January 10, 2008 Some of the best guitarists have an amazing ability to pick out which of their strings are out of tune and adjust them mid-song – for the rest of us, the tuning process can be an annoying time-waster – particularly on stage. We've written before about Transperformance's bolt-on self-tuning systems, but Gibson has recently become the first company to release a ready-made axe with the ability to adjust itself perfectly to a number of common tunings at the touch of a button. The Gibson Robot Guitar, which just received the NEWSTIPS "Best of Show" award at CES, also makes replacing strings and setting your intonation an absolute breeze. At US$2499, this intelligent Les Paul deserves to be a huge hit.
Guitars, like other stringed instruments, are quite organic and individual machines. Humidity, heat, setup and hard playing can cause subtle changes to the length and tension of their strings, so you've got to keep making small adjustments to keep the strings perfectly in tune. And there's few things more aggravating to even an average ear than a guitar that's just not quite tuned.
While this hasn't posed too much of a problem for a legion of electric guitar heroes over the last 70 years, it's always been a thorn in the side of beginners, and mid-set tune-ups on stage are an annoying and occasionally vibe-killing necessity for gigging musos who don't have guitar techs waiting offstage to hand them freshly strung and tuned axes after each song.
The Gibson Robot Guitar is built on the foundation of the Les Paul Standard, one of the most popular and iconic rock guitars ever. The intelligent upgrades include the Powerhead lockable motorized tuning pegs, a data transmitting tailpiece and tuning control unit, a Master Control Knob for the system and a neck-mounted electronic CPU brain.
Operating the Robot's auto-tuning system is very simple; pull out the control knob, select which one of the available tunings you want to use (Open E, Drop D, DADGAD, Open G, Hendrix tuning, Double Dropped D or one of your custom tuning presets), then let go with your left hand and strum the open strings. The servo-operated tuning pegs simultaneously bring all six strings into perfect tune within a couple of seconds. Quick, accurate and simple. You're then free to tune the strings manually as you play if you need to.
Re-stringing the guitar is exceptionally quick – just attach the string and engage the re-string mode – and the Robot even makes it a breeze to set your intonation, so each string will stay perfectly in tune with itself up and down the fretboard. Intonation mode does this by measuring the pitch of the open string against the pitch at the 12th fret, and indicating to you exactly how many half-turns clockwise or anticlockwise you need to turn that string's bridge screw. A normally difficult and confusing task made exceptionally simple.
The system is integrated beautifully with the guitar, and there's virtually no weight penalty - in fact the servo-operated Powerhead tuning pegs are actually lighter than the standard items.
In today's sad age of tiny attention spans, where kids are more interested in the "press the colored button" world of Guitar Hero than learning the intricacies of the real instrument, Gibson should be applauded for knocking down one more barrier to entry with this clever guitar. The Robot Guitar's pricing at USD$2499 is outstanding, considering the standard Les Paul retails for around US$1700, and the original Transperformance aftermarket bolt-on system went for up to US$3,000. Nice work Gibson!