Why Nintendo Labo’s cardboard piano could be an amazing thing for MI manufacturing

In amongst the mass of musical instrument announcements in the lead up to this year’s NAMM Show on January 25th comes a surprise unveiling that’s catching the eye of the industry.

Although not technically a NAMM announcement, Nintendo has been very clever to unveil the new Labo expansion for its Switch videogame console around this time, as it heavily features, amongst many other creations, a cardboard keyboard.

Nintendo Labo comprises of different kits, or “Toy-Cons”, featuring interactive “build-and-play” experiences. They come as flat-pack cardboard DIY kits that can be constructed without the use of glue or tape. Once the Toy-Cons have been put together – to create things like a fishing rod, a motorbike and a piano – the Switch’s controllers and mobile screen can interact with the creations to bring them to life.

Looking specifically at the Toy-Con piano, the controllers fit into each side of the instrument, with the screen sitting on top. This combo means the controllers’ infra-red camera can detect which key is being pressed on your cardboard creation. It then sends that info to the screen, which generates the correct note.

What’s more, the Toy-Con piano has a range of knobs that can be used to modify the sound, giving the piano a bit more oomph for those looking to use it more as a synth.

But how much of an impact could a Switch expansion pack really make to the industry and to young musicians or those exploring musical gadgets for the first time?

Well, Polygon reported in December 2017 that Nintendo has sold 10 million Switch consoles worldwide in a year.

While we can safely say not every one of those players will go on to even buy the Labo kit, let alone develop a passion for MI manufacturing, there is a huge opportunity there to educate kids on how things like pianos and synth are constructed. Most importantly, it is being presented in a fun and creative way, and that’s something that could really be the starting point for the next generation of MI hardware and software makers.

Learning how electronics and MI gear works can be a daunting thing for those with no previous experience. In recent years we have seen a number of start-ups and companies breaking bits of gear down into a more accessible DIY kit for kids and adults.

The popularity of the Raspberry Pi mini computer has alone spawned an abundance of build-your-own-devices, including a lot of synths and music-related gadgets. It’s infiltrated schools around the globe to help teachers better convey the intricacies of how the electronic devices around us work.

We’ve also seen the fantastic Tech Will Save Us launch a number of easy-assemble kits for making synths and speakers. I’ve got a few myself and they are incredibly fun to build and have managed to find the right balance between being easy for kids to use, but also including extra building options for more competent creators.

More recently, MI Focus reported that new guitar gear mag Distortion Ltd has created a DIY Marshall-style distortion pedal kit that its readers can buy and build – proof that these types of DIY products are also of interest to adults and musicians who want to better understand their equipment.

It seems MI Focus isn’t the only ones really excited about Nintendo’s move. Fact Mag called it more exciting than any other new synth announced so far. And Music Radar said they’d “love to have a play with it”.

And it’s not just the media that’s jumping on board. Korg recently announced that its Korg Gadget production software will be coming to the Switch console in Spring 2018.

While we don’t know if the Korg Gadget will be compatible with the Labo piano yet, Nintendo could quite easily expand the cardboard instrument’s capabilities through this kind of software. And we wouldn’t be surprised to see other music software makers wanting to get involved in the future.

Check out the Nintendo Labo DIY creation kit in action in the video below:

The Nintendo Labo Variety Kit, which features the piano, will be on sale in the UK from April 27th 2018 and priced at £59.99.


About Laura Barnes 427 Articles
Founder/Publisher of UK musical instrument industry publication MI Focus.