Pocket Piano from Critter and Guitari on Vimeo.

Apologies to the immense powers of lumbering studio gear, but a new lifestyle may be forming around unique, mobile, small, simple synths. The latest entry comes from none other than Critter and Gitari, some of our favorite electronics designers, based in Philadelphia. This time, they’re touting a pocket synth. No MIDI, no control voltage – just wooden keys, some knobs, an audio out jack, and a speaker. But the killer feature is, it runs on batteries. That allows you to take it anywhere, including – as evidenced by the video – on the Staten Island Ferry.

The sounds are decidedly lo-fi, but varied in synthesis methods:

  • Vibrato Synth
  • Harmonic Sweeper
  • Two-Octave Arpeggiator
  • Octave Cascade
  • Mono FM Synth
  • FM Arpeggiator

Twist the knobs to select mode and waveform, with a colored light to give you feedback. Then play on the wooden keys, though they require a bit of what the creators describe as “a refined touch.”

Lots of additional sound samples, including some that sound like they escaped from a vintage arcade cabinet (or a really cheap alien spacecraft):
Pocket Piano

Bonus: Here’s a wonderful recorder called the Kaleidoloop from the same builders, costing $299. They’ve been documenting its many powers over the past months. It’s insanely simple – to the point that somewhere, KAOSS Pad engineers are scratching their heads — but also insanely delicious.

Kaleidoloop: Effecting a Voice Recording from Critter and Guitari on Vimeo.

  • It seems like they took their Arduino kit and put it into a nice enclosure. Would explain the battery power option. I don't mean this as a criticism, making this kind of enclosure on one's own seems like a real hassle and it probably wouldn't be half as nice as this.

  • Max

    Fantastic sounds! And the arpeggiator really makes it usable. My first thought was that it was just a fancy hip toy. Really cool.

  • Wooh. Just impulse bought this thing after watching that video.

  • yeap! just impulse bought one too! i like the wood buttons!

  • genius!

  • jbrandt

    Yeah, looks very much like their arduino kit in a box– especially since originally the kit was called the Pocket Piano and now they call it the Arduino Synthesizer Kit.

    It doesn't look like the programming header is visible there, which, while the pocket piano is pretty awesome on its own, would make it even cooler. There are a few other programs for their synth board that do different things, like Mark Nostromo's thing here: http://nostromo.createdigitalmusic.com/2009/11/01/arduino

    (And my awful-sounding digital-noise-and-aliasing generator, but I won't link to that right now… 8)

  • Alex

    It sounds boring…at $150 it's just an expensive toy piano…

  • Jim Aikin

    Didn't Casio make a whole bunch of battery-operated mini-keyboards with speakers about 20 years ago? Or was it longer ago than that?

  • electronic_face

    Don't get me wrong, I think this pocket piano is pretty cool, and looks nice, but.. I'm wondering if it would have as much appeal if one of the big guys (Korg, Roland, Yamaha) made this exact same thing, with the same specs, at the same price point?

    If it had the Shruthi-1 in it, I couldn't say the same thing, and I'd likely be all over it (especially if it had better "keys," or at least MIDI).

  • @Jim Aikin: Yup, they did.

    @electronic_face: Well, if one of the big guys does that, let me know. Closest, of course, is the Korg monotron. I mean, obviously, some of the appeal is as an art object.

    I don't think it's necessarily the last word on this kind of instrument, but it is a nice little box.

  • ex-fanboy


    What was missing in that video on the ferry was at the end the boys and girls of Homeland Security coming up and saying "FREEZE! Pu it down slowly!! đŸ™‚

    cool toy though!

  • Chad

    Impulse buy!

  • a lovely concept!

  • What does it sound like under the boat. I bet it finally makes a good sound when it goes through the propellor. That's an analog sound.

  • Just got mine in the mail and it's a phenomenal little sound design box. Inspiring handmade synth kung fu! Thanks for the heads up on Critter and Guitari.

  • jake

    For anyone else wondering about customizing the Pocket Piano, here is the response I received from Critter & Guitari:

    "Hi, thanks for your note. The piano runs on an AVR, and there is an ICSP header inside, but it doesn't have the Arduino bootloader. If you are experienced programming AVRs it might not be hard to customize, but it is not Arduino compatible strictly speaking, and we don't have any info / schematics available at this time, so there would be some reverse engineering involved ….


  • Aywen

    This thing is pretty sweet! I play music all over the house and backyard with it! Sounds awesome through some effects pedals, too. GET ONE!

  • neutral

    Elegant limitation + portability = impulse buy.