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When I was a kid, my grandmother had a charming wind up music box that plucked the tune “Edelweiss” when you opened the lid. I was so fascinated by the mechanics inside the little box that I had spent a lot of time watching the movement turn.

I decided I wanted to do a modern-day maker’s riff on the old mechanical music box. I asked around for some advice on how to do it and got a lot of great suggestions such as using an Arduino Wave Shield, an MP3 trigger board, or my favorite idea, one of those electronic musical greeting cards. But I happened upon a $6 knockoff MP3 player that started playing songs when you flipped a switch on the side. When I opened it up, I was delighted to see that I could easily stop and start the music by opening and closing the circuit between the battery and the MP3 player’s circuit board.

Using a snap action switch inside a cigar box, I was able to control the music by opening and closing the lid, just like with a mechanical music box. The main difference being that my MP3 player would start the song over again after closing and reopening the box, which didn’t bother me. I found a pair of cheap speakers that had a headphone jack so that I could easily plug them into the MP3 player.

MP3 Music Box

I wanted to be able to access the MP3 player as a data drive and charge it up without awkwardly plugging a cable into the MP3 player directly, so I added a panel mount female USB B jack to the back of the box and plugged it into the MP3 player inside the box. Loading songs into the music box becomes a cinch when you just plug the USB cable from your computer into the back of the box and then drag the files to the drive.

The MP3 Music Box makes a great, customized gift for anyone. You can see in the video that I turned mine into a Wii Remote box and added 8-bit video game style music to it. You could add romantic music if you make the box for your partner for Valentines Day, or lullabies if you make it for a child’s nightstand. Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that this whimsical electronic music box will surprise and delight the recipient.

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Matt Richardson

Matt Richardson is a San Francisco-based creative technologist and Contributing Editor at MAKE. He’s the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi and the author of Getting Started with BeagleBone.

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