The LAB: Task Unification on a Guitar (July 2008)

by | Jul 26, 2008 | Consultants, Technology, The Wheel | 0 comments

The suggestion from one of our readers (thanks, Erez!) is to use Task Unification on a guitar.  His  comment suggests that players have trouble keeping their guitars in tune when playing in a band.  They need to reduce the time it takes to re-tune between songs.  I liked this assignment because I play guitar, and I have a small collection of electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, and a banjo.  This will be the first time I have applied a systematic innovation process to invent new guitar concepts.  Let’s see what happens.
At least two guitar makers have addressed this with electric guitars.  Gibson has their Robot Guitar that automatically tunes itself to one of several tunings including “standard” (EADGBE) tuning.  Pull a knob, dial the tuning you want, and…presto…the guitar tunes itself.  Transperformance has their version, The Performer, which does the same but includes a clever LED on top of the guitar so you can actually track what is happening to each string.  Both have onboard computers and some sophisticated string management systems (pulleys and servos) to do this.   Here is the Robot Guitar in action:

While I consider this innovative, I see these as the traditional model of innovation:  IDENTIFY PROBLEM – FIND SOLUTION.  These guitars are cool, but they are heavily engineered and technology driven (I don’t plan to own one).  The elegance of the systematic approach is that it works in reverse: IDENTIFY SOLUTION – FIND PROBLEM THAT IS SOLVES.  This approach, in my experience, leads to simpler and thus more innovative ideas.  What would be amazing is to find solutions on the acoustic guitar without all the electronics and mechanisms inherent in electric guitars.  That is what I focused on for The LAB this month.
Task Unification is the template that assigns an additional job to an existing resource or component (either internal or external).  We start by listing the components of the product.  Here is the list I made this morning:

  1. pickguard
  2. sound hole
  3. fretboard
  4. frets
  5. bridge
  6. bridge pins
  7. dots
  8. nut
  9. strings
  10. tuners
  11. tuning pegs
  12. truss rod
  13. finish
  14. bracing

There are two tasks I want to assign, one-by-one, to each of these components:  knowing when a string is out of tune, and helping put the string back in tune…quickly.  So we phrase it this way:  “The pickguard has the additional job of knowing when the strings are out of tune.”  Then I try to imagine what the pickguard has to do to make that happen.  A more general way to innovate is to give the pickguard an additional job from a list of tasks, one-by-one, then imagining what problems that solves or what benefits that produces (using Function Follows Form).  This approach will yield a wide range of potential innovations beyond just tuning the guitar.
I came up with these ideas:
SJ-ph-LG For knowing when the guitar is out of tune:  the tuning pegs indicate when they have slipped (rotated due to the force of plucking the strings) or when the string has slipped.  It does this with some sort of pop-up indicator, perhaps gradually to the degree of slippage.  A quick scan of the tops of the tuning pegs could tell the player the status of each string independently and which ones are in most need of re-tuning.
SJ-bridge-LG For re-tuning the guitar quickly:  the bridge pins can be pushed in, perhaps in gradual notches, to place slightly more tension on a string to bring it in tune.  For playing in a band, this would be good enough until the player could use the tuners to do their regular job.  Another advantage is the bridge pins are nearest the right (strumming) hand so its convenient and unobtrusive to quickly push a bridge pin while playing.
Thank you for joining The LAB this month.  Your ideas and comments are welcomed.