November 15, 2008

The E-Tambourine and E-Cowbell Mod

Last week I noticed a thread on the Rock Band forums about an electronic tambourine mod. There’s even a video:

This is awesome! No more tapping the mic; you can use an actual tambourine or cowbell to play those parts as the vocalist! It looks complicated, but it’s actually not too bad. I performed the mod this weekend and here’s what I used:

  • Spare Rock Band or Guitar Hero World Tour microphone(s)
  • a Tambourine or Cowbell
  • 1/4″ female mono jacks
  • 1/4″ male mono jacks
  • A few feet of mono microphone cable
  • Soldering iron
  • Hot glue gun

Most of what we need comes from the Microphone itself, which you can see when we disassemble it.


Cut the cable for the microphone before the small Analog to Digital converter box and USB connector. Don’t throw the A/D converter and USB part away, we’ll use it later to test stuff! Once you cut the cable, toss everything except the the analog microphone part and the long, long wire connected to it. Just slide the casing down the cut cable to remove it.

Strip the end of the wire from the mic and you’ll find an outer core of loose tiny copper wires, covering an inner sheathed core. The inner wire goes to white and the outer wire goes to black.

We want to attach those wires to 1/4″ jacks. Make that inner wire (I think it’s the signal wire) connect to the mono signal input, and the outer wire to the bottom of the connector (I think this is the ground). Here’s a closeup of the male 1/4″ mono connector I soldered up. It’s the same thing for the female connector.


I wired up both male and female 1/4″ connectors then tested them by quickly soldering them back to the A/D converter. With the male and female coupled (insert joke here), the “naked” mic still worked in the Windows sound recorder app as a mic, so I knew I hadn’t made any mistakes … yet!

Next, you’ll want to take another (intact) microphone and break open the D/A converter box. I used a little side pressure from a set of pliers to snap it, then pried it the rest of the way open with a small flathead screwdriver. Look for the place where the white and black wires connect from the mic input, and solder in your female 1/4″ connectors there.


Remember that when you plug this guy in, he shows up in your OS as a standard generic microphone. You can test to make sure it’s still recording on whatever computers you have around — no need to boot up the game. The analog microphone provides input via the black (loose copper wires) and white (inner sheathed copper wires) wires shown above.

Conceptually all we are doing is this: multiple mono microphones inputs going to the same D/A converter. They just piggyback right on top of the solder points and work fine together at the same time. We’re using the 1/4″ jacks so we can connect and disconnect additional mics (cowbell, tambourine, etc) at will.

What you’ll end up with is an A/D box with multiple 1/4″ female jacks connecting to it, alongside with the original microphone. This picture is from Doc_SoCal, but mine is similar — I have two inputs instead of one.


Next, hot glue the “head” of the microphone we disassembled to an appropriate place on the cowbell or tambourine. For the tamb, the best place is the center, as it’s where you usually hit naturally.


At this point everything was working for me, so I bought a drum “accessory” mounting clip from Guitar Center and clamped it to the Mic. My tambourine came with a harness that fits on standard drum mounts, as pictured.


I do have another 1/4″ female jack already wired up and tested for the cowbell, but I need to buy another salvage microphone first. Even with just the tambourine, the mod is as awesome as Doc_SoCal promised in his thread. Note that you still do have to “hit” the tambourine to get it to activate, but it activates quite reliably for us with this config. No more tapping the mic, just grab the e-Tambourine and smack it against your leg or hand!

Maybe it’s a little silly to have electric tambourines and electric cowbells for Rock Band, but to me, it’s like paying Guitar Hero with a controller versus playing it with plastic guitars — it’s way more rock to use an actual Tambourine or Cowbell than it is to tap the mic!

One tip– the tambourine is VERY sensitive to directional positioning of the mic. You need to position it so the “head” of the mic is facing the area you normally hit on the tambourine.

I originally had it facing “up” (towards handle in pic) and that didn’t work very well, you had to hit it quite hard to get it to register 100% of the time.

Since I switched the mic head to face “out” towards the black rubber hit edge, it works super easy now, you just brush it against your hand or leg and it registers.

The mic positioning doesn’t seem to matter so much for the cowbell; I drilled a hole in the bottom and ran the cable through, so the mic is mounted on the bottom of the cowbell facing up. Works perfectly, you barely have to even tap it for it to register every time.

Jeff Atwood
November 17, 2008 at 10:42 pm

See my followup to this post, where I complete the Ultimate Vocalist Battlestation:

Jeff Atwood
November 21, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Awesome :)

Andrew Rudson
December 15, 2008 at 6:19 pm

Now the question. If you mount it and a mic to a set of drums, can you play drums and sing at the same time –and– get the tamb/cb parts while still playing the drums! lol

Joe Limbil
December 18, 2008 at 12:13 pm

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