Music

Exploring tones between the notes with the Lego Microtonal Guitar

Exploring tones between the no...
The Lego Microtonal Guitar can be used to play semi-tones, or tones inbetween the semi-tones
The Lego Microtonal Guitar can be used to play semi-tones, or tones inbetween the semi-tones
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The Lego Microtonal Guitar can be used to play semi-tones, or tones inbetween the semi-tones
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The Lego Microtonal Guitar can be used to play semi-tones, or tones inbetween the semi-tones
Tolgahan Çoğulu's son Atlas was the inspiration for the Lego Microtonal Guitar
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Tolgahan Çoğulu's son Atlas was the inspiration for the Lego Microtonal Guitar
The Lego Microtonal Guitar was developed by Tolgahan Çoğulu (right) and Rusen Can Acet (left)
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The Lego Microtonal Guitar was developed by Tolgahan Çoğulu (right) and Rusen Can Acet (left)
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Many guitarists wanting to quickly change the pitch of their instrument without reaching for the tuner will opt for a capo. For those wanting to explore per-string tone changes, 2015's Fretlocks offered a solution. But it wasn't the only way. Tolgahan Çoğulu developed a guitar that allowed the player to make microtonal adjustments across the whole of the neck. And now he's done it again, this time using Lego and a 3D printer.

On many guitars, metal wire is inserted into the wood of the fingerboard at specific points along the neck. Pressing a string behind these frets gives players access to semi-tonal intervals, where each octave is divided into 12 semi-tones. But what if you want to move beyond what's made available by the guitar's maker? This can be important for playing non-western music and is the idea behind the microtonal guitar.

Çoğulu's instrument dates back to 2008, as part of a research project at Istanbul Technical University, with the first prototype being made by Ekrem Özkarpat. Essentially, the fret wire is movable at each string position, riding on rails or channels. This means that where you fret a string is entirely up to you – you can explore the tones between the tones. What's more, additional mini-frets can be added anywhere along the neck by just slotting them into the channel. And you could even remove frets if you so wish.

With a couple of CDs under his belt, together with appearances at festivals and universities in 34 countries, the now professor at Istanbul Technical University Turkish Music State Conservatory and Centre for Advanced Studies in Music has developed a colorful new flavor of the instrument using the building blocks of many a childhood and a 3D printer.

Tolgahan Çoğulu's son Atlas was the inspiration for the Lego Microtonal Guitar
Tolgahan Çoğulu's son Atlas was the inspiration for the Lego Microtonal Guitar

We've seen many novel uses for Lego over the years, including a nerve gas detector, a fully-functioning London bus stop, a shoelace tightener, and Nicola Pavan's electric guitar. Where the body of that guitar was made from the colorful plastic bricks, it's the fingerboard that's been bricked for Çoğulu's Lego Microtonal Guitar.

With the help of Ph.D student Rusen Can Acet, computer software was used to design a Lego-like fingerboard base plate. Çoğulu and his son – the inspiration for the project – then started filling up this 3D-printed base with Lego bricks.

It was back to the 3D printer for the individual frets, which were designed to snap onto the Lego bricks at key points along the fingerboard. Interestingly, while teaching his son to play some traditional Turkish music, Çoğulu hit upon the idea of using the setup to teach music theory – removing all the 3D-printed fret blocks but those needed for a C major scale, for example.

The video below walks through the design of the Lego Microtonal Guitar, and shows it in action.

Lego Microtonal Guitar

Source: Tolgahan Çoğulu

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1 comment
IvanWashington
if it were not for perfect pitch i would not have understood the charm of microtones.