Monday, September 12, 2011

Gibson Robot Guitar

The Gibson Robot Guitar (a.k.a GOR) typically refers to a sub-class of Les Paul style guitars from Gibson. This is because the first run of limited edition Robot Guitars was exclusively made up of Les Paul bodies. Currently, there are five different Gibson models available with Robot Guitar features: The Robot Les Paul Studio, Robot SG, Robot Flying V, Robot Explorer, and a Robot Les Paul Junior. Developed by Chris Adams, its most notable feature is that it uses an onboard computer to automatically tune itself. This is not the first guitar to be able to tune itself, but it is regarded as the most modern, unique, and un-invasive self-tuning model available, because it does not employ cams or cantilevers throughout the body of the guitar. The non-limited edition SG and Les Paul Studio are available in a variety of finishes. The Flying V and Explorer are only available in metallic red. The price can range from about $1,000-$3,000 or more for custom options. In the case of the "Original 1st Production" Robot guitar, the only finish available was Blue Silverburst nitrocellulose (as in the photo to the right), and it is notable because Gibson have stated in the Robot marketing materials that (the color) "will never be used on any other Gibson guitar". The original Robot guitar also featured headstock and neck binding which are not standard on any current Les Paul Robot.

Gibson Robot Guitar
Technical information

The tuning system used on the Gibson Robot Guitar is based on the aftermarket Powertune system, which was developed by the Tronical Company of Germany. The Gibson system uses the standard Tune-o-matic style bridge typical on their guitars, but modifications were made to have individual piezo saddles that transmit each string's pitch to the microprocessor. The computer analyzes the signal, and then controls each of the Powerhead Locking Tuners. Each tuner is run by a small servo motor that works in sync with the bridge to bring the string up to pitch by altering the string's tension until it is within a desired tolerance. The entire system is powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery housed in the control cavity of the guitar.

Features and functionality

The Robot Guitar has the standard four knobs for individual pickup volume and tone controls; however, in place of the bridge pickup tone knob, there is the Master Control Knob (MCK). The control functions like a “push-pull” knob: when in the down position, it functions like a standard control. When in the up position, however, the MCK is what coordinates the automatic tuning for the guitar by sending the information and power to the neck PCB through the strings. Then the PCB activates the robot tuners by contact.

Gibson Robot Guitar

Post-sale service and repairs

So far, there are no spare parts for sale to the general public from Gibson, nor from Tronical, and the batteries and another lesser importance adds are long ago out of stock, so in case of maintenance or repair needed, the owner should send the guitar to one of the four Gibson robot guitar maintenance authorized dealers in U.S. There are forums specialized in commenting the multiple electronic and mechanical issues in the robot tuning systems. The Dark Fire production was closed (v2), and new -Dusk Tiger and Firebird X - are the new versions. The v2 is radically different from v1.


Users can choose from seven factory presets for tunings, six of which are editable:

Each tuning is selected by highlighting a specific string letter on the MCK.

    E - E B E G# B E - Open E
    A - D A D G A D - D Modal
    D - D A D G B E - "Drop D"
    G - D G D G B D - Open G
    B - Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb - "'Standard' down one half step"
    e - D A D G B D - "Double Drop D"

Gibson Robot Guitar

Each tuning can be returned to "standard" tuning of A (440Hz) by simply pulling up on the MCK knob, and strumming the strings lightly.

Out of the box, the guitar is calibrated to use a 0.10 gauge set of strings, and will tune up within a tolerance of one cent. The calibration can be changed to heavier or lighter strings, and the tolerance can be changed as well. The greater tolerance the user is willing to bear, the faster the Robot Guitar will tune itself. On the fastest setting, Gibson claims that the guitar will tune up in about 15 seconds with a tolerance of 2.5 cents. The onboard computer allows for each of the preset tunings to be overridden by user inputs, but the factory presets can be restored by resetting the computer.

Gibson Robot Guitar

According to company press releases, the system allows for 200 tunings before the battery has to be recharged. This is accomplished with a standard ¼” patch cable connected into a provided AC adaptor, and takes about 90 minutes for a full charge.

The system can be disabled and tuned just like a regular guitar. To do this, it requires the user to disengage the tuning button, making the adjustment manually, and re-engaging the system once the adjustment is complete.

Similar systems

While Gibson advertised the guitar in America as a "world first," similar systems developed by Transperformance have been in use for decades. Jimmy Page currently uses a Les Paul Goldtop with the Transperformance system in it. This system is also endorsed by Graham Nash (The Hollies, CSN) as well as Ed Roland (Collective Soul). The drawback to the Transperformance system is that it requires heavy modification to the instrument, including routing and installing multiple cams and cantilevers.

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