Like many people who started playing video games in the 1980s, when titles were still put on cartridges, I often had to deal with faulty connections when playing with my Nintendo Entertainment System. And while every video game shop would sell you a fancy cleaning kit with solvents and swabs for 15 bucks and Nintendo would advise against doing so, any kid knew the best way to clean out dusty connection ports was to simply blow into the cartridge.
Recently, I heard the sobering theory that blowing into the cartridge didn’t really accomplish anything, and that simply reinserting it into the system is what dislodged the connection-blocking dirt. But with so many hours of my youth spent forcing air into 8-bit game packs, I can’t bring myself to accept that it was all meaningless. Surely, there must be something that can be accomplished by caressing Nintendo classics with a puff of breath?
It turns out there is, as with a little bit of engineering you can turn a classic game cartridge into a harmonica, complete with old school video game sounds.
There are a couple of noticeable differences between cartridges used for Nintendo’s Japanese 8-bit Famicom system and the NES, as the system was known overseas. Whereas NES game packs were always grey (with the exception of those sweet golden Zelda titles), the Famicom’s games came cased in a variety of colors. The Japanese cartridges were also about half the length of their international cousins, making them roughly the size of a harmonica.
Inspired by the similarity, the tinkerers at Japanese website Ugoita decided to crack open an old Famicom cartridge and make the modifications necessary to turn one into a musical instrument.
The connector pins are replaced with a series of microphones, corresponding to the notes of a single scale.
▼ “Do re me fa so la ti do”
Best of all, since the 8-Bit Harmonica utilizes the cartridge’s existing sound chip, it produces notes exactly like those from the greatest hits of Nintendo’s golden era!
As the video shows, if you can get a group of fellow musicians together, you can make a spot-on recreation of Famicom background music.
▼ Making an 8-Bit Harmonica does require dismantling an actual cartridge, however, so we recommend using less fun titles like Popeye, as shown here, rather than trashing copies of Super Mario Bros.
Ugoita hasn’t announced any plans to offer the kit to make these instruments available to the public, but if they do, they’ve got our money.