Roadie handheld robotic tuner (almost) ready to rock
By Paul Ridden
November 20, 2013
Learning to tune a guitar to concert pitch is one of the first hurdles to overcome when starting out, but it's a necessary evil. You have to know how the strings sound when in tune, to take action when they're not. Once your internal tuning fork gets going, the process of keeping strings ringing true becomes a bit of a drag. All manner of integrated and external gadgetry has been introduced over the years to help newbies or seasoned pros achieve and maintain pitch perfection with little effort. Rather than requiring players to swap out stock tuning heads for some robotic assistance, like with the TronicalTune system, or buy into the digital manipulation of output from folks like Antares, the Roadie Tuner from Hassane Slaibi and Bassam Jalgha of Band Industries slips over each machine head, one at a time, and works with a smartphone to bring an instrument to tune.
The Roadie Tuner has been developed in consultation with professional and amateur players, as well as teachers and learners, who have all helped shape the device through four prototypes to the current pre-production system. It's made up of a 5 x 8 cm (1.96 x 3.15 in), 100 g (3.5 oz) handheld unit that connects wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet running a free Android or iOS Roadie app.
All of the audio processing is undertaken through the app on the mobile device, using its onboard microphone to pick up the sound of acoustic guitar strings, or cabled up via an adapter for electric axes. Algorithms fade out background noise and zone in on the sound of the instrument. The player picks a string and the app determines what's needed at the business end to bring it to pitch. A command is sent to the Roadie over Bluetooth 4.0, and the unit's motorized grip tightens or loosens the tuning head as necessary.
An LED strip on the top of the Roadie Tuner serves as an at-a-glance status indicator. During string adjustment, the light glows green. When the string's ready to rock, the LED turns blue. If there's an error, such as when a player picks the wrong string, the light goes red.
The process is repeated on each string until the guitar is all tuned up. The system offers a tuning range running from A1 (55 Hz) to A5 (880 Hz), and is reported accurate to two cents.
The app allows players to select alternate tunings from a list or create their own (handy for anyone trying to emulate the late great Albert King), and includes a function that monitors the health of the strings. When strings begin to lose their ping or pop, the Instrument Doctor will recommend throwing on a fresh set. The more the app and Roadie are used, the better the system predictions. It also caters for the creation of individual profiles to record an instrument's maintenance history.
The handheld unit's included Li-Pol battery should be good for 6,000 string tunes between charges, and is juiced up via an integrated micro-USB port. The Roadie Tuner is reported to work with any instrument packing guitar-like tuning heads.
The development team has spent the last few months working with manufacturers in Shenzhen, China, to ready the prototype for market. To get a production model into the hands of musicians, a Kickstarter campaign has been launched.
An early bird special pledge of US$69 will put you on the list to receive a Roadie Tuner and an adapter, if the campaign reaches its funding goal. Once the initial 200 Roadies are gone, backers will need to stump up another $10 for the same package. If all goes well, the first units will be shipped out in June 2014.
The pitch video below shows the Roadie tuner and companion app in action.