Smart Guitar Will Practically Play Itself

Playing the guitar is pretty difficult to do, physically speaking. It requires a lot of force with the fretting hand to produce clear notes, and that means pressing a thin piece of metal against a block of wood until the nerve endings in your fingertips die off and you grow calluses that yearn to be toughened even further. Even if you do get to this point of being broken in, it takes dexterity in both hands to actually make music. Honestly, the guitar is kind of an unwelcoming instrument, even if you don’t have any physical disabilities.

A Russian startup company called Noli Music wants to change all of that. They’re building a guitar that’s playable for everyone, regardless of physical or musical ability. Noli Music was founded by [Denis Goncharov] who has a form of muscular dystrophy. [Denis] has always wanted to rock out to his favorite songs, but struggles to play a standard guitar.

If you can touch the fretboard, it seems, you can whale away on this axe without trouble. It’s made to be easier to play all around. The strings aren’t fully tensioned, so they’re easy to pluck — the site says they only take 1.7oz of force to actuate.

Right now, the guitar is in the prototype stage. But when it’s ready to rock, it will do so a couple of ways. One uses embedded sensors in the fretboard detect finger positions and sound the appropriate note whether you pluck it or simply fret it. In another mode, the finger positions light up to help you learn new songs. The guitar will have a touchscreen interface, and Noli are planning on building a companion app to provide interactive lessons.

We have to wonder just how exactly this will be able to mimic the physics of guitar playing, especially since it’s designed with all players in mind. How satisfied will seasoned players be with this instrument? Can it do pull-offs and hammer-ons? What about slides? Do the sensors respond to bends? And most importantly, will the built-in speaker be loud enough to drown out the string vibrations? It seems to do just fine on that front, as you can see in the video below.

If the built-in speaker didn’t drown out the strings, it could make for some interesting sounds that stray outside the western chromatic scale, much like this LEGO microtonal guitar.

25 thoughts on “Smart Guitar Will Practically Play Itself

  1. To answer the article´s question, seasoned players will probably stay with the traditional guitars. But if this can get a reasonable sound, it will be of great value for people that just want to enjoy the playing but have some disabilities that do not allow them to do it in the “normal” guitars.

    Also , even a seasoned player gets old , and then muscles are not that strong anymore, so a “lighter” instrument is also interesting.

    1. This looks exactly like a midi guitar I had like 10 years ago right with the fretbuttons why is this claimed to be new it’s clearly stolen design. Think it was called the you rock guitar.

  2. If you don’t have a continuous string under the left and right hand, it seems pointless to force the user to use both hands along the same axis. I remember the Synthaxe from the ’80s used a completely different axis for each hand resulting in a more ergonomic instrument. Yes I know it looked a bit odd, but if it makes an instrument playable by a wider spectrum of bodies why not.

    1. It would seem pointless if one isn’t already an old guitar player who is stuck in that mode of moving and thinking. As a guitarist turned synthesist I often find myself dreaming of ways I could articulate myself much in the same way I can with a guitar but with the endless voices and effects that electronic instruments and plug-ins afford me. So while it’s not logical to have an electronic set up like this it is nto without benefit.

  3. This seems like a very interesting project in so many ways!
    The concept of having lights in the fretboard and the virtual strings are brilliant.
    Really cool project, thanks for posting.

    1. A company called Fretlight tackled the illuminated fret boards about 20 years ago, on electric guitars they sold for around 300 dollars. Switches on the guitar allowed a player to switch between chords and scales.
      It will be interesting to see if the builder of this prototype incorporates similar software in theirs.
      Or perhaps even better, a “play along” mode, to have preset songs to play along with and the guitar illu.inates in time with the chords or notes played with the recording.
      I suppose we will find out when it is done being developed.

  4. “If you can touch the fretboard, it seems, you can whale away”…. I will Captain Ahab that sentence snd harpoon that whale…… It’s WAIL away… dude… WAIL away…

    1. Actually it is whale. Wail is used such as someone crying out or waiting. Whale unfortunately is used in several different ways. Got to love English. Check it out in an online dictionary.

      1. It really depends on the author’s intent – ‘wail’ is frequently used in the context of playing instruments expressively, i.e. jazz players with their wailing trumpets or talented guitarists wailing away on their strings and whammy bars

        conversely, ‘whale’ is frequently used in the context of angry or frustrated beating, so in the case of instruments like drums, you’d likely be ‘whaling’ on them if you’re an inexperienced player and ‘wailing’ if you’re an experienced one :)

        Got to love English, really, but also got to love online dictionaries that explain things adequately.

      2. Respectfully, I think you’re wrong. It’s wail. Under normal circumstances you could use either and come up with two different but apropriate meanings, but the context here is that of a disabled person who has trouble playing a normal guitar, and that sort of precludes whale from being the correct term. If they need a guitar to suit a disability, because their hands are weak, range of motion is poor or they have chronic pain, they’re not going to be whaling on it. However, they could certainly wail with it, and that, I think, is the point. Anyone can make this guitar cry.

        It was a poor choice of wording either way.

  5. Back when Guitar Hero and Rock Band were battling for supremacy, Rock Band 3 tried to distinguish itself with a “Pro” line of controllers that worked with the game system, but also were full MIDI devices, with standard 5-pin DIN MIDI out. The keyboard was a rather nice 25-key job, and the guitar — the Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang — was a licensed replica of a Fender Mustang with long buttons for each fret position and a set of six strummable strings. Neither sold very well at the original (quite high) price, but they made a lot of them, so they got remaindered off for cheap, which is how I picked them up. (I think Guitar Hero made a real six-string electric you could use with the game, which was even more expensive and sold worse.)

    The guitar’s MIDI implementation is interesting; each string sends on a different channel, so the low E sends notes on channel 1 and the high E on channel 6. There are two modes of playing: standard, where the note on is sent only by strumming, or button mode, where pressing the buttons send the notes automatically (except for the open position!); the strings themselves make very little sound. There’s an accelerometer that sends a CC based on how you’re tilting the thing, and there’s a jack for a piano-style sustain pedal. Various controller button pushes get sent as program change commands and such. The one real annoyance is that you sometimes have to manually mute the strings to get the note off to send.

    Now, I’m not knocking this project, which looks great! It looks like the Noli design is using touch sensors for even less fretting force than the buttons, the addition of lights as a learning tool seems like an excellent idea, and having a speaker makes a lot of sense. But I did want to point to a similar device that’s out there in the wild.

    1. Fun fact – all of the Wii versions of those instruments can connect to any computer (mac, linux, or PC) that has at least bluetooth 2.1, and there are literally dozens of pieces of free software, both simple and advanced, both dedicated and general-use, which can be used to use all the devices as midi devices for software purposes (or if you have a USB-midi cable, you can output the midi to hardware synths/etc)

      Personally I prefer to use high-level scripting tools such as GlovePIE for this because it’s powerful and versatile without much noticeable lag, when configured correctly at least

  6. Would love to see the electro-mechanical interfaces for the fret area and the sound hole area. They look like metal plates.
    If so, I could see there being differing thicknesses of the plates to simulate varying string diameters. If sprung in the sound hole area then resonance could be varied just like the real thing. And the plates between the frets, if sprung at the fret ends along with pickups at each end then summing of the 2 values could also add realism.

    I want one or want to build one!

    1. Oh come on, seriously? Nobody is going to take this seriously, it’s toys are us bound. If one isn’t willing to put in the time and effort to learn to play, do you really think they’re going to play anything you want to hear with a cheat? No, I doubt it. Not to mention being ostracized to the extreme by players. We’re a bunch of cutthroats to each other now, show up with that thing and you might as well bring a t-shirt that’s got VICTIM printed front and back…

      1. Ah, your basic purist argument. BS. I’ve been playing for 50 years. I’d check one out. If it sounds good AND is easier to play – my left gets tired after an hour, WTF NOT?? Plus, there are likely things that can be done with this – and vice versa, that can’t be done with a conventional guitar.

        The purists should go back to riding a horse.

      2. Aside from the obvious use – which is disabled people as Noli advertises, this will certainly find it’s way into the hands of enterprising electronic musicians in search of MIDI devices that allow for different types of expression to standard keyboard.

        Sure, Roger Linn’s Linnstrument provides a lot of the stuff you’d want this for (transposable fingerings, slides and bending) but strumming is a very specific action that is pretty awkward and not ergonomic on most MIDI gear. Plus, I have a hunch this will not be as prohibitively expensive as the Linnstrument.

  7. Just bcause it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. Midi controllers built in shape f a stringed instrument have been built for 4 decades ( remember the earth guitar lee ritenour used)

    All of them with big flaws, short lifespans, unreliable electronics, fragile build quality….save yourself an expensive headache.

  8. He starts out his demonstration with a classical, which are super easy to get a note without a lot of pressure on the string. That is the answer right there for people who want to learn the less painful way. I always tell people who are starting out to use a nylon string guitar. That way you will stick with it if you are so inclined. I see a lot of beginners using a cheap steel string that hurts thier fingers so much to the point of where they give up. This guy’s “guitar” just looks like another gimmick.

    1. If you have a muscle disease, no strings will help. Something new is needed. And in the world there are more than 650 million people who experience similar problems

  9. I undersand the idea of it, yet if it does work it’s going to completely flush out anyone who actually plays guitar and other instruments in the music industry. its going to be the new modern music which in my opinion is sad. less and less is put into actually making music these days.

  10. The sounds quality will discourage alot of people from playing this. That said, this could be a good tool for teaching until a person is able to fret a regular guitar.

    Also if you’re having trouble fretting an acoustic, try an electric.

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