Homebrew banjo game-controller by RIT students

One of my highlights from the Game Developers' Conference for me was the "Oh No Banjo" exhibit, showing off student work from the Rochester Institute of Technology's "Alternative Controllers Seminar." The students gutted a guitar game-controller and built a very credible banjo using its buttons and electronics, then wrote custom software and musical arrangements for it (apparently the Scruggs people rightsholders wouldn't let them use "Duelling Banjos," even for a noncommercial, student project). I played it for a while and found it very fun -- I totally rocked the banjo for MC Chris's "Fett's Vette."

Final Reports and Pictures from the Alternative Controllers Seminar

My photos


  1. Hope I’m not ruining the joke, but being a current RIT student I think it sheds a little light on the story to let everyone know that our current president collects rare banjos, and it’s something of a joke on campus.

    He also built himself an electric bike. Destler is the man.

  2. Actually, Flatt and Scruggs don’t really have anything to do with “Dueling Banjos”– it was made famous by Eric Weissberg in the soundtrack to Deliverance, and it was based on “Fueding Banjos” by Don Reno and Arthur Smith (who in turn took it from the old time standard “(Little) Darlin Pal Of Mine”, which is also the basis for “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. I believe Flatt & Scruggs did perform “Little Darlin Pal Of Mine”, but not with the “dueling” part).

    Maybe you’re thinking of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, other famous banjo tune (made famous on the soundtrack to “Bonnie and Clyde.”)

  3. @1 come to think of it, dueling banjos is probably a pretty valuable commodity. But do artists pay or get paid to be included on something like guitar hero?

  4. Will someone please just invent “Ukulele Hero” already so we have a game truly worthy of BoingBoing?

  5. While I’m very excited to see this controller getting some attention (because really, it’s a banjo! What’s not to love?). I just want to take a moment to say that projects like this are being done all over the country/world and not just on a college level.

    I actually teach engineering and technology at a high school in MA and this is the second year I’ve done a build-your-own-electronic-instrument project with my product design classes.

    While the project involves a lot of steps, the kids have to design and build their instruments (some kids use found objects, others create their instruments in the shop or on our CNC mill), they have to wire the sensors that they need to trigger their instruments (I provide an array of parts, everything from digital switches salvaged from old keyboards, to light sensors, bend sensors, rotary and slide potentiometers and velostat for pressure sensors) and create a program to run their instruments (in a simple graphical programing language).

    To simplify the process we use an off the shelf analog to digital converter box that they can plug their completed sensors into and when they’re done they have a playable instrument. It’s a great way to demystify the many electronic toys and gadgets in their lives.

    A guitar – it was made on the CNC mill from a CAD file that a student designed and it utilizes light sensors to control the note and a digital switch for strumming.

    a beat box – created with pressure sensors and played by alternately slamming on the box and throwing it around.

    a light piano – made with light sensors and rotary potentiometers.

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