Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Music Media Hardware

Self-Tuning Electric Guitar 389

avirrey writes "The Technology Review has an interesting article on a Gibson Self-Tuning Guitar. Purist argue that you shouldn't need a guitar that self-tunes. Others argue that this will allow an artist to change tuning with one 'favorite' guitar, instead of having to swap out between songs." Ok I know what I think- freakin' sweet. Only technology will guarantee my sucking on the electric will at least be reasonably in-tune suckiness. Dear Gibson, Slashdot really needs to review your guitar. We'll need several review units and we lost your return address.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Self-Tuning Electric Guitar

Comments Filter:
  • by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:12PM (#20844833) Journal
    "...Know what I think- freakin' sweet. Only technology will guarantee my sucking on the electric will at least be reasonably in-tune suckiness. Dear Gibson, Slashdot really needs to review your guitar. We'll need several review units and we lost your return address..."

    Yeah, and since slashdot is made by its community, we will need 900,000 test units =o) (sorry 900000+ id noobs =oP no testing for you)
  • determinism finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:12PM (#20844835) Homepage Journal
    As a software engineer, the one thing I hate about playing the guitar is that every time I pick it up I have to tune it, otherwise I won't get the same results as I did last time I sat down to strum. Is a little determinism too much to ask?

    • by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:17PM (#20844903) Journal
      As a software engineer, the one thing I hate about playing the guitar is that every time I pick it up I have to tune it, otherwise I won't get the same results as I did last time I sat down to strum. Is a little determinism too much to ask?

      I do not know about the physics of that stuff, but I play guitar as a hobby (classical, flamenco and heavy metal [acoustic and electric) and from what I know, the amount of tunning you have to do depends on the material of the guitar (at least for acoustic) and the quality of the strings. Also, one of the things they told you to do after you just replaced a string is to stretch it a lot and loosen it to make it expand all the material has to expand, otherwise you will tune it but as the new string expands, you will have to tune it again in five minutes.

      I think this would be more appropriate for the likes of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai when in a concert they use a different tuning for some different songs... but I still like it more if they showcase different kinds of guitars and maybe it might be useful when/if they have to change tuning "on the fly".. but of course, it might not be possible to re-tune the guitar as fast as it is needed...
      • WHY can't we all just STRUM along?

        I prepose the not unpossible:

        An superconducting, semi-colllliding, laser-optro guitar that reacts to finger interruption. This way, I don't have to toon my geetar.

        What kind of thimbles will I need for protecting my fingers?
      • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @08:10PM (#20845451)
        I think this would be more appropriate for the likes of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai when in a concert they use a different tuning for some different songs...

        I don't think it would, unless all the alternate tunings are very similar to each other.

        Getting the best sound out of a guitar using a specific tuning is not only a function of the tension on each string, but also the gauge and wrap of the strings. Take a guitar in normal EADGBE with medium-gauge strings and tune the bottom string down a step to D, and it'll still sound pretty close to ideal; but tune everything down a fourth to BEADF#B, and the sound will be thin and lifeless. You'll need to switch to heavier strings to play with that dropped tuning.

        Besides which, half of the fun of a Steve Vai show is to check out all the different guitar models he has. There's his standard Jem, and there's the one with the brilliant blue LEDs inlaid into the fret markers, and there's the enormous heart-shaped guitar with three necks...
      • Why can't the guitar just tune itself, but without tightening the strings. If the guitar has a pick-up for each string, then it knows which string is being plucked. Then all you would have to do is pluck each string, so it would have a reference point. Then a small computer inside the guitar changes the sounds to the proper tune and then they are sent to the amp. I'm not sure how feasible something like this is, but I think something along these lines could be done.
        • That's pretty close to the way the Line6 Variax [] guitars work.
        • by Cecil ( 37810 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @09:12PM (#20845987) Homepage
          The specific (and nearly impossible to perfectly replicate) sound that the vibrating strings make is the reason to play a guitar. Get rid of that and you might as well just use a synthesizer instead.
        • by yurnotsoeviltwin ( 891389 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @09:21PM (#20846065) Homepage
          The sound coming from the strings would be different, and the feel of the fretboard wouldn't be right. If my guitar is significantly out of tune, I can tell just from the feel of the string tension. If it gets bad enough, the strings rattle against the frets. A strum on a guitar is not just a set of six pure tones, it's a complex and beautiful thing.
        • by adminstring ( 608310 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @09:32PM (#20846163)
          If the guitar is in tune with itself, an internal computer can shift pitches to give alternate tunings. That's what the Line6 Variax does. The problem is that if the guitar isn't in tune with itself, how does the guitar computer know if you are out of tune, or if you're just bending a string? You could run a guitar through an Antares Auto-Tune [], but then when you bent a string, it would jump from one pitch to the next like a piano, and you'd lose a lot of the guitar's expressiveness for soloing.

          The good thing about the Gibson is that you only pull on the knob when you have strummed the open strings, so the guitar knows that no notes are being bent... it knows what the pitches should be when you strum open strings, so it has no problem tuning it to those pitches.

          Your idea could be implemented if, like on the Gibson, there were a button to let the guitar know it was in "tuning mode." When the button was pressed, the guitar would listen to see how out of tune it was, then when the button was released, the pitch-correction computer inside could change the pitch of each string by exactly the right amount to bring the guitar's output into tune, although the strings themselves would still be out of tune, and you could still bend them all you want without having the pitch "snap" to the next note like a vocal that has been auto-tuned.
    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:19PM (#20844919) Homepage
      Funny, I always get the same results when I strum a guitar -- ear-destroying crap.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by my $anity 0 ( 917519 )
        Speaking as someone who just picked up the guitar about 2 months ago, I must say it's hard to play something genuinely bad-sounding on the guitar.
        Somewhat dissonant, maybe.
        Not good, maybe.
        But it takes a concerted effort to play painfully bad.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Chris Burke ( 6130 )
          But it takes a concerted effort to play painfully bad.

          Well thanks it feels good to have my hard work appreciated. :)
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @08:26PM (#20845591)
        If this system is fast enough, it could re-tune between each strum so you can play an entire song on nothing but open chords!
    • by Xtravar ( 725372 )
      1. Don't use vibrato (whammy bar)
      2. Get a good guitar

      I have a Garrison acoustic guitar, which they construct with laser precision and a graphite frame (key to stable tuning on an acoustic). Never goes out of tune, and it's my favorite, best-sounding guitar ever.

      On the electric side, my Gibson SG holds tune almost just as well. My Fenders, not so much.
    • The standard for ukes is that you spend half your time tuning and half your time playing a bit out of tune. But maybe that's not the kind of consistency you meant?

      Real musical instruments are made of real materials like wood, metal, or nylon. As temperature and humidity change, the shape and flexibility of the parts are going to change, and the parts that are held by friction may also move. And the accoustics of the places you're playing will all be different, and the people you're playing with will ha

    • As a software engineer, my question is why electric guitars even *need* to be in tune? Just pump out whatever frequency that string is *supposed* to play to the amp. Then "tuning" consists simply of finding the resonant frequency of each string (whatever it may be), then applying the right tweaking digitally.
    • Hmmm, wait. You say you're a software engineer? Only economists and weather forecasters have less moral authority to ask that of a poor innocent guitar than you.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mantaar ( 1139339 )
      I'll make up an analogy that you, Mr. Software Engineer, should be able to understand:

      Self-tuning guitars are like IDEs. They can make it easier for the professional, but more often than not they don't.
      Let's explain this a bit:
      When I started to play the one most important thing I had to learn was to be able to tune my freakin' bass. While tuning, you will learn how your instrument sounds when it's OK and well-tuned and you'll learn to immediately recognize when it's mis-tuned and sounding strange. That
    • by xPsi ( 851544 ) *
      Classical (physics) consistency hinges on keeping ALL the initial conditions the same for each trial. At least for me, keeping the same tuning configuration each time I play is only one of my many worries. That said, an automated tuner will still be helpful in my ongoing quest to hit the quantum-limited variations of my performances. Besides, it's cool!
  • What's wrong with something like the Korg CA30 electronic tuner? You don't need a good ear to tune this way.
    • I have a cheap little piece of junk electric tuner, does a great job. When I was sixteen or seventeen I could tune from a piano, but I think my hearing isn't quite as good now, and despite the fact that I love to show off my tuning prowess, doing it by ear just ain't all that reliable now.
    • it is not very exact. even a strobe pick is a better tuner.
    • I only play acoustic so this leaves me flat....
  • Sounds good to me, as long as it does standard and drop-d. The one question I have is do the system allow you to output the piezo pickups as well, or are the solely reserved for tuning?
    • The system begins with an additional set of pickups mounted underneath the strings that are used specifically for the tuning process.

      Sounds like they are just for the tuning mechanism.
  • by Neon Aardvark ( 967388 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:17PM (#20844893) Homepage

    It takes me (and most other guitarists) a few seconds to tune a guitar.

    It's a pleasant, harmless little ritual, and somewhat calming before you play a gig.

    This is a silly and expensive gizmo, IMO.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:32PM (#20845055) Homepage Journal

      Agreed, but there are five situations where it could be useful, IMHO:

      • Fast tuning changes mid-song (need to be in drop-D for a stretch).
      • If you left it on, the ability to instantly correct minor variations in pitch would make setting up the guitar almost a non-issue instead of a pain.
      • If you can make it cheap enough, it wouldn't matter if you didn't let the neck cure long enough (causing the axe to get out of tune constantly) so long as the hardware could keep up, so the crap guitars could get a lot better and/or the good guitars could start to really suck without anyone noticing.
      • It would be great when you're playing with four other guitar players and nobody seems to agree on the pitch.
      • Twelve string.
      • It would also be nice to have such a feature on a guitar with any kind of floating bridge. A self-balancing, self-tuning floating bridge guitar would save even the most seasoned professionals a lot of time during re-stringing / initial tuning. I change the strings on my guitars once / week and it takes me about 20 minutes / guitar to setup my floaters. Of course it's a trade-off because then I don't have to worry about tuning them until I re-string them again (or if the temperature changes).

        But, alas, I'm
        • But, alas, I'm almost 100% positive (I didn't RTFA) that this particular technology could not be adapted to a floating bridge.

          why not? from the video I've seen it looks as all of the tech is on the peg side of things (which are motorized and do the tuning), the bridge is not touched at all (unlike the other older tech where it seemed that the adjustments by the servos were done there)
          • Most (not all) floating bridges (Floyd Rose, Kahler, etc) use a locked nut.

            If the tuning pegs on the headstock are the active part then this will not adapt well at all.
      • 1) Drop D? Twist the D-string tuner..... or curl your index finger when you do bar chords. Or fake it like Jimmy Page did. 2) Correct minor variations? Get the intonation set correctly the first time, with the strings you'll be using. Then don't eat fried chicken and pick up the guitar and expect things to sound right. 3) Crap guitars are like other crap investments: you end up spending lots of time curing the crap or apologizing for it. Not worth it. Spend the $$ to get a good axe. 4) If four other guit
    • Indeed. The bigger problem with tuning is not getting the open strings to match the right pitch, which is easy, but rather getting the intonation right, so the notes are still the right pitch as you move up the fretboard.
    • by syousef ( 465911 )
      Well I accept that's your opinion, but from TFA, it seems other pro musicians disagree...

      "This isn't the first, or the most advanced, self-tuning guitar system on the market. Over the past 20 years, a small Colorado company called TransPerformance has custom-built about 300 guitars, costing $3,000 and up for the electronics alone, for rock stars including Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen."

      Perhaps it has more to do with the musician's playing style.

      Also if the system got cheap enough it might be useful to begi
    • It's just a fancy robo-roadie []

      I dunno, I think if you can't tune your guitar with a 440hz tone, then you need to work on your ears. Since Gibson == expensive, this is not geared to n00b players. What kind of advanced player cannot tune by ear?
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 )
        Some n00b players can afford it, thank you very much, and would rather spend time, which is money, practicing than tuning.

        • Don't buy a piece of shit, and don't store it somewhere that the temperature fluctuates significantly during the day (eg, in direct sunlight), and you won't spend very much time tuning, unless you like exotic tunings. But then that's just part of playing the instrument. Even my poorly-maintained Fender Mexi Strat doesn't require more than small weekly adjustments. Takes all of 20 seconds with an electronic tuner.
  • Seems like a solution in search of a problem to me. It might have been useful if it was able to tune-on-demand, to alleviate the pauses between songs during a show, but it doesn't. You still have to stop, flip the switch, and let it do its "auto-tune" thing. So it's really only good for those who are too lazy to adjust their own tuning. And three-thousand bucks just for that is a waste.
    • by c_fel ( 927677 )
      And three-thousand bucks just for that is a waste

      I think you mean 899$. 3000$ was the cost of the other guitar that was made before this one, and that could tune itself faster.
    • by ivan256 ( 17499 )
      Dude, it's a Gibson. The $3k is for the guitar. The tuning system costs $800.
  • by Rizzle_p_Mizzle ( 1166925 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:20PM (#20844933)
    I agree that this looks like a super-neato piece of kit, but I would be willing to bet it will have trouble selling because: 1. It's one more thing that might break on stage. 2. Guitarist love tradition and tend to resist change. How long has the Les Paul been in production in its current form? Something like 60 years. The most revered amps are point-to-point wired vacuum tube models. Most people who are willing to drop this kind of coin on guitar gear would probably go for some aged custom model before they went for this. I'm not saying it's not useful, just that I would be surprised by significant commercial success.
  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:22PM (#20844959) Homepage Journal

    I thought about designing a self-tuning instrument once, but for piano, where the tuning process is a lot more painful. It would consist of basically a high speed camera and a strobe light that could be tuned to any frequency. For each piano pitch, it would hit the string, start the strobe, and compare the position on consecutive beats like a strobotuner, adjusting until it wasn't moving. Either that or just use a much faster high speed camera and skip the strobe light. The point is that by using optics instead of resonance, you could accurately discern an individual string's fundamental frequency without the need to stop down the remaining strings. Kind of what they did with piezo pickups, but a heck of a lot closer together. :-)

    The whole thing could be built into a block that snapped down onto the three pins on a given model of piano and took advantage of the fact that there's more than one of them so that it wouldn't have to mount to anything else. With the single bass strings, you'd have to tune them by hand, but they're the easy strings.

    Never built it. Never cared enough, never had time, never thought it would sell, etc.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      Well, I guess technically that's not self tuning so much as the first step towards it, since you'd need one per string for full self tuning, but you get the idea.

    • While just fluff for a guitar, the idea actually could make sense for a piano. Where I live, tunings from a reputable tuner are around $120 a pop, so two tunings per year sets me back $240. If a piano auto-tuner cost $1000, it would still have a reasonable return on investment, and I could have the piano *always* in tune.

      Piano tuning is complex, though. Because of significant inharmonicities, string fundamentals are not usually tuned to perfect intervals - the tuner stretches the base and treble registers
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chirs ( 87576 )
      You know they actually *have* self-tuning pianos? They run electric current through the strings to cause them to heat up and change their harmonics. No moving parts.
  • You were supposed to tell them that you lost the return address AFTER we had received the Gui-tars! NOT before!
  • by Landshark17 ( 807664 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:26PM (#20845003)
    All I want is an amp that goes up to 11.
  • I'm thinking this won't really be that useful for switching between tunings on stage. When you change tunings, the pressure on the neck changes, causing the strings to fall out of tune. Unless you have an exceptionally stable neck, it usually takes a couple of passes before the strings hold the new tuning. This system will reduce the time spent actually tuning the strings, but I doubt it'll speed the process up all that much.

    Also, I have a tendency to whack controls while I'm playing. I shudder to th
  • From TFA:

    It's every guitar player's nightmare: you step onstage, strike your rock-god pose, triumphantly strum the first chord of a song--and discover that your guitar is out of tune.

    Excuse me? Firstly, this hardly qualifies as a nightmare. Secondly, any guitarist who steps on stage without having checked the tuning is either incredibly sloppy or is sufficiently rich and famous that he has roadies to check this stuff for him (and whose jobs depend on this 'nightmare' scenario never happening).


  • Purists? it's an electric guitar. The instrument is the personification of innovation, and players of that instrument should be the embodiment of the innovators.

    Atleast that's how it should be. Obviously, not the case.
  • by Vainglorious Coward ( 267452 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:40PM (#20845131) Journal

    How to play Guitar [] by David [Jad] Fair

    I taught myself to play guitar. It's incredibly easy when you understand the science of it. The skinny strings play the high sounds, and the fat strings play the low sounds. If you put your finger on the string father out by the tuning end it makes a lower sound. If you want to play fast move your hand fast and if you want to play slower move your hand slower. That's all there is to it. You can learn the names of notes and how to make chords that other people use, but that's pretty limiting. Even if you took a few years and learned all the chords you'd still have a limited number of options. If you ignore the chords your options are infinite and you can master guitar playing in one day.

    Traditionally, guitars have a fat string on the top and they get skinnier and skinnier as they go down. But he thing to remember is it's your guitar and you can put whatever you want on it. I like to put six different sized strings on it because that gives the most variety, but my brother used to put all of the same thickness on so he wouldn't have so much to worry about. What ever string he hit had to be the right one because they were all the same.

    Tuning the guitar is kind of a ridiculous notion. If you have to wind the tuning pegs to just a certain place, that implies that every other place would be wrong. But that absurd. How could it be wrong? It's your guitar and you're the one playing it. It's completely up to you to decide hoe it should sound. In fact I don't tune by the sound at all. I wind the strings until they're all about the same tightness. I highly recommend electric guitars for a couple of reasons. First of all they don't depend on body resonating for the sound so it doesn't matter if you paint them. As also, if you put all the knobs on your amplifier on 10 you can get a much higher reaction to effort ratio with an electric guitar than you can with an acoustic. Just a tiny tap on the strings can rattle your windows, and when you slam the strings, with your amp on 10, you can strip the paint off the walls.

    The first guitar I bought was a Silvertone. Later I bought a Fender Telecaster, but it really doesn't matter what kind you buy as long as the tuning pegs are on the end of the neck where they belong. A few years back someone came out with a guitar that tunes at the other end. I've never tried one. I guess they sound alright but they look ridiculous and I imagine you'd feel pretty foolish holding one. That would affect your playing. The idea isn't to feel foolish. The idea is to put a pick in one hand and a guitar in the other and with a tiny movement rule the world.

  • Weight. Noise. Power requirements. Mechanical complexity.

    No thanks.
  • How about just a good Floyd Rose? A good FR implementation can keep a guitar in tune for weeks at a time, even with lots of bends (including the trem) and heavy palm-muted thrashing. The Edge-Pro or whatever it is on my Ibanez makes it trivial to get quickly back in tune as strings stretch - the fine-tuning knobs on the trem only take a slight turn to get right back to the right pitch. IIRC Ibanez guitars even in the $400-$500 range come with pretty good Floyd Rose tremolos.
  • by Belgand ( 14099 ) <belgand&planetfortress,com> on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:51PM (#20845257) Homepage
    In America, self-tuning guitar tunes itself. In Soviet Russia, self-tuning guitar is tuned by you!
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @07:58PM (#20845337)
    Michael Manring [] uses a custom Zon Bass Guitar []. Below each tuning knob is a lever which can de-tune a string with just the flip of the switch. No fancy pickups, electronics etc. Sure if he needs to tune beforehand, he does it the old fashioned way (by ear, tuner etc..), but while playing he detunes in a flash. You can find him pretty easily on youtube []

  • Never need retuning ( well, not *never* but if you have one, youll understand )
  • by el_flynn ( 1279 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @08:04PM (#20845387) Homepage
    To me, this self-tuning guitar is to guitarists what script kiddies are to hackers, no? And I sure as hell would bet that Jimi Hendrix wouldn't sound like how he did if this type of thing was around.

    I don't know about you, but the minute "out-of-tune-ness" and things of that nature is what makes a musical performance sound more human. Similar analogy: quantizing [] and how that makes things so.. robotic..
    • by Shados ( 741919 )
      More like, self-tuning guitar is to guitarists what 4 gen tools are to programmers: not always the right tool for the right job, but when they are, you'd be stupid not to use em when you're trying to get something done. If you're doing it as a hobby, its something else.
  • by PPH ( 736903 )
    More parts to go flying off when I smash it on stage.
  • The Gibson Pure Audio 500GB Hard Drive []

    The Signature Series Les Paul Standard 1GB Flash Drive []

    The Les Paul Standard Flash Drive []

    and finally...a mirror copy of this []??
  • what if you want to tune for alternate scales?
  • Cool, BUT (Score:3, Funny)

    by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @08:35PM (#20845669) Homepage
    This is a good idea, but ONLY if it tunes to drop D. I have wayyyy too much angst to play in standard tuning.
  • ...I think that this is a wonderful tool for those who really do not have the ear to tune. I have been to too many (albeit local) shows where the bands just could not tune themselves. It annoyed the hell out of me.

    That being said, I think this device has very little place in the professional world. Tuning is not merely a ritual that we go through, it trains one's ears to listen. As someone who wants to create music, one has to be able to hear the difference between being in tune or being some 15 cents
  • When you need to be in tune with the band's piano? Or drums?

    And how would a guitarist develop an ear for pitch if he never has to tune his own instrument?

    Most guitarists can tune by ear in a matter of a few minutes, if not seconds. A guitarist who can't tune his own guitar by ear is akin to a programmer who can't write his own makefile. Sure, they exist, somewhere, but nobody wants to admit it.

    Besides, if you don't have an ear for proper pitch, how do you bend notes?

  • []

    yes, let's all say it together, "imagine a Beowulf cluster of these..."
  • by Paul Slocum ( 598127 ) on Wednesday October 03, 2007 @10:33PM (#20846775) Homepage Journal
    My friend recently got a Variax [] modeling guitar and I got to play it the other day. It looks like a really basic electric, but it has individual pickups for each string and a really realistic synth computer inside that models all kinds of guitars and other stringed instruments. And this ain't no crappy MIDI guitar, it responds naturally to bends, harmonics, etc. It can also do on-the-fly alternate tunings, but without actually changing the physical tuning! It feels so weird playing an electric guitar with a whammy bar and the sound of a banjo coming out.

    Then he set it up running into a pitch tracker outputting a sine wave, fed into a Marshal stack simulator. Try to beat that signal path!

System checkpoint complete.