Gibson Les Paul Robot

Gibson Les Paul Robot

What you’re looking at is the Gibson Les Paul Robot, the automatic transmission of instuments: The guitar tunes itself. You can read some more about it here.

Inevitably, this will lead to a debate of the Pro Tools kind. Is autotuning killing musicianship? Perhaps. However, unlike vocal autotuning, a studio trick that uses computers to ensure that all notes are in tune, this feature simply fixes a problem that guitars themselves have always had. It’s an improvement that allows guitarists to focus on playing, letting them worry less about the mechanical shortcomings of their instrument. Of course, you’ll still need the chops to play the damn thing…

BUT, and here’s the rub, this feature also relieves you of the need to really listen. Tuning a guitar is a constant task–the strings are always in flux, ebbing and flowing in and out of tune, and you need to keep the sound in check at all times. This can be a hassle, especially if your axe drops out of tune in front of a live audience. But knowing how to tune, and knowing what out-of-tune sounds like, inevitably affects your playing on the whole. It’s like drawing a landscape as opposed to photgraphing it–drawing it requires you to see the scene better. And, by seeing better, your eye is more finely tuned to the nuances of the thing you’re looking at.

Of course, for many musicians, tuning is a hassle. It’s understandable. Why bother with getting the damn thing in tune, when all you really want to do is play?! Like automatic transmission vs manual, it becomes a question of how much you care about nuance. Do you want to “feel” the car and enjoy the subtleties of the ride, or do you want to get from point A to B?

Both are respectable preferences, and now guitarists have a similar choice: Enjoy the experience of listening to your guitar and adjusting its settings by hand, or get right to playing music?

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4 Responses to Gibson Les Paul Robot

  1. oberghjon says:

    Interesting question. I don’t know if it has a straightforward answer. It’s disruptive to stop in the middle of a performance to tune an instrument, so the Robot helps with that problem. I suppose for some people there might be a danger in becoming so dependent on automation that they lose their sense of ear, but I’ve played pianos most of my life that I never had to tune myself and it hasn’t affected my ability to judge when something is in tune. So I suppose I fall in the camp of supporting this technology. But what happens when someone like Joni Mitchell wants to tune it to a non-standard tuning?

  2. lithe says:

    The piano aspect is a great point. Some of the greatest minds in music have played piano–and instrument that doesn’t need to be tuned very often.

    However it DOES slowly fall out of tune over time, and a competent musician will be able to notice. Also, this Gibson Les Paul Robot lets you select the note you want to tune to, so at least Joni Mitchell would still be in good shape…

  3. I think that anything that distances us from the reality of our experience has the potential to reduce the human input for any experience. I think we overcome this by remembering that we do not possess the analog equivalent of a digital brain, but that we have created digital representations of the real thing–organic analog processing in the flesh.

  4. lithe says:

    rationalpsychic: I tend to agree. I find there’s more to appreciate in the imperfection of human nature than the perfection of a machine we’re able to create.

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