Senior Capstone Project: Guitar of the 21st Century
At the culmination of my degree in Music Technology, with minor in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — I was eagerly determined to create something that I’d long dreamed of. For my capstone project, I decided to break down what was needed, and what I would want, in overhauling the electric guitar for the 21st century.
My criteria mainly revolved around the current incompatibilities between the highly “analog” nature of the electric guitar, being a system rooted in electromagnetic continuous signals, and the digital ecosystem of music production and performance which the craft is increasingly centered around. Transitioning to these modes of digital compatibility on the guitar is a particular challenge, as it is an instrument particularly rooted in “feel” of both playability and sound articulation, in contrast to some of the current MIDI-compatible instrument categories. As such, I found that developing the optimal solution at present time dictates a careful balance between retaining familiarity and feel on the human input mechanism as much as possible, while expanding the output pipeline to integrate more closely with the vast digital ecosystem.
The solution I coalesced unto firstly involved keeping the primary mode of interaction, steel strings along a fretboard, fundamentally the same, to retain the playing dynamics that most guitarists have spent much of their lives perfecting. Where things get quite interesting is at the connecting-level to MIDI and control outputs. For the first time ever, computing power and spatial requirements, battery cost and energy density, and AI-enabled audio processing algorithms have paved the way for what I view as the most useful evolution in the electric guitar — in-built audio-to-MIDI, audio signal, and processing control.
As a result, I devised a guitar which can seamlessly process audio with any effects chain your DAW can produce, convert your playing to MIDI data to reproduce the entire universe of digital sound libraries in real-time, and even be used as a complete standalone to hook directly into a sound system of choice. A set of pressure-sensitive pads make use of underutilized surface area for affecting digital percussive elements, in addition to a player-facing touch display with quick controls for sound selection, live-looping trigger, and external control. Coming soon.
During my Masters in Technology Management, I was faced with solving a serious consumer need as part of a New Product Introduction course team project. We identified that especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, health and health maintenance was a top priority for all of us individually, and likely the broader world. We thought about the complex “soup” of critical vitamins, minerals, and hormones which circulate through the bloodstream, deficiencies or overdoses of which can cause devastating health complications. Even more problematic is the fact that average consumer’s visibility to these nutrient levels commonly remains obscured until the consequences actually arise (e.g. blood tests being expensive and inconvinient, requiring separate processing for each component, and the lack of a preventative healthcare system).
Our solution constitutes a small, body-worn patch which uses Raman Spectroscopy to measure levels of critical bloodstream components through the skin (like a blood-O2 optical device) and relays results to the user via a bluetooth-connected device. Though this measurement technique is still in its early stages of application, it has successfully been applied to the detection of vitamin B-12 in various mediums, and the underlying technology is broad-purpose due to it’s mechanism’s operating principle of identifying molecular structure via vibrational resonance modes.
The result is a discreet, long-life rechargeable device that opens up a new world to consumers’ daily lives; real-time visibility into key internal factors your health status, and the ability to act preventatively with little cost or time and before problems arise. Implications such as population metrics within regions in need, widespread reduction of healthcare system strain and costs stemming from long-term imbalances, and a population more in control of their core health factors have the potential to change the world’s wellbeing, even if by a percentage point. Coming soon(er or later).
When it Doesn't Exist, Make It! - Live Performance Rig
As a constantly striving multi-instrumentalist and coincidental one-man-band, I’ve long dealt with the tricks and trade of attempting to exist as multiple musicians simultaneously. In this quest for musical concinnity, I’ve played my way through a number of tools and technologies to aid in layering of elements; the simple DAW with a combination of virtual and recorded instruments, both rudimentary and more advanced looping station standalone devices, DJ-focused standalone pads and looping controllers, and even specialized looping software on laptops. However, I found that none of these solutions combined the three elements of such a device which I believe are essential: 1) ease of setup and portability 2) I/O and musical controller capabilities as well as expandability, and 3) software flexibility to define workflows and virtual sound elements for live performance.
With these criteria in mind, I quickly conceptualized a very basic framework from a first-principles design perspective. This design would require a “brain” computing unit capable of defining performance workflows while being open to the full universe of virtual instrument plugins and samples, a keyboard surface and a pads grid, a display, a foot control section capable of routing to the brain and controlling any desired triggers or parameters, and a collapsible frame upon which to mount and transport these elements easily.
The model you see here is the initial CAD drawing I created to get a sense for the kinds of parts I’d need to source and the scale at which to build any custom components. This project is currently in the works, and is indeed functional, but yet awaits some nifty 3D printed elements and general aesthetic tidying up — which I’m very excited to share with the world shortly and to begin performing with.