Music

Optical guitar pickup can be programmed with a smartphone app

Optical guitar pickup can be p...
The ōPik is shaped like a traditional humbucker pickup, but uses infrared LEDs to convert string vibrations into a signal for output via a guitar amp
The ōPik is shaped like a traditional humbucker pickup, but uses infrared LEDs to convert string vibrations into a signal for output via a guitar amp
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The ōPik is shaped like a traditional humbucker pickup, but uses infrared LEDs to convert string vibrations into a signal for output via a guitar amp
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The ōPik is shaped like a traditional humbucker pickup, but uses infrared LEDs to convert string vibrations into a signal for output via a guitar amp
Light4Sound is promising a "speed of light" response
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Light4Sound is promising a "speed of light" response
The ōPik is made up of infrared LEDs and photodiode receptors
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The ōPik is made up of infrared LEDs and photodiode receptors
The ōPik can be used with metal strings, nylon strings, and guitar strings made of other materials
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The ōPik can be used with metal strings, nylon strings, and guitar strings made of other materials
Individual string volume can be controlled via a companion app
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Individual string volume can be controlled via a companion app
The ōPik is a powered pickup, and will ship with a 9-volt power supply that can be mounted to a pedalboard
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The ōPik is a powered pickup, and will ship with a 9-volt power supply that can be mounted to a pedalboard
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Rather than use magnets and coils to convert string motion into an analog voltage for amplified output, the ōPik uses infrared light to capture the vibrations of the strings above it. It first appeared online in 2017, and after much tweaking, testing and refinement, the optical pickup has now been launched on Kickstarter.

The humbucker-like pickup features two strips of infrared LEDs. Any vibration of a string sat above an LED is picked up immediately by a photodiode receptor, which is then converted into a signal for output through an amp. The ōPik is a powered pickup, and will come with a 9-volt power box that can be plonked on a pedalboard. Patented technology filters out any background light, so it can be used in a well-lit room or under powerful stage lighting.

Though its makers stress that this pickup is all analog in design – it's "not an effect, it's not a modeler, and it's not a synthesizer" – output parameters can be tweaked digitally through a companion app running on a smartphone connected to the pickup over Bluetooth. This means that the player is able to adjust the individual output volume and cutoff frequencies, and apply low- and high-pass filters, for each string. Changes can be saved for quick recall on the fly.

The ōPik can be used with metal strings, nylon strings, and guitar strings made of other materials
The ōPik can be used with metal strings, nylon strings, and guitar strings made of other materials

In a novel twist, the strings on your guitar don't have to be metal. Light4Sound says that the system can pick up nylon strings, for example, "as well as many other string materials." You could even go down a funky rabbit hole and use a mix of strings to explore different sonic textures. And the ōPik pickup is reported to work "extremely well" with effects pedals, with players able to customize settings to better match specific stomps.

You will need a host guitar that already has a standard humbucker-shaped pickup slot to pop the ōPik into, unless you want to break out the tools and make room for it yourself. And, for the moment at least, the optical pickup has been designed to be installed at the bridge position only (rather than actually being part of the bridge, as with the Lightwave technology from Willcox Guitars) – though the company is planning on developing a unit that can sit at the neck position. A bass guitar prototype has already been made, so thunder-thumpers might be able to take advantage of the tech in the future.

For now though, the project is focusing on electric six string installation and is raising production funds on Kickstarter. Pledges start at US$179 and, if all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in October. The video below has more.

ōPik—the optical guitar pickup

Source: Light4Sound

View gallery - 6 images
5 comments
peter98
Great idea. Guess this also opens the possibility of optical modulation by devices similar to the E-bow?
Tim Trautman
interesting marketing pitch, but not a very convincing DEMO imho. you gotta dig way deeper folks!
Burt Mueller
If that's the pickup we're hearing throughout this video ... sounds WAY too anemic. Thicker tone? more sustain? (as claimed in the video?) That is NOT what I'm hearing. Can we hear it in different gain situations? Is there a sound demo anywhere we can see and hear?
Charles Ross
I went through the Kickstarter page. It's quite intriguing. My only poo-poo is maybe in the future articles can downplay the smartphone aspect rather than touting it as a lead feature. That made me think I was clicking in to read about some novel aftermarket accessory/toy. At least one demo player remarked on the reaction speed of the pickup. Comments like that make my ears perk up.
stupidus
Awesome news for people who do not have time - or desire - to play regularly. Meaning every day or every week or even every month. I'd wager that applies to majority of mankind who own - and can play (at some level) - an instrument or even loads of them. No need to develop calluses first on your fingers before being able to play an electric guitar worth a damn. How so you may ask? By switching from steel strings to nylons (or what-have-you; animal sinew for example if we'd care to utilize butchered animal as fully as possible) - at least on the upper register strings where it matters the most. This is especially great news for people who like to play different kinds of instruments (in addition to guitar): piano, drums, sax and so on. You'd think being able to actually feel stuff with one's finger tips (rather than them being 100% numb) would actually be beneficial, maybe even crucial, on some instruments - if not for all of them in fact? It's just that until optical string recognition it was pointless to ponder the downsides of having calluses because there was no good alternative. If you wanted to play stringed instruments you had to have calluses. Period. I see a revolutionary product where others see gimmick. If this pickup would "merely" enable me to play my guitar callous-free, it alone would be good enough reason to buy it. If - on top of that - you'd ALSO get zero hum, natural sustain, being able use whatever strings you prefer - AND easily adjust each individual string's tone to your liking with a few taps on your smart device for some 200 dollars, and you'd still insist on calling it a toy, then you are a luddite of worst caliber because folks with the same attitude WILL stall progress for all of us. This is no longer a novel concept but reality: you can buy a working guitar (or a bass) with optical string recognition built-in inside a bridge already. Are guitar buyers conservatives - or guitar manufacturers? Likely both. Only certain way to make this innovation as ubiquitous as regular pickups would be to rush to the stores and buy these pickups in droves as soon as they become available. If we'd do that, in only a few years time optical pickups (and integrated optical pickups) would be cheaper - and guitars themselves (not that we need them to be any cheaper than they already are) - than producing regular pickups because it would require less work (no more need to coil a piece of wire umpteenth times around magnets) - and less use of precious metals (which we ought to reserve for much more critical use-scenarios to begin with). All this would translate to more people being able to play and create music at any given moment. And likely music which would take better use of whole spectrum of instruments mankind has invented thus far.