The Gibson Robot Guitar

With final exams upon me I don’t have much time to write so the next few entries will be quickies, starting with the world’s first guitar integration with robotic technologies. The Gibson Robot Guitar automates several processes, including tuning. Party on Wayne!

A picture of the Robotic GuitarThe Gibson Robot Guitar has been making (not sound)waves online, being hailed as the first guitar with robotic technologies. The guitar has a bit of smarts enabling him to maintain itself. Their tagline is “All you have to do is play it“.

Since the dawn of the instrument, musicians have come to accept the guitar’s imperfections and lack of tonal precision as necessary evils. Onstage and off, guitarists have fought to stay in tune.

Unfortunately I don’t have a clue when it comes to playing instruments, so I really don’t feel comfortable explaining in my own words what the guitar does or to what extent it can help musicians. I’ve only been privy to a single piano lesson in my life, when I was about 8, after which I refused going back because I felt the teacher treated me too much like a child. I’ve been heartily regretting that childhood stubbornness for a few years now.

With that said I’ll mindlessly quote Harmony Central on its benefits and features:

  1. The Gibson Robot Guitar eliminates tuning problems for guitarists. It automatically tunes to standard A440 tuning.
  2. It also allows players to access six commonly used altered tuning presets at the push of a button. These tunings were used on many well-known hit songs, giving players easy access for the very first time.
  3. The Gibson Robot Guitar allows the guitar to be intonated in seconds after string changes, truss rod adjustments or change in weather conditions.
  4. Finally, with the locking tuner, single string changes or changing the entire set of strings are an automated breeze.

The guitar will go on sale on December 7th with a first-run limited addition (10 guitars per store, see the list of stores), and a regular model scheduled for late 2008. If you play an instrument, I’d definitely like to hear your take on the guitar and the potential impact it could have. Could you see the automation of physical instruments catching on?

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7 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. This could really be sweet. I’ve played guitar since I was 16 and if this works it would make a guitar players life a lot easier.

    Guitars, like most wood-based instruments, have some fatal flaws. Primarily, intonation issues. These are issues that can be caused by temperature and humidity changes that cause the neck of the guitar to warp slightly. The effect is that notes played on one area of the guitar will sound in tune but other areas will be out of tune. If this can solve that problem it will save a lot of musicians a lot of time.

    The other really cool feature is that it allows players to access altered tuning at the push of a button. Altered tunings are just very sweet but it’s a pain to re-tune a guitar for one song and then have to tune it back for the next. That’s one reason you see musicians having multiple guitars on stage – each one is tuned for a different song. So, yeah, that would be a great feature to have.

  2. Hrafn

    Thanks for this insightful comment John! Very informative!
    I truly had no idea this happened:

    These are issues that can be caused by temperature and humidity changes that cause the neck of the guitar to warp slightly. The effect is that notes played on one area of the guitar will sound in tune but other areas will be out of tune.

    On retuning, is it common that songs require guitars to be specially tuned for them?

  3. I just locked in the purchase of one of the last two available at my favorite guitar store, Wildwood Music in Louisville, Colorado. I can’t wait to pick it up on Monday!

    To answer the question about tuning, most people play in standard tuning, but there are other tunings, and there are some great songs in these alternate tunings. When you use alternate tunings, the way you make chords change, so our fingers land in different places on the fretboard. My favorite tuning is called DADGAD, which describes the notes of each six strings. A lot of celtic music is played with DADGAD.

    Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and The Yardbirds also liked DADGAD. The most well-known song of his in DADGAD was Black Mountain Side.

    If you play, you need to learn how to tune and it isn’t all that hard to do it manually. As this technology moves down to entry-level guitars though, it’s going to be less frustrating for people to learn to play, which seems like a good thing to me. The more people who play music, the better.

  4. Hi Terry and congratulations on the guitar! I’d definitely like to hear your impressions of if once you get it.

    Thanks for explaining tunings!

  5. This seems like a good idea to me for a few reasons. One of them being the fact that tuning a guitar perfectly takes lots of time, and usually isn’t perfect, so having the process automated eliminates much, if not all room for error.

    On the other hand, I’m somewhat dreading the main release of this later this year…If this guitar becomes cheaper over time (which it inevitably will as the technology ages), it will be more accessible by beginning guitarists, and the last thing the world of musicians needs is a group of guitarists, who after five years of playing (on top of not being very good at playing the instrument) don’t know how to tune their guitars.
    Also, there are quite a few tunings that I use regularly in recording my own music that have been left out. I want to know what happens if I want or need to tune my guitar to drop C tuning (CGCFAD), or standard D (DGCFAd)… I fear that the robot guitar is only programmed to tune to the preset tunings, and will not recognize tunings like these, making it near impossible to stay in these tunings. And if the guitar doesn’t recognize these tunings, then manually tuning the guitar to standard D would seem to defeat the purpose (and much of the usefulness) of a self-tuning guitar, because when you eliminate the automated tuning, you lose all the accuracy that the technological “middle-man” may have offered.

    And on another note, I have to disagree with the person who said “The more people who play music, the better.” Once I picked up guitar, learning it was easy, because I’m naturally musically inclined. But these days, anyone can go to their local music store, buy a cheap guitar and some books and learn how to play with shimmering mediocrity in a matter of years…(read as “the cancer that is killing musicianship”). Not all of these new guitarists have the natural ability it takes to play the instrument properly, and many times, they’re learning the instrument and many techniques the wrong way, resulting in a large group of people with a skewed mindset that think they’re amazing guitarists, when in actuality, they’re being outdone by the people with real raw talent who only have about half the experience with the same instrument. In short, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

  6. Hrafn

    Hi Kolby,

    [...] the last thing the world of musicians needs is a group of guitarists, who after five years of playing (on top of not being very good at playing the instrument) don’t know how to tune their guitars.

    Hehe, I can relate to that. But I’m tempted to wonder whether it may be a natural development — manual tuning of guitars becoming obsolete. There was a time when musicians had to strap the skin to make drums to play on; that time has passed and it simply gave drummers more time to actually drum.

    If we imagine that intelligent musical instruments catch on, they’re bound to be improved as well. Thereby enabling more advanced/diverse modes of tuning.

    But these days, anyone can go to their local music store, buy a cheap guitar and some books and learn how to play with shimmering mediocrity in a matter of years…(read as “the cancer that is killing musicianship”).

    Frankly, it would seem to me that increased accessibility for mediocre players isn’t necessarily the problem. But rather that we lack better methods by which musicians ‘get discovered/rated’. Or, isn’t that the problem you’re referring to — that it makes it harder for people with actual talent to get noticed amidst the novice horde?

  7. It’s been interesting to see how the Robot Guitar has stirred up a lot of positive and negative feelings. I guess robots will do that to people. :- ) So I actually own one of the Robot Guitars. I’ve been playing guitar for about 35 years which means I either already know how to tune a guitar, or lots of people have suffered over the years – maybe both. I still play a couple of accoustic guitars and another electric (thanks Christopher!), plus a mandolin so I’m not going to forget how to tune manually anytime soon. Some people are saying that the Robot will actually make us better tuners, because we refine our ear by playing a guitar that is always in tune.

    I’ve enjoyed being able to tune quickly just by pulling out the knob, strumming a couple of times and going back to playing. I also play alternate tunings, and the Robot makes that easier which isn’t a bad thing, because if it is easy I’ll try something out that maybe I wouldn’t have if it meant a longer tuning session.

    Now about the “mediocre players” and where they fit in the world. I’m probably mediocre by a lot of professional standards, but I enjoy playing and occasionally it appears that people listening to me are enjoying my playing. I don’t think I’ll ever take the job of a professional, and because I enjoy playing myself so much, I consume (and pay for!) a lot more music than I would otherwise. I’m all for new people learning to play, even if they never get past playing two chords. The world is a better place with more people who play music I think.

    I think it’s great to see technology advancing how we can enjoy music. I’ll always own a six-string hand-made wooden instrument, but I’ll also get a kick out of trying whatever new comes along.

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