Noah Watenmaker and Thao Pham from We Anything Build (WAB) are putting the finishing touches to a new stringed instrument that will allow a player to change neck or body configurations whenever the mood, or the song, dictates. Where the bizarre-looking Ministar from Bob Wiley dispensed with the body altogether, the kitar's through-neck will slot into a body section housing effects and controls. This gives the player the potential to change from lead to bass on the fly, or from one shape to another, or select different tones and onboard effects. WAB has so far designed two body shapes and a number of necks of different scale lengths and string counts, but is also allowing home builders to let their creative juices flow by making build plans available as open source.
Watenmaker is a graduate of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona. His early testing laboratory was a cheap five string electric bass, which served as a proving ground for effects circuitry experimentation and voyages of discovery into open tuning territory. For the kitar project, he takes care of the neck construction and technical wizardry. Pham is responsible for creating the overall look and feel of the kitar, then carving out the shapes to match.
The first prototype was built by the close of 2012 and received a warm reception when shown to folks involved in the music industry. It had a solid walnut body, and a 25.5-inch scale wenge neck kept nice and tense by an LMI two-way truss rod, and was topped by an ebony fingerboard with Evo Gold extra large frets. From the walnut head sprouted Gotoh open-gear tuners, while the opposite end boasted Graph Tech low friction saddles fixed to a custom bridge plate, and a Lace Alumitone Deathbucker pickup with standard volume and tone controls.
WAB installed a battery-powered Z-Vex Wooly Mammoth distortion circuit in the kitar's solid body, with knobs for controlling the level of distortion, compression, tone and volume positioned on the instrument's upper edge. This guitar also featured a membrane potentiometer for touch-sensitive expression. Onward connection to an amp was via a standard 0.25-inch instrument jack.
Though it had five strings, Watenmaker told us that Prototype #1 was tuned in the electric guitar range. "We're focusing on open-tuned 5-string necks because it is a very intuitive and fun sonic environment to play with, since it requires none of the esoteric chord shapes and scale patterns that can make learning guitar so frustrating," he reveals. "If one were to order a 25.5-inch scale 6-string neck they could easily tune it to Em11 like most guitars and be ready to rock."
The second version is a hollow bodied instrument with a mahogany core and sitka spruce top. Prototype #2 has a Fat Furry Freak distortion kit from PedalParts installed in the body, with sliders for distortion and compression level control, and sports the same membrane pot and mono output jack as its ancestor.
It comes with a 34-inch scale wenge neck, bloodwood fingerboard and birdseye maple head. The guitar has the same frets and truss rod as the first version, but gains a TUSQ low friction bridge and nut, and a Pick Up The World under bridge transducer pickup with pre-amp and passive tone control.
"Prototype #2 has a number of subtle and substantial improvements," explains Watenmaker. "From a resource-conscious standpoint, the process we use for building our hollow body design uses about half of the unmilled wood typically needed to construct a similarly-sized electric guitar or bass. We also implemented a non-toxic, tough, and gorgeous finish process using 99 percent natural EarthPaint 3D Grain Illuminator and Mountain Finish. The instrument is both sturdy enough to last several generations and highly recyclable and biodegradable."
"The connection system was also simplified," he continues. "We used threaded rods going laterally across the treble wing to hold the first prototype together, but for the second we used a cam and key connection typical of flatpack bed frames. While very strong, simple and cheap, this sort of connection is still a bit inconvenient. We are developing a robust and simple neck changing process to open the platform up to casual sharing. For example, say you own and normally play a 25.5-inch 6-string with a body you built yourself, you can easily mess around with your friend's 34-inch 4-string, or 30-inch 8-string, or even the Flying-V body with MIDI, or the Explorer body with the looper and whammy effects, and so on. The point is exploring and sharing in the creation of music. This platform will open up casual jam sessions, show you new doors when improvising and writing on your own, and make all players essentially multi-instrumentalists."
Though still a work in progress, the WAB team has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to finalize the designs, settle on the best interchangeable neck joint and then build the first production instruments. For a pledge of US$600, backers can fly to DIY heaven with the Builder Kitar. This is essentially just the through neck and the hardware necessary to attach it to a body of the backer's making, along with plans detailing what goes where and how the thingumabob will slot into the doodad.
Full constructs built by Watenmaker and Pham from their workshop in Santa Monica, California are also being offered, starting at $1,800 a pop. Backers get to choose between two custom hollow body styles, each with a mahogany core and zebrawood top. Jack looks kind of like a pixelated, low resolution image of a Strat, while Jill has smoother outer lines.
WAB will also give pledgers a choice of either 25.5-, 30- or 34-inch scale length, as well as the ability to select from four, five or six string configurations. The instrument will have built-in distortion circuitry unless the backer opts to throw in something else.
"As for future on-board effects, the sky is the limit," says Watenmaker. "Anyone with basic soldering skills can assemble passive effects units with kits. Plus, with what people are doing with Arduino, Raspberry Pi and other small tech, there's a lot of potential for a powerful marriage of kinetic and digital music, all open-source and crowd-powered."
In the spirit of the latter, WAB also intends to release detailed build documentation as an open source template for the instrument, which musicians can then use to build a DIY kitar setup, or collaborate with a local luthier to create something with more of a professional edge.
If the Kickstarter outing fails to reach its funding goal, the project will continue at a somewhat slower pace, with regular updates posted to the company website.
Have a look at the pitch video below for more information on the kitar project.