Photography by Jay Shuster

Chiptunes synthesizer and MIDI controller

The Pianocade is a synthesizer designed to sound, look, and feel like vintage arcade games. It's easy for people who want to dive right in, powerful and feature-rich for people who want to tinker, and fun to play for everyone.

The Pianocade is SOLD OUT. There are currently no plans for a second production run. Read this for more information.


With synthesis hardware based off of classic gaming systems and a 128-note range, the Pianocade lets you perform the retro sounds you want, live!

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With traditional 5-pin MIDI and USB MIDI, you can use the Pianocade to control other instruments, or use external sequencers and controllers to play the Pianocade.

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Program the the sounds, customize the controls, decorate the case, hack the electronics. Make your Pianocade your Pianocade!

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Open source

All of the Pianocade hardware, firmware, and software is open source and designed for easy hackability. If you're really ambitious, build your own!

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Share your settings, sound patches, hacks, and music with a community of Pianocaders

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Read all the latest Pianocade news and updates

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Technical information and dimensions

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Answers to frequently asked questions

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Questions? Comments? Press inquiries? Follow @Pianocade on Twitter or email us at


Why there won't be more Pianocades any time soon

While I'd love to make more Pianocades, between my family and my full-time job it isn't feasible to run a manufacturing business on the side. (If you're interested, you can read about some of the issues I had in the initial run in this blog post.) Trust me, I've tried to figure out a way to make a second run work, but I can't escape the fact that there aren't enough hours in the day for me to do it properly.

I love making things, and I love having people enjoy the things that I make. One day I hope (and expect!) that circumstances will change and I will be able to dedicate enough time to do another manufacturing run, whether of a Pianocade, a Pianocade 2 (Super Pianocade, maybe?), something else entirely, or all of the above. Until then, if you're interested in what I'm doing you can follow one (or all!) of these Twitter accounts:

  • @Pianocade, for Pianocade-specifc stuff.
  • @PortmanteauDev, for all products I might work on (including the Pianocade).
  • @JGuberman, my personal account, for whatever I might be up to.

You could also read/follow my project blog, Up, not north, where I write about all of my projects, whether intended for commercialization or not.

I also really do love to hear from you, so please don't hesitate to get in touch via any of the above Twitter accounts, by filling in the Pianocade survey, or by emailing

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The Pianocade's built-in synthesizer is based on the sound hardware of the Nintendo NES and Game Boy (specifically, one of the square wave channels: it's a monophonic square-wave synthesis engine with a 4-bit digital-to-analogue converter). Because it's monophonic, it does what many early games did in lieu of chords: it cycles through the notes of the chord rapidly (arpeggiation).

Using a simple programming language users can customize the Pianocade's 15 sound banks over USB or MIDI. As the sound plays users can modify the sound's volume, pitch, and duty cycle, plus add on-release effects and modify parameters based on MIDI input (such as note velocity or aftertouch). Arpeggio order and speed can also be set individually for each sound.

  • 128-note range — over 10 octaves!
  • Can mimic most sounds of the NES, Game Boy, and early arcade games
  • 15 sound banks, user-programmable over USB or MIDI
  • Chords are auto-arpeggiated, with per-sound programmable speed and order
  • Five arpeggiation orders: Asccending, descending, ping-pong, order played, and random
  • Transpose the keyboard to play in any key
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The Pianocade has traditional 5-pin MIDI ports (in, out, and through) as well as USB MIDI. Use the Pianocade to control any device with MIDI in (realistic instrument patches sound great with the arpeggiated chords!), or control the Pianocade via an external controller or sequencer. The Piancade's arpeggiator automatically syncs with incoming MIDI clock signals too! Reprogram the MIDI messages of the joystick, coin buttons, and player buttons for a totally custom MIDI controller.

  • MIDI In, Out, and Through, plus experimental USB MIDI in and out
  • Integrate MIDI velocity and aftertouch into sound banks for amazing effects
  • Synchronize the arpeggiator to external MIDI clock signals, with adjustable tempo
  • Add "extra" controls via pitch and CC messages
  • Reprogram the MIDI message sent by each control
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The Pianocade's synthesizer is incredibly flexible. It's easy to create awesome sounds and to share them online. All of the button and joystick settings can also be changed to create your dream MIDI controller.


Because the Pianocade is completely open source. Want to modify the circuit board? Create custom firmware? Have at it! We've tried to make it easy by breaking out all of the microcontroller pins on the PCB. If that sort of thing interests you, then you can buy the electronics on their own, without the case or buttons. Share your mods with other Pianocade owners too!


The Pianocade case is a blank canvas waiting for your personal touch. We start you off with some awesome logo stickers, but feel free to go wild. Want to design your own button overlays or side art? We'll give you the templates. In the future we hope to offer some awesome "artist edition" inserts you can use too!

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Open Source

At Portmanteau Devices we believe strongly in the open source movement. As a result, all of our hardware, firmware, and software is completely open source. The most recent versions can be found on the Pianocade GitHub page. Anyone is free to hack a Pianocade or build one from scratch (although we've tried to price it so that it makes more sense to buy directly from us).

The circuit board is designed to facilitate hacking: all of the pins of the PCB are broken out and labelled for easy access. An electronics-only option is also available for people who are more interested in tinkering than in a ready-to-play product.

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The Pianocade exists thanks to Toronto's amazing communities: hackerspaces like Site 3, community groups like The Hand Eye Society, and interdisciplinary initiatives like TIFF Nexus. It was directly inspired by the chiptunes night at the 2011 Nuit Blanche.

In short, we believe in community, and we hope to form a great one around the Pianocade! The Pianocade is designed to be highly customizable, and we hope that Pianocade users will share their creations with each other. When the Pianocade ships there will be:

  • User forums to share tips, tricks, mods, and hacks
  • Sound library to share custom sounds
  • Art library for custom inserts and other case mods
  • Regular contests and challenges for the community (with prizes!)

The Pianocade beta testers couldn't wait to start creating content! Check out the button overlay created by Shaun Hatton (click to enlarge, and look for the musical Easter Egg):

Made in Canada

We make our best effort to give back to the community by using local suppliers whenever possible. To that end, the Pianocade enclosure manufacturing, circuit board assembly, final assembly, and testing are all done in the Toronto area. In this way we can be sure that working conditions are good, wages are fair, and shipments of parts around the world are reduced.

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Technical specifications


  • Powered by an Atmel AT90USB646
  • Monophonic square-wave synth with 4 bit digital-to-analogue converter
  • All microcontroller pins broken out on PCB

Inputs and outputs

  • MIDI In, Out, and Through
  • USB MIDI (experimental)
  • 5 watt internal speaker
  • 1/4" Amplified headphone out
  • 1/4" Line out
  • Power via DC adapter or USB (automatically selected)


  • Authentic arcade buttons and joystick
  • Beautiful custom enclosure in powder-coated aluminum, designed by Andrew Kilpatrick
  • By popular demand: strap mounts, so you can use it as a keytar!
  • Dimensions
    • One octave: 15.3" x 6.3" x 3.6" (38.8cm x 16cm x 9.1cm)
    • Two octave: 24.9" x 6.3" x 3.6" (63.2cm x 16cm x 9.1cm)
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Frequently asked questions

Don't see your question? Contact us at!

Will there be more Pianocades available at some point?

Probably not. Manufacturing the Pianocade was a learning experience (and if you'd like more information about that, please read this blog post), but I'm not sure that I could make it economically feasible to do again. There would need to be significant changes to the entire process, and I don't know if there's sufficient demand to make it worth the effort. If you'd like to convince me that the demand exists, please feel free to fill out this survey.

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Pianocade is a trademark of Portmanteau Devices, Incorporated. All content copyright 2012.