~ Internet of Things - Digital Guitar

In 2009, predicting the IoT and the maker-movement this full-stack digital-guitar explored custom-musical-instruments connecting to the Web.


Tablature for Led Zepplin "Bad Dog", written to the web with MIDI. Followed by an open-string chord test optimized to 10 millisecond precision.

Components (hardware and software):

Arduino microprocessor (from SparkFun) detects Fret and Pic gestures in C++. Sends JSON data via USB chord to a JAVA server, which interprets data real-time in Flash ActionScript Web page UI. Playback triggers HTML5 MIDI. A true Frankenstein technology!

Fabrication (circuits and tests):

The hardware, starts with two copper circuits the run up the back of the guitar neck. Separated by a conductive foam, electrical signal increases as a fret is pressed. A second circuit exists between the guitar string and pick. So as a string is plucked a signal emits into the string, for detection by the microprocessor. There the C++ code combines fret and string data into JSON for transmission to the UI. On the side you can see the testing panel built to complete the electronics (including a touch-pad), before assembling the guitar.

Technology mixed with Art:

Fabricating the body of the guitar was the best part! You can see a few design iterations for a "GuitarBorg", a start-up before...Guitar Hero. Early prototypes were electronics gutted from old keyboards that overlay actual acoustic guitar frets. They worked and later evolved into the plastic guitar design above. The plastic was purchased from a fancy downtown art store, and then poured into a mould cut from sheetrock! It also worked but needed a less expensive (more durable) alternative material. The frets were poured and moulded (blue) silicon into (red) clay, the same technique used to create sculptures or halloween masks!

Lessons Learned:

Frankenstein lives! But it was very hard to put back together again. It had complications across newer technologies because of baud-rates. Who knew?

  1. Interoperability between many languages caused a big problem. 2009 was before Full-Stack-JavaScript and Node maturity. So, FSJS would have avoided the pain-point of opening 3 code-contexts in 3 different (IDE) editors! And 3 different git-hub versioning systems!
  2. So it seems, interoperability requires simplification and homogenization, not specialization.
  3. Mixing Art, Technology and Electronics is not impossible. It is fantastic fun!
  4. Phenomenal breakthroughs result from mixing things that have never been mixed before.
  5. The lessons learned are not always tangible. More often they are intuitive value for the next iterations.
  6. Exploration into multiple uncharted territories is like a punch in the gut! Overcoming multiple adversities, requires a persistent, resilient, and adaptive curiosity.
  7. Innovation arises (so it seems) not from experience, skill or talent as one might expect, but from unquenchable-curiosity, and the ability to adapt.
  8. All in all finding persistent-curiosity the most-valuable-asset for this style of Creative-Technical-Innovation.