Meet The Robot Guitar: Your New Songwriting Partner

Gibson Robot Guitar

A Minor Inconvenience

One of my top resolution for 2010 is to finally start using open tuning in my songwriting. The problem is that I don’t like constantly retuning, which is why I use locking tremolos. Combining a locking tremolo with medium light strings and a somewhat delicate picking approach means that I don’t have to tune for months. Exploring open tuning using a locking tremolo basically  requires using several guitars, each with their own tuning or locking/unlocking the nut constantly. Not fun.

In 2005, Chris Adams, a German professional guitar technician started Tronical to commercialize PowerTune, a robotic tuner system he had been developing  the 10 previous years. The idea was to combine a piezo bridge pickup with motorized stepper motors embedded in the tuning pegs then use a small computer to communicate real-time tuning data trough the strings thereby activating the motors. That’s right: the strings are used as “wires” to send data to the robotic tuning pegs. Genius! Motorized tuning has been done in the past, but the Tronical system doesn’t require additional drilling or routing, which makes it almost invisible and preserves the original look of a guitar. The system, endorsed by Uli Roth (ex Scorpion) was sold as a 800$ boxed kit for users to install on their favorite guitar.

Here’s a 2007 video of the original PowerTune system installed on a Strat:

The Robot Guitar
Then in 2007, Gibson signed an exclusive deal with Tronical, removed PowerTune kit from the stores and released it as part of the Robot Guitar, a Gibson Les Paul Studio with the PowerTune system pre-installed. In 2008, they released the Dark Fire, which merged guitar modeling technology with improved robotic tuning. More recently, in December 2009, they released Dusk Tiger (a cousin of Apple’s Snow Leopard?), which further improved the system and introduced mixing of the piezo and regular pickups.

Check out this cool review video from WIRED:

The Future
Although Gibson has introduced a “Robot” version of its Les Paul, Explorer and SG models, this still leaves the other guitar brands out in the cold. Personally, I play Stratocaster derivatives such as Ibanez/J-Custom, ESP/Edwards and modern Fender Strats. So I sent an email to Tronical and they wrote me back confirming the news that an aftermarket kit would be made available this summer to accommodate acoustic guitars as well as any non-Gibson brands. That’s good news because I was contemplating buying a Robot Les Paul on EBay just to extract the tuning system and transfer it to another guitar. Sick, I know…