Twenty fifteen has been a helluva year for instrument creation, bringing a torrent of new ways to make sweet, sweet music with a bang, pluck, tap or scrape. Choosing a handful of tasty tone-tastic highlights from the last 12 months has been tough, really tough. But after much ruminating, we've managed to stealthily avoid picking from a hat and have come up with a select bunch of monstrous melody-making favorites.
A handy robot tuner
For guitar techs and axe gods, changing strings and tuning up can become something of a chore. The successfully crowdfunded Roadie Tuner from Band Industries works with a free mobile app to help take some of the strain out of keeping an instrument pitch perfect.
We got to try out the palm-friendly robot tuner back in January and it's been a gig bag constant ever since. Manual tuners like the excellent Polytune Clip may be cheaper and perhaps more convenient for micro adjustments, but the Roadie really comes into its own when alternate tunings are needed or it's time to refresh a set of aging strings. Great value at under a hundred bucks.
The EBow evolved
In 2012, Paul Vo and Moog showed off a device mounted to an acoustic guitar that provided a harmonic backdrop to whatever the player was picking. This year, Vo introduced a powerful new handheld single string sustainer dubbed the Wand (now the Wond). The effect works on acoustic, electric and bass guitars and is reported to be very strong and immediate, suffering "no noticeable latency and excellent uniformity for every playable note on the guitar." And, as you can see and hear in the video below, the Wond isn't necessarily restricted to stringed instruments. It's available now for just over US$200.
Yamaha motor madness
Project Ah A May took engineers and designers from two arms of Yamaha and swapped them around. Music instrument builders were challenged to create motorcycle and bicycle prototypes, and motorbike engineers were tasked with coming up with some percussion instruments. The latter team produced something called the Fujin, a marimba designed for two performers, and a drum cage gone mad called the Raijin. Neither are headed for production, but they're still worthy of inclusion in our 2015 favorites collection – as you can see in the videos below.
Bridging analog and digital
We've seen Apple's iPhone used as a sound processing brain for a stringed instrument a few times in the past, but two instruments surfaced this year that really push the sonic envelope. Dave Auld's successfully crowdfunded, but yet to ship, Fusion Guitar combines iPhone dock, amplifier, battery and speakers for a truly all-in-one learning and playing experience.
Claudio Capponi's Liutaly iV electric violin also boasts its own amp and speakers, and makes use of music creation apps running on a smartphone – though this instrument can work with iOS and Android mobile devices.
Making Keywaves more affordable
The playing area of the Seaboard Grand from Roli looked like a digital piano had been left in the sun too long and melted. The surface was in fact one continuous, pressure sensitive creation platform that allowed players to strike a note and then alter its pitch, timbre volume or tone with glides or slides. Impressive stuff, but also rather expensive.
With the introduction of the Rise in 2015, the price of entry to the world of Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression became a little less arresting, at $799. If that's still too costly, you can now get a feel for expressive music creation with the free Noise iOS app.
A digital orchestra on an acoustic soundboard
Another yet to be shipped crowdfunded project is the Acpad from German musician Robin Sukroso. In development since 2009, the wireless MIDI controller is placed on an acoustic guitar's soundboard and brings a multitude of digital effects, sounds and samples within reach of a picker's fingertips. It's expected to retail for €350, but is currently up for pre-order at €249 (about US$270), with the promise of delivery in June. Photos simply don't do this device justice, so have a look at Sukroso giving a pre-production Acpad a thorough workout in the video below.
When snowboarders mix with packaging
The Cardboard Chaos project was designed to push the boundaries of what can be made from the ubiquitous packaging material. The partnership of Signal Snowboards and Ernest Packaging has already created a cardboard snowboard, a surfboard and a kid's pushbike.
With the help of technicians at the Fender Custom Shop, the project rounded out 2015 with a fully playable cardboard Stratocaster.
Instrument 1 raises a million
We've been following the development of the part piano, part guitar, part electric violin, part MIDI controller, part drum machine since 2012. Though initially aimed squarely at digital music professionals, Artiphon headed to Kickstarter this year in order to bring a slightly refined version to the public, and raised over a million dollars in the process.
Backers will naturally get first bite of the cherry when the Instrument 1 goes into full production, but it's up for pre-order at $449 for those who missed the crowdfunding campaign.
Bring on the thunder
Guitarist Andy Alt also took the crowdfunding route to get his humbucker-like pickup to market. A Little Thunder is home to a single coil pickup and a separate two-pole pickup. The latter allows the player to take the signal from the two low strings of a six-string guitar and send them on for some tone thickening low end goodness. Adding a little thunder, if you will. Alt added touch control earlier this year and it was made available to buy in July for $249.
And that about wraps it up for 2015. The coming year also has all the hallmarks of a bumper instrument innovation year if early Winter NAMM announcements are anything to go by, so stick with us and we'll bring you the best of the next gen technology as it happens.