The Worst Guitar Innovations of All Time
By Justin Boden
Since the 1950’s, when the electric guitar started to hit it’s golden era, technology has advanced nearly every single facet of our lives. Cars can drive themselves, telephones triangulate our exact location while capturing pictures of our favorite moments and we’ve managed to successfully shoot rockets carrying people into space.
The guitar, however, rests in a part of our culture that seems absolutely allergic to change. Technological advancements are often ridiculed as tone stealing, heritage robbing, new-fangled gimmicks that do nothing but make players yearn for terms like “Classic”, “Original”, “Traditional”, and “Vintage”. Not to mention throwback era “50s” and “60s” models which line out everything we, as riffing aficionados, seem to want in today’s guitars.
Consumers have seemingly guided this trend by passing on anything that doesn’t hold on to classic builds both aesthetically and electronically. While there have been many innovations that have greatly impacted instruments in a positive way, some of the reason for this stagnant advancement is because so many “innovations” that were supposed to be groundbreaking didn’t just flop, they were often laughable, hurt the brand, and were curbed, forgotten, or trashed.
We’ve compiled a list of the worst guitar innovations of all time as a way to understand exactly why guitar players tend to steer clear from innovation, and why everyone is seemingly so obsessed with instruments created in eras that didn’t have seatbelts, cellular telephones, or the internet.
The Original Guitar Pick Punch
The pitch seems perfect, “Never buy another guitar pick again!”, and in theory, a guitar pick maker should be a godsend for the millions of picks that never made it out of a dryer. Their website even proudly proclaims via a user review that The Original Guitar Pick Punch is “the greatest invention since the cotton gin.” Imagine how much money you’ll save throughout your lifetime! Right? Plus I can use your own credit cards as picks? Wow! Well, that’s exactly why it makes the list.
Picks are cheap and the ones you’re going to make with your credit card, or various other materials they recommend are going to be slippery, flimsy or just not made for plucking strings. You even “get” to sand them all down because you know that punch ensures they’re sharp out of the gate. Here at Arizona Music Pro, picks can be had at 3 for $1.00 with some exceptions for specialty picks and so forth. This punch costs $25.00. That means that in order to break even, you’re going to have to make 75 picks. That might sound like a pretty easy accomplishment but think about it. How many picks have you purchased in the last 5 years? Perhaps it’s more, but you bought real, legitimate picks made, designed and coated to play guitar and for what accounts for very little money overall. Plus opportunity cost should certainly be considered as sinking time into making subpar picks surely is among the least valuable things you could spend your time on. Save your money, leave this one on the shelf and relish in the enjoyment of a Tortex, Jazz III or other fantastically designed and produced pick instead.
Gibson Firebird X
In 2010 Gibson promised that the soon to be released Gibson Firebird X would take guitars to new heights. That it would be “revolutionary”, sending functionality and usability into the stratosphere for the low entry-level price of a mere $5,500. “Firebird X is like the world’s best street-legal sports car in looks, feel and performance.”, read the marketing copy.
World’s best sports car? That’s probably a stretch given this thing looks and functioned more like a PT Cruiser and was a colossal flop from the get-go. So sure that this instrument would change the entire landscape of guitars, Gibson called the two swirling colors it came in “RED-olution” and “BLUEvolution”. Sure it had many new features regarding both sound and control options, but it was so complicated that it only confused users with it’s digital Gear Shift knob and toggle switches for built-in effects like reverb, echo, and modulation. Additional switches controlled built-in compression, distortion and EQ as well, making this guitar seem like pedalboards might be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the effects weren’t the greatest, rather limited and as previously mentioned just befuddled users while they held in their discontent towards taking the classic Firebird design and butchering it for the sake of revolution.
Still not convinced? It also came with the now infamous and dreaded Gibson RoboTuners that often failed, didn’t always properly tune, were bulky and perhaps worst of all, could only tune guitar string sets that were .09s, .10s or .11s. The Firebird X was dead on arrival and never really stood a chance. Even the launch of it was a cringe-worthy fizzle out attempt at building hype for something that no one apparently asked for.
The Kitara by Misa was the first “guitar” to use a touch screen as an input in place of strings, and touch buttons for the frets. Realistically this isn’t truly a guitar but rather a MIDI controller meant only to trigger sounds. Fretting actual guitar chords, however, created even more sounds meaning that the ability to play a real guitar was a valuable tool. Which begs the question, is this a synth tool for guitar players or a guitar tool for synth players?
The player was meant to control sound effects via an 8-inch display similar to that of an iPad. Strumming and picking away at the screen, unfortunately, led to an array of poor synth-like sounds. This was because where you touched on the screen, how many fingers you used to touch it and the motion angle you used all affected the sound that emitted making rocking out more of a task than a pleasure and when you’re dropping nearly a thousand dollars on something, it should absolutely be a pleasure to own. As a result, the Kitara met its fate with a short demise lasting only two years before it was benched.
This guitar may look like it doesn’t belong among the other tech-heavy instruments on this list. It’s simple, doesn’t have garish knobs and dials and even checks in at a mere $399 new. Hmm, I wonder what “AT” stands for? It stands for auto-tune folks. Yup, the T-Pain inspired, Britney Spears staple that resiliently has become the defacto tool for less than gifted singers.
Using what Peavey calls DSP technology the guitar works “behind the scenes” to produce alleged pitch-perfect tone and digital intonation adjustments. Beyond perfect pitch and intonation, the biggest selling point seems to be the fact that you are meant to always keep it in standard tuning while it simulates drop D or drop C tuning at the push of a button. This might sound great, but it just isn’t. The input sound running into the pickups isn’t drop D or C, and while it attempts to cover that up, it just can’t truly get it together, causing this guitar that once retailed for $1,000 to plummet into the bargain basement price mentioned above.
Ibanez RGKP6 Kaoss
The Ibanez RGKP6 Kaoss is an entry that on paper seems like it wouldn’t be too bad of a guitar. There’s not too much to go wrong with it given it only has one humbucker at the bridge and only a single knob to control the volume.
What makes this thing fall squarely on the list is the inclusion of the built-in Kaoss Pad by Korg implanted into the body of the guitar. Using a single finger tip allows the player to control up to four EDM-esque sounds at once turning this rather simple guitar into a supposed beat making machine. The Kaoss Pad actually functions pretty well and has seen several iterations from Korg since it was first introduced in 1998.
This instrument isn’t one where the technology didn’t work well and that is what landed it on our list. Instead, the addition of the Kaoss Pad meant that the rest of the guitar had to be made quite cheap in order to stay within the RG line up’s lower-end price point making it pretty poor as a guitar. Unlike most of these innovations, the proof of concept on this one is actually there, however, a low-end guitar like the RGKP6 could have used a little more love in the quality department to make the overall experience great, instead of a pretty neat tool, on a poorly executed guitar.
Gittler Guitars set out to do one thing with their name branded guitar, take minimalism and maximize it according to their website. That means no headstock at all. It means we’re just gonna go ahead and toss out the fretboard, include the most minute body and oh yeah, how about no wood too? The strange and yet fascinating Gittler guitar’s minimalism pretty much ends their, however.
The Gittler has six pickups, one for each string, is made of aircraft quality, high-grade titanium and even has LED lights within each of the rounded titanium frets. If the 31 frets that this guitar offers up aren’t enough, the patented “Infinite Gliss” allows you to fret the guitar through the pickups and all the way down to the tuner at the base of the instrument. Naturally, this thing isn’t weighted properly so an additional balancing arm is included so that you can actually play it. How innovative! While we’re maximizing minimalism let’s talk about the price tag - a cool $7,500.00 and this hosebeast is in your arms forever setting you up to look like you’ve torn apart a Terminator T-800 and simultaneously lost your mind.
It’s the mid-1970’s and electronic organs and synths are becoming all the rage. So what is a guitar maker to do? If you’re Italian guitar producer Godwin, you take 13 knobs, add 19 switches smack them onto a guitar, throw some synth electronics in it and try to capitalize on all the glory that is the guitorgan. Godwin wasn’t the only company to make this attempt, even Vox got in on the madness, but Godwin’s version is generally considered the coup de gras of guitorgans.
Godwin’s version had the user fretting but not plucking strings in order to play notes while the organ side of the guitar is engaged. Check out the above video as an example, to get a better understanding as to how it works. Some of the sounds weren’t actually too bad, however, most were pretty much useless and served as a mere novelty at best. Ironically this guitar is now extremely collectible, not because of how awesome it was but because only about 100 were ever made, and who knows how many still exist today.