Gibson CEO unveils digital guitar

In a quiet meeting room one level above the NAMM show floor in Anaheim, Calif., Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz opened a guitar case revealing the future of Gibson instruments: a digital guitar. Eleven years in the making, Gibson's digital guitar will make its official debut in February and come equipped with a 1/4-inch plug and an Ethernet port.

Carrying the familiar Les Paul name and style, Juszkiewicz said that first and foremost he wanted to make this a great guitar. The second objective was to give guitar players the best digital experience they could want without making it difficult for them.

"Our thought process is that guitar players have a love affair with their guitar," Juszkiewicz told MacCentral. "To date, technologies have missed the mark -- a great technology enhances your life and our design philosophy was to make it invisible to the player."

In fact, the digital Les Paul is both a traditional guitar with a "classic" 1/4-inch plug and a digital guitar with an Ethernet port. Looking at the guitar from the front, you would never guess that Gibson had been able to fit some 1,100 extra components behind the jack plate. In the short time I was able to play the guitar, it definitely had the look and feel of a classic Gibson Les Paul.

The Hex Pickup in the digital guitar captures a separate signal for each individual string and sends it to the onboard digital converter which uses Gibson's MaGIC digital transport technology to send the signal out of the guitar via the Cat-5 Ethernet Cable. The cable is capable of carrying the signal 100 meters with no latency issues or loss of quality, according to Juszkiewicz. The cable is plugged into a Breakout Box -- included with the guitar -- which then converts the digital information back to analog and outputs it in Sum, Stereo or Hex configuration.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Juszkiewicz. "What this technology allows is just enormous -- very powerful things are going to happen. This is not just a guitar, it's a platform.

Juszkiewicz said that the technology has been so seamlessly integrated into the guitar that a player could actually remove all of the digital components, including the Hex Pickup and the guitar would still function perfectly in "classic mode."

"We are a servant to our customer," said Juszkiewicz. "This is something our customers will want and need in the future."

Planning for future technology updates, Juszkiewicz said the entire board that controls the digital part of the guitar can be replaced, effectively updating to the newest technology from Gibson.

Those players that want an Epiphone or acoustic digital guitar will have to wait a bit longer, but not too much. Juszkiewicz said that Gibson plans to launch those models by the end of 2005.

The digital battle in the music industry rages on as some guitarists simple refuse to use more than a pedal board and amp, while others openly welcome technology in their instrument. Juszkiewicz admits that, for now, the digital guitar will not be for everyone.

"It will definitely be for the bleeding edge player," said Juszkiewicz.

However, even if the Les Paul Digital guitar initially attracts only the bleeding edges players, there is no turning back for Gibson.

"It is indeed the future of Gibson and the industry," said Juszkiewicz. "We are going to do it because it's the right thing to do."

This story, "Gibson CEO unveils digital guitar" was originally published by PCWorld.

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