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Inventor Neil Skinn developed his Performer automatic tuning system for solid-body electric guitars such as Gibson USA's Les Paul and Fender's Telecaster and Stratocaster models. Recently, Skinn adapted the Performer installation for Gibson's Chet Atkins SST, the solid-body acoustic guitar shown here. Small electric motors and a system of rocker arms change the tension on open strings to pitches preset by the player. All tunings are entered into the system's onboard computer. Sensors automatically activate the motors to adjust string tension, tune to the preset pitch and correct pitch inaccuracies, Skinn says.
One of the highlights of the Performer installation for the Chet Atkins solid-body acoustic, according to Skinn, is the Piezo Rocker Bridge that he designed for the system. Equipped with a transducer from Highlander Musical Audio Products, the bridge also includes low-friction saddles (the notched parts on which the strings rest) that are designed to help strings glide across the bridge smoothly as the tuner adjusts string tension for each tuning.
The Performer's pitch range on the first (thinnest) string is eight notes, while the range on the remaining five strings is nine notes. Of the system's 229,376 possible tunings, there are at least 60,000 nameable tunings--more harmonic possibilities than most musicians will ever use.
As they do in Les Paul, Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars, the Performer's electronics and mechanics sit in a well routed into the back of the guitar. Two rows of control buttons are mounted on the front of the instrument, and an LCD display showing the current tuning is routed into the upper edge of the body, making it easy to view while the instrument is being played.