Modified Electric Guitars

This blog catalogues DIY and commercial innovations of the Electric Guitar with focus on electronic modifications, interface design and performer/device interactivity for both extended techniques and control. The purpose of the blog is to create a detailed archive for researchers and musicians.

The Joystick Guitar (2007) - The Joystick Guitar, designed by Peter Edwards of Casper Electronics, adopts an analogue joystick which controls the delay time of an echo circuit built into the body of the guitar. The guitar can switch between the joystick function for a more hands on approach, allowing the performer to interact with the original knobs and switches of the echo circuit, which have been integrated into the guitar interface. The joystick is ideally placed for the guitarist to interact with whilst playing in a traditional style, creating an interesting, interactive feature for guitar design.

Again, like The Volector Guitar, the joystick control element could essentially be assigned to any parameter for control, making this design extremely versatile.

Patrick Boblin of Herscheltronics, who designed the Herscheltronics Modified Guitar, helped design the control interface for guitar.

To see more instruments designed by Peter Edwards of Casper Electronics, visit http://casperelectronics.com.

"Backwards Hawaiian Guitar"

"Backwards Hawaiian Guitar" (1987) -  The “Backwards Hawaiian Guitar”, designed and constructed by DIY experimental electronic musician Nicolas Collins, is a tabletop Hawaiian guitar, which allows the performer to send audio signals into the pickups of the guitar. This process results in the input sound resonating the string(s) consequently filtering and modulating the original sound. According to Collins, "the result was similar to shouting into a grand piano while holding down the sustain pedal: an ethereal wash of overtones within which one could hear elements of the original sound."

                       "Backwards Hawaiian Guitar"

Collin’s interaction with the guitar is mostly through string and sound selection; the guitar does not have a specific interface with knobs and switches. He performs with it by fretting and dampening strings to isolate harmonics and then further controls the sounds with post-string processing through typical guitar effect pedals, such as distortion and delay.

"I’ve processed spoken work a lot, scanning radios, birdcalls, sweeping oscillators, trumpet, bent toys, and recently electromagnetic fields and feedback. I can then
control what sound goes to what string, how loud it is; sometimes these sounds are performed like speaking live and feedback, sometimes slightly controllable like
choosing a radio station, and sometimes beyond direct control like a sweeping
oscillator.”

To read more about other “Backwards Electric Guitar” designs Collins has constructed, click here.

IMAGE: nicolascollins.com

The Destroyer

The Destroyer (2007) - This custom guitar, designed by Mark Dalzell, was built for the 2007 Jersey City Studio Artists Tour. The Destroyer features: a double neck 6-string guitar, 4-string mandolin; built-in digital effects Distortion, Chorus and Flanger; analog Theremaniacs theremin; chromatic tuner; scalloped brass nut on guitar and mandolin; LED fret markers; LED pickup indicators, and 1/4 scalloped neck.

                        The Destroyer

The Destroyer may be slightly eccentric in design, however, it is a great example of how much circuitry a standard guitar body can house. This design embodies the vast possibilities that the electric guitar holds and the true scope that it has to offer for future designs and projects. Another interesting feature of The Destroyer is the built-in analog Theremaniacs theremin. I believe that the theremin antenna in this case is not being utilised as a control element in direct relation to the guitar signal, rather it is being used as a control element for the additional sound source housed inside the guitar. However, the theremin antenna could be utilised as a control element for processing the guitar signal. For example, the theremin antenna could control parameters of a built-in filter or wah-wah that is processing the guitar signal, allowing the guitarist to adapt theremin like gestures when performing, adding a new interactive element and consequently extending the performer’s repertoire. Additionally, the theremin antenna could be further adapted so it responds relative to the position of the guitarist’s hand upon the neck. For instance, the higher up the neck the guitarist plays, the higher the filter rate etc.

To view more pictures of The Destroyer, click here.

Thanks to Óli Kristinn for this one. Good find!

IMAGE: flickr.com/photos/metropolismusic

Manson MB-1 Standard

Manson MB-1 Standard (2009) - A touch interface is a fairly new concept in guitar design, however, Manson Guitars brought it into the commercial spotlight in 2009 with the release of the Manson MB-1 Standard. The MB-1 is actually based on the Manson M1D1, which was originally constructed for Matt Bellamy of the band Muse a couple of years earlier. The M1D1 also featured a touch screen interface that Bellamy utilised to control a Korg KAOSS Pad, which was processing the signal from his guitar. A common misconception with this design is that there is actually a Korg KOASS Pad built inside the body of the guitar. However, the touch interactive element of this design is just a X-Y MIDI control interface that sends out MIDI data (0-127) from each axis, allowing it to communicate with an device that accepts MIDI, such as the KAOSS pad.Manson MB-1 Standard

The touch interface is situated just below the bridge, allowing the guitarist to control the data being sent out of the guitar whilst performing. The MB-1 is also equipped with the Fernandes Sustainer, this allows for infinite sustain on all strings, leaving the guitarist with the ability to control the X-Y interface with his/her free hand. Furthermore, due to MB-1’s MIDI capabilities, it is extremely versatile, opening up an unlimited number of possibilities for controlling external elements and also signal manipulation. For example, the MB-1 could communicate with a computer that is processing the guitar signal, allowing for further control over the sound of the guitar, as well as opening up a vast number of other possibilities for live performance.

Additionally, there are many guitarists who adopt a DIY ethic and modify their own guitars in a similar nature, featuring a touch interface to control a Korg KAOSS pad. These DIY designs have been fuelled by the growth of guitar forums, step-by-step instructional websites (see SOURCE ONE) and the desire of many guitarists to adapt their instrument to fit their own musical needs and desires.

To view a demo of the Manson MB-1 Standard, click here.

SOURCE ONE: Phil’s Kaoss Guitar, Korg Kaoss Pad / Epiphone Les Paul Mod

Thanks to Juliette for the ‘Phil’s Koass Guitar’ link.

IMAGE: musicradar.com

Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital

Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital (2006) - At first glance, the Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital appears to be a regular Gibson Les Paul. It has a single-cutaway body, two humbucking pickups (each with its own volume and tone controls), 3-way-toggle pickup switch, and traditional neck and headstock. However, upon closer inspection, the hexaphonic pickup, which is mounted between the bridge and the bridge pickup, becomes visible (see image below).

       Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital

A hexaphonic pickup, also known as a divided pickup or MIDI pickup, is essentially a pickup divided into six segments, allowing each string to be isolated, output and processed separately. The output interface of the Gibson HD.6X-Pro accommodates a XLR cable output, a headphone output, a regular 1/4 inch guitar jack output and a Cat-5 Ethernet cable output, which transmits the digital audio signal between the guitar and the breakout box (see image below). The breakout box then has individual outputs for each isolated signal.

       Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital Break Out Box

The ability to process each individual string separately presents guitarists with a powerful system that could be utilised in a number of ways, opening up whole new sound worlds never before explored in guitar performance. For example, the signals from each string could be processed separately through a number of guitar effect pedals. One string could could be sent through a delay pedal, the other through a tremolo pedal etc, or all strings could be sent through six separate delay pedals, all of which have different delay times and feedback rates, creating some interesting textural sounds.

     Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital 

Furthermore, these processed signals could then be sent to six separate speakers placed around the performance area, moving the guitarist into the realm of spatialisation performance. This would totally remove the sound of the guitar from its original context, expanding its sonic vocabulary whilst at the same time introducing a new element to guitar performance.

To read Craig Anderton’s take on the Gibson HD.6X-Pro Digital, click here.

IMAGES: performing-musician.com & 2dayblog.com

The Moog Guitar

The Moog Guitar (2008) - The Moog Guitar takes infinite sustain technology, such as the third party Ebow device and the modified pickups of the Fernandes Sustainer, to another level, allowing for even more control over the basic fundamental acoustic elements of the guitar.

The Moog Guitar

The Moog Guitar has three settings: full sustain mode, which allows continuous sustain on every string (almost like having six adjustable Ebows per string); controlled sustain mode, which sustains only the notes picked, damping all others; and no sustain mode, which reverses the sustain process and actively shortens the natural sustain of the strings, creating a mute effect. These functions stretch the sonic capabilities of the guitar and introduce a new element of control for sound shaping and processing via the interface components of the guitar (see image below).

The Moog Guitar

The sustain modes are selected using a three-way selector switch, a familiar control element for guitarists, ideally placed just below the tremolo arm allowing for interaction whilst performing. The guitar also features an advanced built-in filter where filter resonance can be controlled by a series of knobs situated on the guitar’s interface, adding an extra sound manipulating control element to be utilised in performance. Furthermore, an expression pedal, also a familiar interface for guitarists, offers extra control whilst complimenting a traditional playing style. Additionally, an input jack, for analogue synth-style voltage signals, allows the use of external control sources. Moog demonstrates this feature on its website by using the Etherwave Plus, a Theremin style synth, to control sustain and filter resonance by using human gesture techniques usually associated with Theremin performance.

The Moog Guitar

With all of the electronics housed neatly inside the body of the guitar and the interface positioned on the front, this extremely powerful integral system presents some interesting possibilities for new performance techniques, opening up the sound palette of the guitar further than ever before.

To see a video of The Moog Guitar being used in conjunction with the Etherwave Plus, click here.

IMAGES: performing-musician.com & soundonsound.com

Herscheltronics Modified Guitar

Herscheltronics Modified Guitar (2006) - This modified guitar, designed by Patrick Bobilin of Herscheltronics, is equipped with a miniature microphone, a modified (circuit bent) sound producing toy gun circuit and a modified voice changer megaphone. The circuitry is housed inside the body of the guitar while the controls are strategically positioned on the scratchplate. The signals from the microphone, guitar, and the toy gun can be sent unprocessed (clean) out of the guitar via a regular 1/4 inch jack or all three signals can be processed through the three effects of the voice changer circuit.

The design of the guitar is such that it still allows the performer to play the instrument in its original form whilst also having the advantage of sound manipulating electronics at his/her fingertips, making it an integral performance system. With this in mind, considering guitar FX pedals are an integral part of electric guitar performance, and an additional interface for control, there is enormous scope for future DIY designs of a similar concept. For example, guitar effect pedals usually remain on the floor actively separated from the guitarist, but, as the Herscheltronics Modified Guitar demonstrates, electronic devices can be built inside the body of the guitar. Integrating these two elements as such would reunite the guitarist with his pedals, allowing him/her to adjust effect parameters at sound source rather than crouch over a pedalboard interrupting play.

The Volector Guitar

The Volector Guitar (2009) - volector.com describes a volector as a single joystick that controls two pickup signals’ gain at once; a convenient simultaneous dual signal gain control, that serves as both a master volume and a pickup balance selector.

                               The Volector Guitar

Again, according to volector.com, the device is preferably mounted just below the commonly picked section of the strings between the neck and bridge pickups. In that location, a volector can be used while picking to easily control the two signals (see image below).

                            The Volector Guitar

What is most interesting about this gestural control element is not only its complimentary interactive capabilities, but also its sheer versatility. Of course, the designer, Nick Nicholes, intended the joystick to control volume and pickup balance levels; however, as Nicholes points out himself, this is just a conceptual design that can be adapted to any electric guitar for the control of two merging signals.

                            The Volector Guitar

This essentially makes the capabilities of The Volector Guitar endless as the joystick could interchangeably control any two signals/parameters simultaneously. For example, the joystick could control an external device such as a guitar FX pedal that is processing the signal of the guitar or even pass through a voltage to MIDI converter, thus turning the joystick movement in to MIDI data.

IMAGES: keywordpictures.com & saskatchewan.inetgiant.ca

The Monome Guitar

The Monome Guitar (2009) - Designed by musician/composer Ben Brown, The Monome Guitar consists of a custom built body, similar to that of the Gibson Les Paul, with a Monome MIDI control device built into it.

                          The Monome Guitar by Ben Brown

The Monome interface sits just below the bridge offering easy accessibility for the performer without obstruction. The interface adds an interesting interactive element whilst at the same time retaining the ability to use the instrument in its original form. The guitar features a USB output to allow the 8x8 push-button interface to communicate with an external source and a regular 1/4 jack output for the guitar signal.

                          Ben Brown playing The Monome Guitar

Due to the Monome generating MIDI data, the embedded interface allows for endless possibilities, enabling the guitarist to perform numerous tasks interchangeable to his/her desire. This consequently makes the design extremely versatile; for example, the Monome pads could communicate with sequencing software such as Ableton Live, triggering samples, sequences and loops or the guitar signal could even be sampled live, sliced and played back at random via a custom built patch in the Max/MSP graphical programming environment.

To see a video of Brown performing with his modified electric guitar, click here.

IMAGES: nuevaforma.com