The size of the vibrating magnet. The heavier the disc magnet, the lower the tone.
  2. The space that the disc magnet has to vibrate. The shorter the distance, the higher the tone it produces.
You should keep the following aspects in mind when selecting magnets and bolts for your magnet instrument:
If you want to experiment with different magnets, choose the same dimensions for the cube and disc magnets. The two magnets should have the same width.
Should you want to use larger disc magnets than those with a height of 12 mm, you also have to use larger block magnets. If the disc magnet is too big for the magnets, the disc magnet will start to tilt as shown in the picture. This affects the creation of sounds.
The diameter of the bolt shank should be similar in size to that of the paired cube magnet. If there is a big difference in diameter, those parts will interfere when they move.
Please note: If you arrange the individual assemblies too close to each other, the vibrating disc magnets will have an effect on one another. Make sure you position the blocks at a sufficient distance from each other.

A resonance chamber as sound amplifier

A resonance chamber will amplify the sound. Something heavy, like a metal petrol canister, is a great sound amplifier. If your resonance chamber is very light, such as a biscuit tin for example, you should attach it to a table or something heavy. Otherwise, the recoil of the vibrating magnets will shake the whole instrument and dampen the vibrations. You don’t necessarily have to use a resonance chamber for the magnet instrument, a metal plate affixed to a wooden table like in my example is sufficient to significantly amplify the sound. I attached the piece of white metal to my table with magnets. You can also amplify the sound with a Piezo contact microphone.

Variances are possible

This way of generating sound is not entirely without problems. When you move the disc magnets into different positions, you will notice clear differences in the sounds. This is because the various points of the disc magnet come into contact with the block magnets. In addition, the geometries of the magnets are not perfect in detail, even if you use super magnets of very high quality. Every magnet is distinct, which causes them to have imperfections in their magnetic fields.

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