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CNet introduces something else you never knew you needed: First ‘robot’ electric guitar tunes itself

Ever get mad trying to figure out why your version of “Voodoo Child” doesn’t sound like Jimi Hendrix?

Help is at hand from what is described as the world’s first robot guitar–an electric guitar that not only keeps itself in tune even after string changes but also allows players to access six nonstandard tunings at the push of a button.

Gibson said the robot guitar is the biggest advance in electric guitar design in more than 70 years.

“It’s very addictive,” [Gibson Guitar Chief Executive Henry] Juszkiewicz said.

Gibson will launch 4,000 limited edition, blue silverburst Les Gibson Robot Guitars around the world on December 7 at a price in the region of $2,500. It expects to roll out a standard robot edition starting in January 2008.

See, now I always assumed the problem was because I was right-handed, short-fingered guy attempting to play the electric bass, and failing miserably, but that was all that was needed for a college band in the 1960s when all of the bass lines were nearly identical.

This is just going to encourage a lot of people with more money than talent to believe that their next song will be their break-out hit.

17 comments

1 Steve Bates { 11.14.07 at 2:16 am }

I see no reason why this contraption shouldn’t work. It won’t make anyone a better musician, but it may save hours of audience members’ lives not spent waiting for some musicians to attempt to tune their guitars… and avoid the pain of audiences listening to some of those people playing out of tune nonetheless. (Players of bass instruments have reputations as the worst regarding intonation… reputations going back at least to the 18th century that I know about. 😈 )

I spent years tuning a harpsichord before every concert or job, and usually again at intermission. That particular harpsichord was 56 keys by 2 registers, 112 notes to tune every time. While I was theoretically qualified to tune any of a half dozen different temperaments by ear, most of the time, I tuned one octave’s worth of equal temperament to pitches generated by a Korg tuner, then tuned the rest of the instrument to that octave by ear. On a good day, that took about 45 minutes; we won’t mention bad days.

In other words, guitarists have it easy. Then again, I really enjoy my digital piano, which requires no tuning, ever, transposes at the touch of two buttons, provides some of those other temperaments (e.g., one suited for Mozart) at the touch of another button, etc. I admit I enjoy being able to sit down and play without spending all that time tuning.

2 Steve Bates { 11.14.07 at 2:17 am }

Hey, what happened to 😈 ?

3 Fallenmonk { 11.14.07 at 4:50 am }

I use a little electronic tuner to tune the guitar and it works well. You just tell it what string you want to tune and a little meter and lights tell you when you have it. I have tried the tuning fork method to tune just one string and tune all the rest from there but it is a little tougher.
It will be interesting to see how this robot tuner works. Is it continuously monitoring and adjusting or do you have to initiate it? If it is continuous I wonder how it deals with string bending? I am studying blues guitar and the old blues players really worked the bending. I can just see the robot trying to keep up.
Academic really since I probably won’t spend the bucks for a Gibson anytime soon though they are beautiful. If you ever get a chance to visit the factory in Memphis watching the final inspectors string the new guitar, tune it by ear then test the feel and action it is pretty amazing.

4 Steve Bates { 11.14.07 at 12:41 pm }

(OT, Bryan, you may ignore the email I sent you. NFS resolved the problem.)

5 Bryan { 11.14.07 at 1:29 pm }

As near as I can tell it’s a freq meter tied to some stepper motors. As long as the meters are accurate it should work, but it wouldn’t work for most of the blues players or Hendrix as they tended to tune to their own pitch, and not to anything pre-set. Occasionally you want the “not quite right”.

6 Bryan { 11.14.07 at 2:09 pm }

[OT: Steve, you have to have a space or CR on both sides for the parsing software to “see” the “twisted” label. I use FTP for picture files, but nothing else, so I didn’t notice the problem.]

7 Steve Bates { 11.14.07 at 6:35 pm }

“As long as the meters are accurate it should work,” – Bryan

Putting note-bending aside for the moment, there’s more to tuning strings than running a stepper motor until the frequency matches. All stringed instruments, guitars included, have several sources of backlash in the mechanism… most significantly, the machine heads on guitars, or steel tuning pins on harpsichords or pianos, or those awkward things used on violin-family instruments, wooden pegs made more cranky (sic) by the use of peg dope, but also including the friction binding a string temporarily to the bridge or nut during tuning. A human who tunes any of these instruments regularly quickly learns how to compensate for the backlash and does so, with or without thinking about it, as needed. A machine that emulates that learned “tweak” necessary to get the pitch right and “set” the string without backlash so that it doesn’t slip immediately out of tune would be IMHO one hell of an impressive bit of analog control.

Banjos sometimes have some sort of a device that uses an additional machine to bend the notes (I’ve seen it only from the audience, never onstage, so I don’t know how it works), but on guitar, in playing blues, it’s almost always done by shoving the whole string across the fretboard with the string-stopping finger, changing the effective string length and tension for a moment. A smart real-time auto-tuner would simply turn off when this is detected. (“Simply”? weeeellll, maybe not…)

“Twisted” is a great song from our youth. Google it if you don’t already know it.

8 Bryan { 11.14.07 at 9:39 pm }

I would assume for space reasons all of the mechanism would be in the body of the guitar, in reverse of the standard tightening procedure. There was no picture so it may be as simple as three leds telling you to tighten or loosen a string and a six position switch to select the string and pick-up to use.

If they want a “robo-guitar” just synthesize and forget about the strings.

Banjos have a half step device, kind of like a built-in capo or mechanical waa-waa that changes the effective string length.

The real point is that you have to be able to play before any of this will do you any good, and if you can play, you don’t really need it.

9 Steve Bates { 11.15.07 at 2:24 pm }

“If they want a “robo-guitar” just synthesize and forget about the strings.” – Bryan

Perhaps.

I don’t know about guitars, but for some years now, the really good digital pianos don’t synthesize the piano sound; rather, they use digital recordings of high-quality acoustic pianos. They record each note at several dynamic levels, because a hammer striking a string hard produces an initial sound that is quite different from what you would get if you merely scaled up a soft strike. The process required to get this exactly right must be labor intensive, and the person who does it surely must be an expert and a pianist. I do not begrudge a penny I paid for my Yamaha P-80, considering the effort that must have gone into this process. (The keyboard is similarly astonishingly good. But that’s for another day.)

Unfortunately, they don’t do the same thing (or at least they didn’t when my piano was made, perhaps six or seven years ago) for the other sounds built into the “piano” … harpsichord, organ, etc. Those are synthesized, and they sound like warmed-over Republican policy pronouncements. This may be improved on newer instruments; I don’t know.

10 Bryan { 11.15.07 at 3:12 pm }

Actually, it is cheaper to sample an excellent instrument than to synthesize, so most of the electronic music is indeed sampled rather than synthesized and you could create a basic “guitar” with a computer and some midi gear but you can’t get the effects that a real guitarist can produce with the real instrument, only slightly better than mediocre.

With a real midi keyboard system you could download samples of some of the greatest instruments in the world to produce a good keyboard sound, but the winds and strings are definitely not as good.

11 Michael { 11.19.07 at 4:36 am }

I predict this will one day evolve into something fantastic, a string autotuner for just intonation performance.

12 Bryan { 11.19.07 at 12:37 pm }

So, Michael, you want to fight with a computer over tuning? It has been my experience it takes a very long time for innovations to actually become useful in the real world, and many of them end up tend to force the least common denominator.

13 Michael { 11.19.07 at 8:42 pm }

No, Bryan, not at all. I fight with equal tempered tuning all the time, having a computer do just tuning for me would only make my job easier.

I won’t try to explain, unless you really want. I have to do a lot of hand-calculation right now which is tedious and it would be nice to automate.

14 Michael { 11.19.07 at 8:43 pm }

Briefly, though, in just intonation, a note exists within a key, and if the same note is sounded in a different key it has a different pitch.

15 Michael { 11.19.07 at 8:44 pm }

Fretless guitars can be played just, but it takes much skill.

16 Bryan { 11.19.07 at 9:43 pm }

Oh, Ok, I see your point now, to use the built-ins as consistent starting points, I was just thinking of the programming end of things and all of the problems that crop up in any new project, It takes a while to locate and eliminate the bugs in any system, and when there’s a mechanical portion, as there would be in tuning a guitar, there’s more room for errors. But if the system becomes functional, then a skilled player can use it to his/her advantage and do things musically that would have required multiple instruments before.

17 Michael { 11.20.07 at 1:12 pm }

Actually I have a more dynamic retuning on the fly objective.