Is the Gibson Robot Guitar the end of Rock as we know it?

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HAL: Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

When I hear the word “Gibson” my mind beats itself up as two different streams of consciousness race towards the front of my cerebral cortex. My liver sends the first salvo as the “Gibson” is a Martini variant. Take your standard extra dry martini with gin and dry vermouth and garnish with a pickled onion, not an olive, and you have yourself a Gibson Martini.

The second and equally dominant thought response provoked by the word “Gibson” is the venerable guitar company that began in Kalamazoo Michigan many moons ago. Visions of Angus Young with his Gibson SG tucked under his right armpit as his legs snap and twitch their way through Hells Bell’s or Slash with his Gibson Les Paul slung so low that it’s in a different zip-code are visions that inevitably bring a smile to my face when I think of Gibson.

HAL: I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.

But Gibson ain’t in Kalamazoo anymore and they’ve taken a sharp left out of the classic rock guitar lane and hung a quick turn without even so much as a curtesy turn signal into some realm of futuristic production that I don’t recognize. This all went down in 2007 with the Les Paul model and now they’ve expanded the “robot features” to the beloved SG and the Flying V.

So what is it? Imagine standing on a stage with one of these robots hanging around your neck. This guitar has a built in tuner, a CPU and motorized tuners on the headstock. Pull out a knob, take your left hand off the stings and strum. The robot guitar will tune itself without you fretting one harmonic or doing the standard 5th fret/open string program. Want to play in a new tuning like open G or Jimmy Page’s favorite alt-tuning DADGAD? Just push a button and the motorized tuners start to whirl and you are instantly in an alternate tuning.

HAL: Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?

What would our rock landscape look like if this machine had been around since the beginning? Would Robert Johnson sound the same? Kurt Cobain? Duane Allman? Jimmy Hendrix?

Can you imagine a ‘Mats show when Bob Stinson was in the band if Bob’s guitar was not only perfectly in tune, but in tune with Paul and Tommy?

The horror…….

One of my favorite moments in rock guitar history takes place exactly 43 seconds into “Eruption” by Eddie VanHalen. He comes out of a steep dive on his whammy bar and levels the bar off and his guitar goes just a tad sharp as he releases the dive. The fact that he went sharp told me as a 16 year old [who wore a permanent groove in that chunk of vinyl] that Eddie was human. It told me that even the best can make a little mistake. It told me that when we hold these sacred chunks of wood and metal and wiring in our hands, that we can never ever be 100% perfect. That gave me hope as an aspiring guitarist to keep plugging away.

I know that the fact that Eddie went sharp has more to do with the whammy bar and floating bridge than tuning or intonation issues with his guitar, but in an era of studio software that can correct a singer’s pitch or paste togther 5 different takes on a solo to piece togther one perfect solo, I find that our rock is becoming sanitized and sterile. That the analog heart and soul is slowly being digitized and stripped away leaving us with nothing more than a bad B-side to an early Echo and the Bunnymen release.

HAL: I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.

I don’t want perfect music. I don’t want perfect pitch. I don’t want my guitar to tune itself into perfect standard tuning. 

I want songwriters to take life as they see and know it and then put words and melody to those experiences and deliver them, warts and all, to the starving masses. A robotic guitar is not the tool to do this. Burn these guitars and throw away the Compound-W. I want my music with some warts on it.

Elvis McCoy – proud user of Dr. Z amps, Trailer Trash pedal boards, Lava Cables and the greatest guitar ever made, the Telecaster.

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