Learning to play the guitar is hard, and we’ve seen a number of solutions leveraging digital smarts to help kickstart the process and keep students engaged. The latest is a funky X-wing smart guitar from Russia that can be played by everyone from beginners to pros, but was designed to open up playing to the disability community too.

“I’ve long dreamed of picking up a guitar and playing my favorite rock songs but I couldn’t do it because of Duchenne muscular dystrophy,” said Denis Goncharov, founder of Noli Music and student at St Petersburg’s ITMO University. “But I kept practicing and tried to master the chords. In one of my vain attempts, I realized that I wasn’t the only one struggling with this problem. There are millions of other people who strive to feel like a rock star but don’t have such an opportunity due to their conditions. And if you give them that chance, then one day you might hear a new Kurt Cobain.”

Denis Goncharov (left) and Maksim Matveitsov (right) demonstrating Noli's smart guitar prototype recently
Denis Goncharov (left) and Maksim Matveitsov (right) demonstrating Noli’s smart guitar prototype recently

Noli Music/ITMO University

Currently at the prototype stage of development, the finished product is expected to rock an interactive neck with embedded sensors that read the position on the fingerboard where a string is pressed, meaning that players can opt for traditional picking/fretting, sound notes using one hand or even use just a single finger – potentially opening up the instrument to everyone, regardless of ability.

Fret positions can illuminate to show learners where and when to put their fretting fingers, and the strings aren’t brought to pitch so are potentially a little easier on delicate finger ends. But that also means beginners won’t get to learn tunings or get to know what an in-tune guitar sounds like, while seasoned players may find that playing an out-of-tune instrument, but hearing pitch-perfect notes come out of the built-in speaker, is a little disconcerting. Still, as with the Jammy and Jamstik models, the digital smarts could open up an almost infinite universe of tones and effects.

Plans call for the instrument to be controlled via a touchscreen interface, there’ll be a MIDI output and a headphone jack, and the integrated battery should be good for up to 10 hours of per-charge use.

The company is pairing the device with a mobile companion app for access to interactive lessons. “You turn the interactive learning mode on and see which chord you need to play now,” explained the startup’s technical director, Maksim Matveitsov. “Just put your fingers on the lights and see your results on the app. This will help you learn to play the guitar faster.”

A production instrument will look something like this, and will boast an interactive neck with follow-the-light illumination at fret positions, touchscreen control, a built-in speaker, and integration with a learning app running on a smartphone
A production instrument will look something like this, and will boast an interactive neck with follow-the-light illumination at fret positions, touchscreen control, a built-in speaker, and integration with a learning app running on a smartphone

Noli Music/ITMO University

Noli Music reports that it has already had interest in the smart guitar and learning system from Russia and the US, and is looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign shortly to get the whole shebang into production.

Sources: ITMO University, Noli Music

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