Frank Piesik, who is an instrument modder, has combined 3D printing, electronic hackery and touch sensing to create the ElektroCaster that bridges the gap between traditional guitars like a Telecaster and full-on electronic sound makers.
Piesik has previously engaged in a number of guitar hacks to enhance standard electrics with not-so-standard robotic elements, control interfaces and audio effects, but the host instrument wasn't completely sacrificed. The main driving force for building an ElektroCaster from scratch was to light up the fingerboard.
We've seen many attempts to teach guitar using LEDs over the years, but few have actually made it to production. Of course, there are luthiers and makers who will replace inlays with LEDs, but whole neck light shows are still pretty rare.
As Piesik admits he's no carpenter, he looked to his maker roots for a way to build a modular instrument to his specs – using tools like a 3D printer, a CNC router and V-Slots. On his wish list were things like the ability to change the number of strings or even the space between them, a per-string signal path so that sounds could be assigned to individual strings, and touch-enabled frets. As well as the 144 RGB LEDs.
The ElektroCaster has two computers running the show (a Teensy 3.6 for the audio and an Arduino Duo for everything else). Piesik has also created something he's calling a Kickup, described as the opposite of a pickup. This rocks solenoids that hit the strings from beneath, to allow the instrument to replace (or perhaps even augment) the player's picking hand. There is a custom-made MultiBow sustainer module in prototyping too. Where the commercially-available Ebow drives just one string at a time for sustain, and the MultiBow is designed to essentially be six EBows – one for each string.
The output from the ElektroGuitar is routed to a standard instrument jack, and there's an RJ45 port too which combines the electronics with power. The body shape comes courtesy of 3D printing, while the internals is partly hidden using ply covers.
You can get a feel for what the ElektroCaster is capable of (so far) in the sequencing demo video below.