Gibson has announced a guitar with a built-in self-tuning mechanism. Some have suggested that there is a problem with allowing people to skip learning how to tune a guitar before they play it, because tuning helps develop the ear. I think this is a valid concern, and readers of my papers would know I don’t think lowering the entry fee for musical instrumental interaction is, in itself, a “good thing.” At the same time, there are plenty of advantages offered by a self-tuning guitar that have nothing at all to do with ear training, such as avoiding the need to bring a capo to gigs, or to bring more than one guitar to a show for quickly playing two consecutive songs than require drastically different guitar tunings. (Besides, there are plenty of other excellent ways to train your ear.) Quick but accurate tuning changes will also surely be exploited in composition; tuning changes can be done in the middle of a piece, and the musical capabilities and quirkiness of the auto-tuner could even be used for some as-yet-unknown artistic end.
What I find especially interesting is how the words “world’s first robot guitar” are tossed around in this press release. First of all, it seems as if the word “robot” is being used vaguely to refer to the presence of a servo system. If this guitar is robotic, then so is my laptop for its ability to read and eject optical media. I think we’re going to see more of this, similar to the way “net” was overused in the nineties. We are entering a robo-sheik era where any product that can possibly justify doing so will be incorporating the word “robot” into its name.
As for the “world’s first” claim, someone should tell Gibson about TransPerformance, the company that has already been selling automatic tuner retrofits since 2005, as well as the dozens of other music technology projects that are based on guitar interaction and involve motors. It’s old, but anyone who hasn’t yet seen the League of Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) video of the LEMUR Guitar Bot should check it out:
It’s easier for me to accept calling the LEMUR Guitar Bot a “robot” than the Gibson self-tuner. What do you think?