Ni28 ELECTRONIC MIDI GUITAR – CONCEPT

This is my Bachelor project from 2018. I designed and built an electronic guitar that can be played effortlessly.
The instrument is a standard MIDI controller that controls electronic instruments and software via USB. Instead of strings and frets, the neck holds a matrix of brass plates. Two adjacent elements can be bridged with a finger, closing a circuit, which generates the appropriate note.
The working title of the product was Ni28, after the nickel plating of its characteristic touch plates.
ADVANTAGES

Compared to regular string instruments, this technique requires no force at all. The slightest touch is enough to produce a sound – making the instrument a promising alternative for musicians who want to play faster than usually possible or for disabled users. All „frets“ have the same size and tactile gaps between each other, making extensive training and muscle memory unnecessary for playing the instrument blindly. Several modes with different advantages and disadvantages are possible. The frets can be tapped and produce a note when touched or only after the appropriate string is activated with the other hand, just to name two. I envisioned this guitar as a more performance-friendly alternative to controlling electronic instruments with a regular keyboard.
MODULAR CONSTRUCTION

Since all the interface elements and electronics are contained within the neck, the skeletal “body” can be easily swapped for a different design.
PATENT RESEARCH & FUNNY ANECDOTE

My fully functional prototype got me my degree. A patent research process was initiated afterwards to check if the concept was worth protecting. In the meantime, I showed the instrument to various guitarists and keyboardists and noticed something strange: It didn’t work for old people. After some measurements I noticed that the skin resistance of older people could be a magnitude higher than mine. I couldn’t make the circuitry more sensitive since a thin film of sweat on the fingerboard could have the same conductivity as older skin and completely disable the instrument.
I quickly threw together a new prototype that worked with capacitive sensors instead of resistive ones. That one worked even better and even galvanically isolated the touch plates from the electronics, making everything much more robust. Aftertouch or velocity control might have been possible with this approach. Unfortunately, an American patent was considered too close to this solution, so I decided to shelf this project. A bit frustrating, but also a funny anecdote and a great lesson in product development.