Bending Basics

Intrigued by bending? Thinking about adding some totally new dimensions to your recordings? It’s not really that difficult, and it can be a lot of fun. Here are some tips to get you started.

• When you go to flea markets or used equipment shops to get new toys and instruments, always bring fresh batteries of all sizes and types. That way you can check all instruments on the spot, and you don’t end up buying broken crap.

• If you see corrosion around the battery terminals, be careful. Battery leakage on to a circuit board can destroy the traces and kill the circuit. On the plus side, it might make some very strange noises as it begins its descent into a slow, chemical-induced coma.

• Never bend an instrument that’s connected to the AC wall voltage! Be patient enough to turn the instrument off, make your modification, then turn it back on again.

• Use the right tools for soldering (Figure 1): a soldering pencil, not a soldering gun, and thin 60/40 rosin core solder. Acid core solder is for plumbing only, and will destroy your circuit.

• Semiconductors are more sensitive to heat than other components. If you need to remove solder around an IC, use a solder wick or solder sucker (Figure 2). Do one pin at a time, and wait a couple minutes between pins.

• Take instruments apart carefully. Don’t force connectors, and note that some have little tabs that secure the connector in place; you may need to apply pressure to the tab with a small screwdriver to “free” the connector.

• When you find connections where interesting things happen, use different elements to connect the pins: pots, LEDs, photoresistors, diodes, and the like (Figure 3). You can also bring these connections out to jacks, creating a little patchbay, which will give you more options than just adding a knob or switch.

• Websites are great for finding instructions on how to do particular bends, but don’t copy too much from other people. Be unique!

• Take your time with the bend. There is no reason to hurry; think of what the final design will be before you start to drill additional holes in the instrument’s housing.

• A lot of boxes generate radio frequencies. If you hold them up to an AM or shortwave radio, push buttons, and turn knobs, some very strange sounds may come out of your radio.

• Do a search on the web for service manuals for your instrument, as you never know what you’ll find. For example, the cheap Casio M-10 keyboard used the same soundchip as much more expensive models. By simply grounding a few pins with switches, you could get all the additional voices of the expensive keyboards!