UGEARS weekend build–Make your own playable mechanical Celesta

UGEARS is the Ukrainian company that creates spectacularly engineered models, reflecting the history of science and technology in plywood gears and rods.  They also make steampunk and fantasy creations.  Last year I reviewed several STEM kits provided by UGEARS (check out my reviews here) as well as a magnificent mechanical winged dragon model (reviewed here and still flying).  This winter UGEARS added working, functional vehicles from the Harry Potter franchise (see my review of the Weasley flying car from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets here and the Knight Bus from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban here)–the model series was voted Warner Bros’ Discovery’s Product of the Year.

I’ve been playing musical instruments all my life, and I’ve been looking forward to trying two of UGEARS’ playable musical instruments for a while now.  They include a working Hurdy Gurdy and a fully mechanical Celesta.

I dove into the Mechanical Celesta first.  It’s available here from UGEARS for less than $100.  It is stunning in its artistry–a model you create step by step engineered like early pianos played by Bach and Beethoven.  You need to see this one to believe.  It’s a bell-piano, a struck percussion “idiophone” instrument that is operated by a keyboard.  You can play this one in a rudimentary eight-note C to C major scale (no sharps or flats) with the keyboard or “program” it with wooden “ticks” and hand-crank it like a player piano.  The player belt plays any song in the basic major scale with 40 notes.

Let’s dig into this kit!

The compact box ships from Ukraine or your local model shop.  It includes six sturdy laser-cut plywood sheets, one piece of wax and one piece of sandpaper–both for friction reduction, eight wooden balls to strike the included eight metal tone bars (G, F, A, B, C, D, E, F, and octave G), rubber bands, rope to dampen the metal and wood, and the instruction booklet.

Once built, the kit is a solid playable model that can play limitless songs.  The UGEARS YouTube site includes the 40-note music for several songs, and it’s easy to transpose any song yourself.  This is the most complex kit yet, although it seems the easiest during construction.  It has the most repeat pieces and all need sanded and waxed, so get some music on in the background because there are a few hours of repetitive work ahead.  When completed my build resulted in a model with tight fitting parts.  It worked and played the first song I “programmed”–Beethoven’s 1824 “Ode to Joy.”  See the video below.  When I tried to reprogram a new song one of the wooden note “ticks” broke one of the playing arms, so I have a request in at UGEARS customer service for a replacement piece.  These usually arrive within a few weeks, but give time since the war obviously causes some delays.

You begin by building the housing for the player piano belt.  Sand and wax the walls and rails because the belt must operate perfectly.  This is the first time in about a dozen UGEARS kits where I used up the entire wax stick on the build.

Note that UGEARS includes spare parts in some cases.  The belt includes two extra rails.  Only use the 40 pictured or you will be scratching your head later wondering why the belt sags and sticks!

The instructions are primarily visual, using symbols instead of words.  For this kit assembly was straightforward.  The key arms include some incredibly clever and creative engineering design, overlapping and interlocking only one specific way that must match the instructions’ silhouettes perfectly.

Rubber bands (extras are included) allow the “player piano” feature to take over the keys from manual play mode.

Above I skipped ahead to check the smoothness of the belt because I knew something was off but couldn’t quite place it.  I later figured out it was because I’d incorporated two of the spare rails.  Note how the top of the belt sags.  It shouldn’t!

Next you build the keyboard!

It’s an elegant work of art.

Next you add the hammer bars and wooden striking balls, along with rope to support the arms.

I went back after the above photograph to re-align the striking arms, which should result in a straight line.

It’s a bit of a gut-check to finally connect the keyboard with the belt housing and hand crank.

You can really see the mathematics and elegant geometry of the design upside down.  This is definitely worthy of UGEARS STEM kit series.

Here is the final mechanical Celesta in full operation!

The base includes rubber bands cut down to become “feet” to avoid scratching the table.  It also includes a wooden box to house all the wooden player “ticks” when not in use.  Some of the UGEARS model kits run on springs, but I really prefer this hand crank approach.

This is one of the most beautiful models UGEARS has yet created.  I’m considering using some dark stains to really bring out the wood grain.  What is surprising is that it only took two nights to build, in probably 6-8 hours maximum total.

This Mechanical Celesta kit gets my highest rating–along with the previously reviewed STEM kits and the Windstorm Dragon, this is as close as you’ll get to creating a legitimate classic musical instrument that is also affordably priced, and it has me looking forward to beginning the UGEARS model of the Hurdy Gurdy soon.  I had one user error and one part break, but UGEARS has been prompt and courteous shipping replacement parts for free–something I’ve seen no other model manufacturer do–and I got the model to work perfectly and in accordance with the specifications.  Order the Mechanical Celesta kit now here at the UGEARS website.

Don’t forget to check out the other UGEARS kits I’ve reviewed if you missed them: the 2-in-1 Arithmetic Kit (reviewed here), the Gearbox (reviewed here), the Random Generator (reviewed here), the Tachometer (reviewed here), and the Variator (reviewed here).  In addition to the other STEM kits we reviewed, UGEARS offers four other STEM kits you may want to try: a Differential gear, a Counter, a Pendulum, and a Curvimeter tool, and outside the STEM series are other engineering marvel kits like the Pneumatic Engine and Dynamometer, plus many stunning, elaborate, advanced kits like the Windstorm Dragon reviewed here.  Take a look at all the available UGEARS models at the UGEARS website for more information.

Keep coming back for more model reviews as we have LOTS more UGEARS builds coming your way!

You can order UGEARS products at its website here and directly support the artisans, engineers, and craftspeople in Ukraine.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

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