The perfect connection between guitar and computer

Jul 11, 2011
This tailpiece is coated with a thin-film sensor system. It converts the tension on the string into digital control signals. Credit: © Fraunhofer IST

Guitar virtuosos have to master all kinds of playing techniques. But how can the intricate process of playing the instrument be captured digitally? A special thin film on the tailpiece has the answer. Functioning as a sensor, it converts the tension on the string into digital control signals.

Rapidly, but expressively and with amazing ease, the guitarist's move over the strings on the neck of the instrument. His move up and down and a vibrato resonates. From the guitar a cable leads to a , which records the virtuoso performance in minute detail. The computer registers each vibrato, each bend precisely and almost instantaneously. Afterwards the guitarist can play back the digital recording and process it on a computer.

The guitar incorporates a piece of Fraunhofer technology. Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and IST have developed a sensor which translates complex guitar-playing movements into digital control signals. "This enables the different techniques such as vibrato and bending to be precisely captured," explains Saskia Biehl, head of the micro and group. The key element is a thin film bearing the name DiaForce, which coats the tailpiece, the part of the instrument anchoring the guitar strings to the body.

DiaForce® is based on amorphous carbon and is piezoresistive. Biehl explains what this means: "When the player changes the string tension, the pressure on the film changes. This in turn leads to a change in resistance, which is measured by electrodes on the film." To be able to record the string tension forces and therefore the various playing techniques accurately and with as little delay as possible, Biehl and her group have tested various coating parameters and contact materials. They achieved good results with a tailpiece coated with a ten-micrometer DiaForce® film. The intention is also to measure the strength of the string vibration, which would make it additionally possible to digitally represent the stroke strength and fading – regardless of whether the player plucks the strings with their fingers or a plectrum.

The development partner for this Fraunhofer technology is M3i Technologies GmbH. The company has already developed a laser-based sensor system which captures the pitch of chords and individual notes. A software program converts this data into digital control signals. DiaForce® supplements this development and makes it the perfect sensor system for guitar playing. The Fraunhofer research engineers now aim to develop suitable processes for mass producing the DiaForce® coating as a low-cost tension sensor for guitars. "We also want to extend its application to other musical instruments," says Biehl. "After all, force is exerted at various points on many string instruments, and so the possible applications are numerous."

In the future, coated tailpieces could replace the pickups on electric guitars which convert the string vibration into an electrical signal to create the sound from an electric guitar. "The DiaForce film will need to be particularly sensitive for this, which is what we are working on right now," concludes Biehl.

Explore further: Amazon worker piloted drone around Space Needle

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Learn to play by playing Songs2See

Aug 27, 2010

Recorder, guitar, piano or violin - many children and young people learn to play these popular instruments. It requires a lot of practice to read note after note from the sheet music and then strike the right ...

'Chameleon Guitar' blends old-world and high-tech

Feb 03, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Natural wood, with its unique grain patterns, is what gives traditional acoustic instruments warm and distinctive sounds, while the power of modern electronic processing provides an unlimited ...

COIL Electric Guitars Leave No Tone Unturned

Jul 07, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Maryland electrical and computer engineering professor Bruce Jacob pried open his new electric guitar and wondered why he couldn't get more sounds out of it.

Recommended for you

Hoverbike drone project for air transport takes off

Jul 24, 2014

What happens when you cross a helicopter with a motorbike? The crew at Malloy Aeronautics has been focused on a viable answer and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support its Hoverbike project, "The ...

Student develops filter for clean water around the world

Jul 23, 2014

Roughly 780 million people around the world have no access to clean drinking water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.4 million people die from water-related diseases every year. ETH student Jeremy Nussbaumer ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FrankHerbert
1 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2011
This should be great for acoustic stringed instruments, but for an electric guitar I don't see it as being anymore than a novelty. Does anyone put acoustic piezo pickups on their electric guitars? Why would they use this?

Guitarists are still using tubes. It'll be a long while before they give up their pickups.