While many players will insist that great tone can only result from the use of certain exotic woods, guitar design pioneer Allan Gittler saw things a little differently. He methodically stripped away all that he deemed unnecessary and redundant, and embarked on a minimalist instrument design adventure that resulted in the iconic Gittler guitar. Steel sitar or electric fishbone, the instrument had arguably its most famous public airing in the hands of Andy Summers of The Police in the 1983 Synchronicity II music video, and featured 31 frets, individual pickups for each of the six strings, and unique tuners. A new and improved version of the Gittler guitar is set to make its official debut at NAMM 2013 this coming January, and Gittler Instruments has opted to pull back the curtain early for a pre-production peek.
As a self-taught musician, Gittler (later known as Avraham Bar Rashi) played mainly classical guitar, although an early electric outing is said to have got him fired by a big band leader for bringing "a lady's guitar" to a gig. When he found the tone of his classical guitar to be compromised if played through an amplifier, he began designing his own electric instruments.
He chopped away much of the wood until his guitars were not much more than the neck (think Bob Wiley's Ministar travel guitars), and tinkered with other materials including ebony before creating the experimental forefather of the instrument you see here. Only 60 Gittler guitars are reported to have been made from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s (one of which is featured in the New York Museum of Modern Art, and there's another at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston).
After he moved to Israel and changed his name, the design was licensed to Astron Engineer Enterprises and another 300 or so computer-machined instruments were made, but these are not as prized by collectors as the originals.
Gittler's son, Yonatan Bar Rashi, has now joined forces with Russ Rubman, Eric Slone and Dr. Colin D. Joye to form Gittler Instruments and give the rule-breaking Gittler guitar a 21st century make-over. Like the original, the new Gittler has six strings, each with its own magnetically isolated transducer. The steel has been replaced by 6AL-4V aircraft-grade titanium to allow "the string energy to more easily transfer into the body of the instrument, resulting in far more sustain, resonance and clarity."
From the two-part Gittler tuners, over the adjustable bridge and the 31 rounded frets to the newly designed headstock, the instrument is just 28 inches (71.12 cm) long, which is about the same bridge to nut length as my 24-fret Jackson guitar, yet only weighs three pounds (1.4 kg).
The instrument's fret markers appear in the shape of LEDs that shine through tiny holes along the central channel. Each of the guitars can be strung for left- or right-handed players, and the company can place the LEDs on the appropriate side if requested.
Players can also move beyond the confines of the 31 frets and onto the pickup casing is they so wish, achieving something Gittler Instruments calls Infinite Gliss.
There's a small electronics box sat behind the pickups that offers both standard 6.3 mm instrument output and hexaphonic, meaning that users can plug the guitar into an amp in the usual way or route it through a synth (it's been designed to work with most 13-pin guitar synthesizers). It can also be connected to a computer or partnered with StringPort.
At the time of writing, the folks at Gittler Instruments are keeping tight-lipped about pricing, but you can register your (no obligation) interest on the website and receive updates as and when they're released. More models are set to join the main Gittler guitar, including a couple of bass versions and an electric violin.