The ScrubBoard: A Cassette-Based Take On Turntablism

Turntablism created a culture and musical movement, however, entrepreneur Jeremy Bell thinks there is more work to be done to perfect turntablism. The ScrubBoard is the first (that we know of!) cassette tape-based controller that is meant to be played in the same way a DJ uses two turntables and a mixer. Keep reading for more about how the ScrubBoard works, what a DJ can expect out of it, and the man behind the project.

What is it?: The ScrubBoard is a cassette tape-based alternative to the turntable, providing turntablists with a more versatile and intuitive way to scratch and mix songs. Jeremy Bell, the creator of ScrubBoard, points out that the turntable is a device that wasn’t made with the intent of being played. It was meant to just play the music. His theory is that by tweaking the design, a device could be created that would open flood gates to new possibilities in the art of turntablism.

How does the ScrubBoard improve turntablism?: The ScrubBoard will be a device that features a moveable tape head which can be “played” using a sliding Seesaw Killswitch that the user slides up and down the moving tape. The switch contains a tape head that makes contact with the moving strip which produces the sound from the tape. It can manipulated with only one hand that allows for the scratching of the audio and the crossfader, simultaneously. Watch the video above to gain a better understanding of how the device works.

Who’s behind the ScrubBoard?: Jeremy Bell is a freelance audio engineer based out of San Francisco. After struggling with DJing using a turntable he decided to turn to his workshop. He developed the ScrubBoard Alpha and a began to innovate the standards of turntablism. We asked him a few questions about the project:

What is your background music/audio? 

I come from a very musical family, and I started taking piano lessons at around six years old, and branched out to the guitar and bass in my early teens […] but I’m much more interested in composing than performing.  I have a degree in music composition from SF State, and had the opportunity to compose for several prestigious ensembles while I was there.

My interest in audio started almost as early.  My dad was a TV producer and an award-winning documentarian […] I remember him showing me how to use an audio tape splicer, and explaining different types of Dolby noise reduction, and it really made an impression on me.

What inspired the creation of the ScrubBoard?
Laurie Anderson did this performance where she glued a strip of audiotape to a violin bow and had an audio tape head on her violin, so it would generate audio when she played it. […] I think roots of the ScrubBoard go way back to my early childhood when I would spend hours playing with my tape recorders.
I loved to try to force the tape player to do things it wasn’t supposed to do, like I’d keep jamming my thumb down on the play button while I was recording to make it sound “wobbly,” or I’d press the pause button halfway down to alter the tape speed. I ended up breaking so many cassette players and cassettes themselves, and then I’d take them apart and experiment even more.
What are your hopes for the Kickstarter?
This is my first Kickstarter campaign and it has been a very learning experience.  If I make my funding goal, the money will be used to engineer and build a fully-functional model, which will be used to demonstrate the scrubboard to companies, and hopefully find someone who can mass produce it.
I wish I could have promised to manufacture fully-functional ScrubBoards to the higher-paying backers, but there were just to many variables, since the fully-functional “ScrubBoard Beta” hasn’t been fully engineered yet. At the moment, it’s actually looking like the ScrubBoard probably won’t meet its goal in time, probably because of my inability to offer more enticing backer rewards. And if it doesn’t meet its goal, I’m really okay with that.  My main goal with this campaign was to get the idea out there and get people talking about it, and by that measure I think it’s been a big success. Whether or not I meet my fundraising goal, some version of the “ScrubBoard Beta” will get made.
How would the cassette tapes be made to be used in the ScrubBoard?
With my handmade “ScrubBoard Alpha,” I put together a series of samples in ProTools, then send the ProTools output to a tape deck and I record to a cassette tape. Then I turn the tape over and record another series of samples that’s the same duration onto side B. That puts me right back to the beginning of the audio on side A.
Then I cut the tape right at that point, and spool it out of the cassette and glue it on to the little elevated platforms I built on the board.  Then I splice the tape in the cassette back together, so that the cassette is still usable in a tape deck.  For the ScrubBoard Beta, I’m hoping to create some kind of tape cart that uses 1/4 inch reel to reel tape, for a higher fidelity sound.
The ScrubBoard is a new take on turntablism that uses audio cassette tapes and a movable tape head.
“An audiotape-based alternative to the turntable, providing turntablists with a more versatile and intuitive way to scratch.” – Jeremy Bell

The ScrubBoard is definitely a one of a kind – and while some may argue the for the complexity of learning how to scratch with turntables, this is still great work. Jeremy is innovating technology to open up the possibilities of DJing and take the art to a whole new level.

While cassette tapes are rare nowadays, his design allows for future products to come out based the schematic. Imagine, a device that plays the same way but as a MIDI controller? Or maybe even a codec to turn the ScrubBoard into a device much like Serato vinyl? The ScrubBoard is an interesting product that may create a whole new way for DJs to mix music.

Do you think the ScrubBoard could be useful, or is it just an imaginative device? Let us know below in the comments!

Learn more about the ScrubBoard Kickstarter campaign and pledge to support the project.

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  • stk

    How about adding a writting head, so this can be used as some sort of tape delay with scratching ?

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  • vitamindevo

    This is so sick!, but honestly I think he should concept it out a bit more before bringing it to a product design firm. He says, “if” & “maybe” a bit to much in the video… concrete idea’s lead to concrete solutions.

  • LuiFerna1337

    I think this idea is pretty ill… I myself can’t scratch, and I always love ideas that change the way music is produced. I’m not a big fan of certain artists who can push a freaking button and let the music play in the background while they dive off the stage for 2 freaking minutes, because most likely their music is pre-recorded and not live, which defeats the purpose of a concert.

    This idea makes scratching easier for people like me, and in my opinion, it’s cool as hell that it’s using a different mediam than the typical record, while at the same time igniting a state of nostalgia for some of us who like to travel back to the 90s ^_^

    Good idea, I can’t wait to buy it!!!

  • PCunha

    Really cool article 😉

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  • DJ Dlux

    Ha, I like the idea but nobody else remembers this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Xuy0GAsnNQ

  • This is really cool…Jeremy totally gives off that Musician/Engineer tinker vibe (sup Ean)…and it’s awesome to see this sort of fact based article here. Clearly it’s not about Cassettes, but interesting choice to be inspired by…off to the Kickstarter page!

  • Gemini Boi

    Very cool idea but nothing I would be interested in. Do they even sell cassette tapes anymore?

  • Rhapsody

    Maybe I’m the only one who thinks this is culturally significant to the DJ community?

    Sure, cassette is arguably niche in this day and age, but what about people like Kyle Hall who use it for their art?

    http://www.djtechtools.com/2013/08/30/behind-the-mix-kyle-halls-mix-for-resident-advisors-podcast-2/

    It’s sort of like the phrase “Build it and they will come” – this could be a niche product for the peeps that still have collections of cassettes, or spur more recorded sets like Kyle’s and then reused in later, live sets for scratching or live recording then immediate playback (think using ScruBoard sort of like a RMX in use).

    And even if it doesn’t catch on, the technology, concepts, and possibilities have already been put out there. Who knows how technology, and as a result culture, will be affected by completion of this product?

    Worse that happens is a guy who saw his dream play out to the end. Why hate on that? 🙂

  • Mad Zach

    insane!!! I love cassettes, wanted to do this for years

  • efrazable

    timecode tape? 🙂

    • taper

      Best suggestion yet
      While this idea is fun, it will surely not make money
      At present, it seems focused on incorporating old ideas… But why not learn from new advances?
      Rather than flimsy, impractical tape and tape heads, how about using digital methods?
      Say very high def to avoid sounding digital?
      If it has to be tape then timecoded makes massive sense

      • randomfantard

        How about something the size of the Midi Fighter, with a platter the size of a hard drive’s internal platter, make it have midi code, just something basic like what any generic static platter on a usb controller like the Traktor S4 does, but give it a motor and a “stop” and a “play” and a “tempo” and “fader” and maybe 4 (or 8) “cue” buttons. Surely it can’t take much motor torque to move something as thin and of small diameter as a hard drive platter. It could be created ~easily~ but DJTT probably won’t be the ones to do it, since they don’t really seem to give a damn, but yet will make a block with a single button, because that’s really innovative.

  • bigbeatzz

    This would be sick on a keytar…also, 1981 called, they want their tech back. Wouldn’t this better serve as a digital controller? In theory, if designed properly it could replace touchstrips on DJ gear. I could also see this as something you place on a iPad, this way you can see the waveforms you are scratching. Hey inventor dude, call DJ TechTools, let them help you out. It’s a very cool idea, but you need to bring it up to todays standards.

    • Dean Zulueta

      When I heard about this project I thought the same thing. After talking to Jeremy, I could see he is very passionate about the ScrubBoard and eagerly wants to see a prototype completed. So I got give the guy props for being so ambitious and I totally respect that.

      As for the principles and design of it though, I was thinking along the same lines you were as to bringing the concepts into a controller. Interesting possibilities!

    • jay-z

      yeah, was thinking of offering some input, too. The way I saw it, all you really have to do, is replace the tape with waveforms. That idea for the rocker switch is cool though. I’m sure purists will slam this, but, I think it’s cool that he put in the time and effort to try this out. I can only imagine how the crowd will respond if they see some guy moving one hand, cutting it up!

  • chris

    scraching is like drumming
    (drumming is not bad, it is archaic)

  • philopard

    awesome piece of gear! let’s visit kickstarter 😛

  • Oohh…I could see a Serato or NI taking this idea and making it reality quickly, but not with tape loops, but loops in their respective software.

    • Actually, this could be possible to do with some controller reprogramming magic, could it? Hmm….

      • Dean Zulueta

        That is what I was thinking too. When I first saw this concept I thought of the Traktor iPad app but as a physical controller. Touch screens with the running waveform may be a little to much but touch strips with LED indicators showing where the current bar is may be a possibility.

        This device is cool in itself but there is practicality in the design being used for a controller.

  • FISH

    Cool and innovative idea, but with all that time ant effort spent you could be a Grand Master DMC champion by now…

  • mikefunk

    WHAT YEAR IS IT!?

    • Educate yourself. Most of your bank records, facebook data, email, and any other binary crap that you left for someone to store is on tape backups.

      • mikefunk

        Go f.. yourself. Most of your comment is pointless and you know exactly what I meant. Nobody cares about tape recorders now or even CD’s. Stop being a patronizing prick. And shut up if you can’t take a joke.

        • Hey Mike and Tomislav.

          I wonder if it would be possible to disagree with each other in a less negative way. We try to set a pretty positive tone on Dj TechTools to make everyone feel welcome.

          Thank you!

          • mikefunk

            Sorry Ean. I just have allergy to stiff “know it all” sudo-gurus on the Internet. My bad.

          • Guest

            Didn’t you just proclaim that “nobody cares about tape recorders now or even CD’s”? Your allergies must bother you 24/7.

          • mikefunk

            Do you? Please tell me when last time you used tape? I make it easier for you. Please tell me when last time you used CD?

          • randomfantard

            I agree with you that tape and CD really are dinosaurs in a world where you have usb controllers and mp3 files on your computer. Finding a tape or CD of something is difficult, finding a Youtube video of it and then using a downloader website to snatch an mp3 copy of it, is not.

          • randomfantard

            Someone should just take Numark’s V7, shrink that down to something about the same size as the Midi Fighter is, and give it an actual motor instead of just a dead platter like what’s on a Native Instruments Traktor S4 deck. That by itself would be better than the “Scrub Board.”

            http://forum.djtechtools.com/showthread.php?t=80705

            But of course, no one listens to anything ~I~ say, lol…

      • bigbeatzz

        I get what you are saying about how data is stored on tape backups. I just think that it is not the direction of a Consumer/Prosumer DJ product. It would seem like a step back to use tape in a device like this. The theory of it is cool, it just needs to modern refinement. Also the op was making a joke, I thought it was funny. This made me think of Christopher Llyod in his Delorean.

  • luke

    I’ve always wondered why cassette tape turntables weren’t developed… they were an integral part of most DJs live setups… why not just add a jog wheel and pitch controls… But I guess they just started making CDJs too soon…

  • DJ L.

    Nifty for people who just want the scratching effect on stuff and don’t have the time nor skill to master such a fantastic art.

  • Mike

    Das is hot, yah?

    • Oddie O’Phyle

      ja.