Where so-called robot tuning was once the exclusive domain of Gibson's higher end models like the gorgeous Firebird X, the introduction of its Min-ETune system at this year's Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany sees the iconic guitar maker widening the field a little. The folks behind the technology were also at the trade fair, showing off a retrofit auto tuning system called TronicalTune. Essentially the same as Gibson's new mechanical tuner, the Tronical kit comes in a number of different configurations to cater for do-it-yourself installation on various guitar makes and models.
The Min-ETune system is described by Gibson as a compact robot tuning system that allows guitarists to spend more time actually playing, and less time worrying about staying in tune. From the front, the 11 Les Paul and SG models selected to receive the technology just look like their non-robotic cousins. The little black box and robot tuners are hidden out of sight behind the back of the headstock.
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If you worry that digital systems like Auto-Tune for Guitar from Antares might mess with your instrument's beloved tone, you'll be relieved to discover that Min-ETune adjustments are all gloriously mechanical. Guitarists can choose from the 12 preset (or six user-programmable) tunings using the unit's 4-way selector.
To tune the guitar, a player just needs to power on the unit and strum the strings. A few seconds later, the heads will have tightened or relaxed the tension to bring all six strings to pitch, at which point all of the indicator LEDs will glow green. Since the system senses string tension, background noise doesn't affect system accuracy (which is quoted as being within two cents).
Gibson says that you should be able to get 80 to 100 tunings per charge from the included battery, and manual tuning is also possible – should you need to adjust your pitch to accommodate your old, out of tune, upright piano.
The bad news, though, is that if you want Min-ETune robotic heads to handle your tuning, you'll need to shell out for a brand new guitar. Pricing varies according to choice, but suffice to say that they don't occupy the budget end of the instrument market.
For those of us who already have perfectly decent guitars, but would still like to take advantage of automatic tuning, there is hope. Chris Adams of Tronical, the man behind Gibson's automatic tuning technology, has released an install-it-yourself flavor called TronicalTune that can be fitted to Gibson, Fender, Charvel, Yamaha and Ibanez electrics, as well as Taylor acoustics.
Like the Min-ETune system, the Tronical version features 12 factory presets and space for six user tunings. Players can tune multiple strings in about five seconds, or concentrate on one string at a time. There's a reference tuning mode and a string up and down mode for restringing, though fans of heavy gauge strings should note that Tronical recommends not to go over 0.013 to 0.056 sets. Its 3.7 V lithium battery pack is claimed good for up to 300 tunings per charge.
TronicalTune is currently available in 12 configurations, five of which are dedicated to Gibson models like the Les Paul, SG and Flying V, while Fender's Strats and Telecasters are also well represented. Each kit comes with everything needed to install the robot tuner on your guitar, including six robo-heads, a contacting PCB and control interface, battery and charger. It retails at US$349, but it's currently listed at $299 on Tronical's online store.
Have a look at the quick video of the TronicalTune system below.