Hackaday Prize Entry: Adaptive Guitar

Adaptive guitar: pick board and controller

Due to a skiing accident, [Joe]’s new friend severed the motor nerves controlling her left arm. Sadly she was an avid musician who loved to play guitar — and of course, a guitar requires two hands. Or does it? Pressing the string to play the complex chords is more easily done using fingers, but strumming the strings could be done electromechanically under the control of a foot pedal. At least that’s the solution [Joe] implemented so beautifully when his friend’s family reached out for help.

There are just so many things to enjoy while reading through [Joe]’s project logs on his hackaday.io page, which he’s entered into the Hackaday Prize. He starts out with researching how others have solved this problem. Then he takes us through his first attempts and experiments. For example, an early discovery is how pressing the strings on the fretboard pulls the string down where the picks are located, causing him to rethink his initial pick design. His criteria for the pick actuators leads him to make his own. And the actuators he made are a thing of beauty: quiet, compact, and the actuator body even doubles as part of a heat sink for his custom controller board. During his pick design iterations he gets great results using spring steel for flexibility leading up to the pick, but thinking of someday going into production, he comes up with his own custom-designed, laser-cut leaf springs, different for each string.  Needing Force Sensitive Resistors (FCRs) for the foot pedal, he iterates to making his own, laying out the needed interlinked traces on a PCB (using an Eagle script) and putting a piece of conductive rubber over it all. And that’s just a sample of the adventure he takes us on.

In terms of practicality, he’s made great efforts to make it compact and easy to set up. The foot pedal even talks to the control board on the guitar wirelessly. Non-damaging adhesives attach magnets and velcro to the guitar so that the control board and pick bridge can be precisely, yet easily, attached single-handedly. The result is something easy to manage by someone with only one working hand, both for set-up and actual playing. See it for yourself in the video below.

Going the other extreme, no hands, no person and therefore okay to be bulky but still beautiful in its complexity is this player guitar by [Vladimir Demin] . So impressed with his projects, we even published an email interview with [Vladimir].

9 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Adaptive Guitar

  1. Strumming isn’t the only way to play the guitar. Self sustaining tech can be used. My steel two string can be played with one hand. Since I am not a guitar player I picked up playing with my right hand which is more advanced in technique than my left. The sound is “plucked” by hammer on or by pressing the variable sustain volume button located on the end of the bar used to play notes. The next version will have 4 strings and pullers to chord shift. It will be then two handed unless I make the shifters pedal acting. This would make it a variant of the pedal steel, except it is very portable even with all onboard, power, amp, speaker, and effects.

  2. OK….Make another foot pedal system to allow her to time the other direction of the pick. I see heavy metal in her future. Or maybe leave 5 toes for the strum and 5 toes for macros like a fast pick on one string. This is awesome. I love it. PURE innovation.

  3. There are a lot of techniques for playing the guitar with one hand with no assistance. It was a nice gesture, but I don’t think it is ever going to have more than a mechanical feel to it. The other techniques allow for much more expression. Musicians are notorious for not letting handicaps stop them, and many new and interesting techniques have evolved out of them.

  4. Wow, [Joe]. This is an unbelievably well done project. The iterative engineering that went into this device is very inspiring. I happen to be working on a far less ambitious (personal) project tangentially related, and you’ve given me a lot to consider.

    It’s fantastic that you’ve enabled your friend to enjoy playing the guitar more easily than would have otherwise been possible. I’m certain that many others would also be interested in this setup.

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