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Sound effects for props
In many of my laser pistols and rifles, I used a small keychain sound effects toy to generate the noise. Generic SoundFX keychains have a variety of machine gun sounds, explosions, whistles and "space invaders"  type sounds. I found that pushing more than one button at a time allowed you to combine some of the sounds. The machine gun sound plus the whistle sound gives a fast warble. This was used in more than one of my lasers and in my all-brass alien blaster.

Keychain sound effects toys

Sound effect keychains - 8 different sounds in one handy package. The circuit board on the right is from a toy lightsaber.

In my laser rifle, I used one of the Star Trek - Next Generation sound effects keychains and changed the exposed timing resistor to speed up the playback. The sound I selected to be triggered with the laser is the sound of the Enterprise going to warp speed. When this is sped up, the resulting sound is a rising pitch whistle ending in a thump. As an added bonus, I found that when power is applied to all of the circuitry, the sound chip activated the Transporter sound. This sound, when sped up, sounds like the power generator is quick-charging or something similar.

In some of my earliest Blasters, I used the sound playback circuit from a recordable Hallmark card. At the time these ran about $8, and could record up to 10 seconds of sound. I would record the desired sound from video, sound effects CDs, or download suitable sounds from BBS or Internet sites, etc. Once on the computer, I would connect the speaker output through a microphone mixer and feed the sound directly into the circuit. Once recorded, the circuit could be wired so that the trigger would start the sound playback. I used this technique in my Thermal Detonators for my Dark Trooper costume. Instead of a trigger, I created a short-duration timing circuit that tripped a small relay every 8 seconds. The relay started the Thermal Detonator sound effects that I recorded from the StarWars video. (I only got about 2 seconds of clean sound, and had to trim and loop this to extend the duration to the 8 seconds recorded.) In the most elaborate version of the Detonator, I made one that after 8 seconds, tripped a strobe instead of repeating the sound playback.

Unfortunately, Hallmark no longer seems to be making these cards, so I had to look elsewhere for something similar. What I found was the "Yak-Bak". These sold for about $5 at K-Mart and have about the same features of the cards. What I found when trying to use one of these in my latest costume is that they do not store the sound unless power is always being applied. Even then, they seemed to have the problem of forgetting the recorded sound after some unknown period of time. (The hallmark cards may have this same issue, but it's hard to tell since the circuit also appears to degrade after 4-5 years.)

A Yak-Bak toy and Hallmark recordable card

A YakBak sound recorder on an exposed Hallmark recordable card.

What turns out to be an even simpler solution, is to look for toys - the smaller, the better. For Blasters, a number of tiny keychain blaster toys hit the market shortly after the release of the new Phantom Menace Star Wars film. The price seems to be about 4-5 dollars each, depending where you look. These tiny guns have an electronic blaster sound, and flash a small LED at the same time. Several different styles of gun are available, each with a unique sound. When I tore this open, I found that it was the same circuit board in each. There are abbreviations to indicate one of three possible trigger switch connections. Each connection causes a different sound.

For my light sabers, I use the sound effects circuit from a Hasbro toy lightsaber. This circuit has connections for the power up/down switch, a speaker, and connections for a light bulb. It is a simple matter to use the light bulb connections to power LEDs or other lighting. Any momentary contact switch can be used to replace the power up/down switch, and speakers come in lots of different sizes. For my neon light sabers, the light bulb connections are wired to a small 5-volt relay that switches power on and off to the 12-volt power supply. A 5-volt voltage regulator drops the same 12-volt supply to a reasonable level that the circuit can handle.

A small Star WarsŪ Episode 1 toy blaster

A small toy blaster that was available shortly after the release of the Star Wars Phantom Menace movie.


Mini blaster guts

The tiny circuit board has three different sound effects. Only one connects to the trigger switch. The same circuit drives a small LED and a tiny speaker. This can easily be used in about any size blaster you want, and the LED connections can be wired to a small LED laser circuit, or another LED.


Hasbro brand toy Lightsabers

The toy lightsabers are the source of the sound effects circuit used in all of my light sabers. Using the bulb connections to power a 5v relay allows me to switch 12v power on and off to a neon power supply. The small black cylinder on the sound circuit is a shock-sensitive switch that generates the blade-strike sound.

Thermal Detonator prop

My thermal detonator prop uses a Hallmark sound chip to play back a recording from the Star Wars movie.

Sound effects for costumes
Since most masquerades do not offer microphones for the presentation, almost all sounds should be recorded on a tape or CD. Until now, none of my costumes has had anything special added for sound effects, other than those I used in the various weapons (that narrows it down to the Dark Trooper costume.) This year, I thought I would add a subtle sound effect for use during the pre-judging or out with the convention fans after the masquerade. Unless you plan to carry an amplifier and a large speaker system in you costume, most people will never hear anything.

One simple enhancement that I quickly worked out with adding sound effects to weapons, is: enclose the speaker and add a sounding tube or chamber to focus the sound directionally. In my 2001 costume, I used a section of cardboard packing tube, and mounted a 3" speaker in one end. First, I tracked down several animal growl sound files, finally selecting an alligator growl. This was cleaned up and then extended to run for about 4 seconds of play time. Since Hallmark cards don't seem to exist, I used one of the YakBak circuits. After mounting the tube and circuit in the costume, I went back to check the effect - it wasn't there. Thinking I might have managed to trip the recording feature, I recorded it again. Then I tested the sound at every step of the way. So far, everything seemed to work. About a week later, I was testing it, and again - no sound. What I discovered was that the YakBak requires power applied to the circuit constantly, or it will lose the recording (I don't ever recall this problem with the Hallmark cards, but I might have just been lucky.) After loosing the sound for yet another time, I started to look for other solutions. With my Blasters and other weapons, I have begun to use the sound circuits from toys with similar themes, so that's where I started. What I finally selected was a sound-enhanced alligator toy. (After ripping its guts out, the stuffed animal went in our charity donation box - no batteries required now.)

The sound box was then rewired to my existing speaker and a remote push button in the costume.

A stuffed alligator toy with motion and sound

This little fella had a decent sound chip, and an added bonus - a gear motor driven chomping mouth. (Not any more.)

Sound boxes removed from stuffed animal toys

Sound boxes from stuffed animals. The black one came from the Gator toy, the others are from Dankin dinosaurs.