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The Strobe Tuners — Mini-Series with Colin Foulke

This is Colin's amazing collection of strobe tuners dating back to the 1930s all the way up to now with Linotune. For handpan nerds only.


Classically trained on the cello, Colin slowly grew weary of jumping through the hoops of institutionalized western music... but then he discovered the handpan and embarked on a journey that would dramatically change his everyday life.


In part 2, Colin walks us through his discovery and development of hydroforming, a revolutionary process to shape handpan shells. He also re-visits the roots or the art form and reconnects with his first instrument, the cello.



Mini-Series Transcript:


Sylvain: How many tuners do you have?


Colin: I have too many tuners... No. I have been thrown down this path of exploring, um, everything that's pre-Linotune. I'd never worked with strobe tuners. They're a much different beast. And so I was encouraged to explore that. And, and along with, uh, another maker, we have kind of gone into exploring these together. And so what I have is just a series of tuners. Now, it might look a little bit obsessive, which I've been also accused of being. Maybe we'll start with the newest and go to the olds. Of course we have Linotune, which is a digital strobe tuner, which reads these frequencies in this note. Um, the next one down here, this is a Peterson strobe center, 5,000, which was kind of the industry standard, pre-Linotune um, so what is displaying is every note in the chromatic around here. So this one is ran all by individual motors. So there's advantage to just one brain per motor spinning at this certain RPM. This one is different in that it is all geared together. So there's this really intense internal gearbox. So you can imagine that if this one has to rotate at say 55 RPMs and this one has to rotate at like 56.8 RPMs, the gear linkages between those has to be really precise. Um, from there we step down to uh, this one which I have fully hacked, um, to make it my own. One, I'm just putting my silly logo on there, but um, it also displays things a little bit differently in that the wheel that's in there is a wheel that I have made based on somebody else's design. So it's kind of like an analog version of Linotune, um, the amount of times I electrocuted myself in making that happen. Also, I upgraded it with the green LEDs, which have really high lumen ratings. So it's really, really bright. Um, and then if we step down to this one behind me, um, this is one, this is like the original version of the strobe tuner. Uh, the concept is still the same. Um, so the concept of a strobe tuner I have found really fascinating in that it's very simple. So what is happening is this wheel is spinning at the same speed and it has different bars that go up in multiples of two, just like octaves do, they're just doubling. And what does is it takes, it listen for an incoming frequency and then behind the wheel there are lights that it strokes at the incoming frequency. So it's taking advantage of that strobe effect. So if the frequency that's incoming and is strobing is strobing faster than the relative speed of the wheel, it makes it appear that it's going sharp or flat. So it appears that the wheel stops, but the wheel in fact never changes its speed. It's the strobe effect that causes them to look like a slowing down or essentially coming to a complete stop. So, um, the best I can take this one is it's probably from somewhere in the 1930s in terms of production. It's number 238 ever made. Um, I bought four of these from a local person who I found I was buying another tool from them. We got to talking and he's like "Oh, you might be interested in these strobe tuners that I have". And it turned out that he had a set of four of these, and from the four, I've been able to make two working ones. So I had to adopt parts and replace stuff. So, and this one again, it's had upgraded wheel and, um, uh, upgraded, uh, LEDs as well. Um, they all have strengths and weaknesses. They've all been really interesting to work with. Um, I don't know if I have a favorite yet. I probably won't keep them all, but I felt like it was an important chapter of education for me to be like, "You're right, I have never tuned with a strobe tuner so I should probably do that". So, um, that's kind of the series. Yeah. So from kind of 1930s all the way up to kind of the current standard, which is Linotune.

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