A Long and Winding Road (Gibson's Self-Tuning Guitar)

Begging the pardon of The Beatles and their single-swan-song, the last studio single released in the United States (peaking at #1), "The Long and Winding Road", but it was a very suitable description of Gibson Guitar's latest technology, the self-tuning guitar having a cpu that communicates with robot-tuners that properly and mechanically tunes each guitar string.  Gibson (and inventor Chris Adams) admits that the conception, development, implementation, and "fine tuning" of this technology has been a long time (over 10 years) in the making.  The combination of the cpu and robot-tuners wind the stem of the tuning pegs to add or remove tension on the string necessary to meet the tuner's pitch. Although this is not the first attempt at auto-mechanical tuning of a stringed instrument (e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 6,437,226 by Viking Technologies), Adams was successful in gaining patentable subject matter via the claims of U.S. Pat. No. 7,786,373.  As part of the long and winding process, Adams first filed an application in the European Patent office in May 2004, followed by a PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty -- aka "International" application) in Jan. 2005, and followed by national phase entries in 2008, and followed by US issuance in Aug. 2010.  However, the patent owners allowed this patent to lapse (by failing to make the maintenance fee payment, presumptively to focus resources on other related inventions).

That focus has led to at least one other U.S. patent for Adams, including U.S. Patent No. 8,772,615 for the fine-tuning drive mechanism operating the tuning peg (to add/remove tension). Beyond the critics that question the reliability of the tuning (or more precisely, remaining in-tune), the device does not appear to be universal (at least beyond the Gibson models).

Unlike Gibson, which predominantly offers fixed tailpiece bridges and no locking nut at the headstock, most other guitar manufacturers have floating tremelo systems (e.g., Floyd Rose; Kahler; Steinberger) that must have a locking-nut at the headstock position to help maintain the string tunings.  In the locking-nut systems, a robot-tuner would (seemingly) be ineffectual as the locking-nut system maintains tension on the string (capable of withstanding dives and rises), and the robot-tuner would be unable to overcome the locked tension.

On the other hand, the Gibson robot-tuning system could still be installed and used on a locking-nut/tremelo system, but it would add the steps of requiring the person tuning the guitar to loosen the locking-nuts, allow the robot-tuner to place each string into proper tune, and then tighten the locking-nuts and fine-tune the strings based on the auto-tuner provided or by the ear of the human-tuner.

Whether this technology gains traction in usage by Gibson buyers (who will have no choice but to purchase the tech include in any new Gibson guitars) remains to be seen.  Musicians are hesitant to change anything that is not broken (or at least perceived that way).  Yet the convenience of a robot-tuning system is probably something that cannot be appreciated until it is used (and then not available).

If you have new or unique tech to add to an instrument, or have a new design for an instrument, please consider the intellectual property services of York Law LLC.  One never knows what new developments will strike the fancy of the instrument-playing public.