UC Berkeley News


Waw-wah? Yea yea!
A display of new guitar technology is among this year’s Cal Day highlights

08 April 2004


With all due respect to Jack White, the guitar developed by Adrian Freed and his colleagues is of an altogether different stripe. Computer chips in the instrument’s interior digitize its clean sound; the guitar connects to a computer, amp, or effects box using an Ethernet cable.

“Imagine using six guitar amplifiers – one for every string,” says Freed, research director at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT). Freed will be on hand with prototype versions of the guitar from 1 to 2 p.m. when CNMAT opens its doors on Cal Day, Saturday, April 17. CNMAT, located just north of campus at 1750 Arch Street, will offer programming from noon to 4 p.m.

A true melding of music and technology, the new guitar gives musicians what Freed calls “unprecedented control, allowing them to adjust the volume and tone of each string individually.” In a room equipped with multiple speakers, Freed says, it’s possible to send the sound from each string to a different speaker, creating kaleidoscopic sound and giving the listener the sense of hearing the guitar from within its soundhole.

On Cal Day, Freed will be showing off some of the effects that are made possible by the guitar’s digital interface. One effect guitarists appreciate, he says, is that the guitar’s wah-wah pedal can produce other vowel combinations, such as ee-ay ee-ay (which turns into “yea yea” when you say it, or play it, rapidly). The instrument’s potential attracted an early backer in Gibson Guitars, which underwrote further research matched by a state grant the university secured.

The Gibson Digital Guitar rolled out earlier this year, offering musicians with three grand to spare the chance to say goodbye forever to the buzz from their guitar’s pickup and analog signal noise. Freed says it will be challenging but rewarding to find appropriate musical examples to highlight the effects he wants to demonstrate. “I’m an acoustic roots guitar player,” he explains, “and timbral exploration has been until recently the province of the electric guitarist.”
To explore aural and other possibilities on the Berkeley campus, make plans to attend this year’s Cal Day on Saturday, April 17, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 350 events are scheduled. For information, visit www.berkeley.edu/calday/.