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Music creation at the touch of a button with Tabstrummer


December 22, 2011

The guitar-shaped Tabstrummer programmable MIDI controller allows users to create and register guitar chords to buttons on the neck and strum songs via PCB strings

The guitar-shaped Tabstrummer programmable MIDI controller allows users to create and register guitar chords to buttons on the neck and strum songs via PCB strings

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Electronics enthusiast Miroslaw Sowa and programmer Vsevolod Zagainov - both from Montreal, Canada - are currently busy putting the final touches on a new button-based, guitar-shaped sound machine called the Tabstrummer. In the same way that tablature notation has allowed players like me (who are unable to read score) to learn new songs, this new MIDI instrument allows folks who'd like to play a guitar, but for whatever reason can't, the opportunity to easily create some chord-strumming music. The instrument allows chord shapes to be assigned to clicky buttons on the short neck, which can then be recalled and played as a song by simultaneously strumming or picking the virtual strings.

Described by its creator as a karaoke for your fingers, the Tabstrummer features an Atmel microcontroller at its heart, touch-sensitive printed-circuit-board (PCB) trace strings positioned in the familiar position on the transparent 3mm-thick acrylic guitar body (which are wide enough apart to enable individual picking as well as full strumming), and a neck hosting 24 clicky buttons. A dozen of these buttons can be programmed with a chord shape and stored in the onboard memory, which retains entries even after the instrument is powered off. The instrument also features MIDI out and audio out ports.

To enter a chord shape for later recall, a user presses the RC button on the neck to activate the Record Chord edit mode. The user is then prompted to press one of 14 sound-generating buttons - 12 numbered buttons representing fret positions on a guitar neck, the X button for a muted string or the O for open string - for each of the six strings. A user could, for example, mute the bottom E string, then press button number 2 for the A string, then 2 again for the D string, followed by 1 for the G string, then 0 or mute for the remaining two strings.

When all of the string values have been chosen, a green LED flashes to signal that the chord needs to be stored in a memory location for later recall.

After 12 chord patterns have been stored, a user can then choose to record a song using the RS button. Up to 300 songs can be stored in the instrument's onboard memory, and can be subsequently retrieved using the LS button. The SND button offers eight different guitar-like sounds, and the TNS button allows the player to raise or lower recorded song settings by a semi-tone - then the new transposition can be saved to another memory location.

As with guitar tab (where a player needs to follow finger/fret positions marked on a diagrammatic representation of a guitar's six strings in order to play), the timing, rhythm and some knowledge of how a chosen song actually sounds will need to come from the user.

The designers are hoping to release the unit as a build-your-own kit containing the printed circuit board with surface-mounted components already soldered in place, and the acrylic body and housing - or as a fully-assembled model - in Q2 2012. Sowa told us that the Tabstrummer will likely cost in the region of US$100 to $200.

As you can see (and hear) from the following demonstration video, the clicking sound of the buttons may prove to be rather annoying. Perhaps, if I may be so bold as to suggest, later versions might replace the clicky buttons with something more like those on the Kitara's fingerboard.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

I want one. My fingers are too soft and fat to easily play a guitar. Yes I know there are some great guitar players with big hands but I have too many interests to spend the time they did. It does seem too short but that does make it portable and it would sell it much better if it was a great song instead of him just wandering around like that.

The Hoff

Hoff, I have no issues playing guitar(I play lead guitar in a melodic death metal band) and my hands are enormous. My index and middle fingers together are almost the size in width and height of my cellphone.

As for the softness, your fingers just need to develop calluses.

Stephen Wright

Finally, one of these guitar-like toys at a reasonable price for mucking about. $100-$200 for what was displayed is quite affordable and would make for some interesting playing. It would also be quite cool to whip it out on stage for a bit of showmanship. You could probably also tune it for playing guitar solos since each of the buttons holds a complete mapping for each string, they don\'t need to actually be \"chords\" so much as individual notes to play. Sign me up.

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