The Transperformance self-tuning guitar
December 24, 2005 For most people, tuning a guitar takes three to five minutes and when they have finished, the final result is not very good. These people will love the Transperformance self-tuning guitar which takes less than a second to lock into perfect tune. While most guitars will only ever see standard tuning (EADGBE), a goodly proportion of popular music is played with alternate tunings. Just as each guitar sounds different, musicians will change the tune of a guitar to create the sound they require and that’s one of the reasons you often see a dozen or more guitars on stage at a rock concert. The Transperformance guitar has the additional advantage of being able to change from one custom tuning to another (it holds 240 custom tunings) which can be selected from the face of the guitar or toggled with a foot pedal. As Jimmy Page (the man who wrote and played “Stairway to Heaven”) says of the Performer, “you've just got to witness what it is ... it's accurate, it's fast and it makes people's eyes pop out."
The self-tuning guitar mechanism is naturally enough controlled by a computer, which is mounted inside the guitar. Almost any guitar can be fitted with the system, though Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters and Gibson Les Pauls seem to be the most prolific as the cost is in excess of US$3000 and only very accomplished performers will be able to justify the expenditure. Having the system fitted to such exquisite instruments will not change the sound, tone or feel as the self-tuning aspects are entirely separate from the audio system of the guitar, keeping the pickup and audio the same.
The Transperformance site has some very compelling video footage showing how useful the instant tuning can be, with video endorsements from Page and Graham Nash (The Hollies and Crosby Stills and Nash), video examples of the benefits offered by the system, and a technical rundown on how it works. In essence, the bridge and tailpiece are replaced and the circuitry and motors for each string are all fitted to the guitar with beautiful workmanship.
Alternate tunings expand the sound of the guitar and the creativity of the composer but as previously mentioned, make life very difficult for the performing musician and waste a lot of very costly studio time. The Performer has a back-lit LCD read-out mounted on its top edge for easy viewing of current tunings (you can quickly check the tuning of all six strings simultaneously) and system status.
Other celebrity owners of the guitar include Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Kenny Loggins, Peter Buck (REM), Eddie VanHalen (VanHalen), Pete Townshend (The Who) and technology afficiando Paul Allen (Microsoft, LINK).
The transperformance guitar has been in existence for 16 years, but despite this elite clientele its commercial history has been rocky – targeting only elite performers with a high tech instrument has not provided the long term volume required to make a specialist business such as this viable. Accordingly, the company is planning a “lite” version due out around 12 months from now, with lesser functionality and a price tag around a third of that of the current unit. The new unit will fit almost any guitar and will be squarely aimed at the millions of less-well-heeled guitarists around the world. The premium product will be retained for the elite guitarist, so don’t suddenly expect all that functionality at a third the price.
The prototype for the new lower cost self-tuning guitar recently took first place in the consumer products division of the Colorado Inventor Showcase.