By Phyllis Pollack
Juszkiewicz says that new models of the guitar’s line, including Les Pauls and SGs, will include the Min-ETune feature that allows players to tune their guitar automatically with just the touch of a button, and a few strums of a guitar.
During the interview, he confirmed that the self-tuning feature will be built onto new guitars, and that later on, they will be available for purchased separately for those that want to modify their guitars.
The new innovation allows guitarists to choose a variety of tunings, or they can choose program in their own tunings.
This development also enables performers to switch tunings without the necessity of having more than one guitar on stage. A simple touch to the tuner on back of the headstock will enable guitarists to switch tunings.
Several Gibson models with self-tuning are available through retail.
“It’s on most of the models that are in our 2013 Gibson line,” he remarks. In addition to Gibson guitars, he comments, “It will also be on several Epiphone models, so it will really be affordable.”
The new Mini-ETune addition will become the standard for several models, including SGs, ES-335s and other models. “Everything,” he confirms.
“It’s not on all models yet, and it’s mostly because we don’t have enough of these (tuners) to go around. So we picked what were the most obvious models we thought most people might want this on,” he explains.
“But within 18 months, it will be on every single Gibson,” he asserts.
With six lights, one representing each string, when the lights are all green, the guitar is in tune.
He pulls out a sunburst Epiphone Les Paul Studio guitar. “It’s our version of studio version guitar. If you look at it, you don’t really see anything unusual about it.”
However, on the back of the headstock, there is metal box. “What’s sort of hidden in a sense is our new Min-ETune system. What the Min-Etune system does is automatically tune your guitar. So very simply, and I’ll demonstrate a button, he says.
“Red means it’s ready to tune. You just strum it a couple times,” he says, strumming the strings with his right hand. While doing this, the six red lights on the back of the headstock become green, one by one. “And it’s in tune,” he notes.
“It’s that simple,” he points out. “It’s that fast.”
When asked if you can tune the guitar in various tunings in addition to standard tuning, he responds that it does. “It’s got a controller, so you can do more complex tunings. But generally the player will store anywhere from three to six or seven tunings, you know.”
“A drop D, a Jimi Hendrix, but it’s that easy,” he says. “You press the button, a couple strums, I was using my thumb, so it takes a little longer, but normally when you use a pick, its a couple of strums, and you’re in any tuning you want.”
Not only is it accurate, it is also faster than tuning the guitar oneself.
Juszkiewicz notes, “And it does something that a human can’t do. So when you tune the guitar manually, you tune one string at a time, right? Well, as soon as that string is in tune, all the other five are automatically of tune, because you’ve changed the tension on the neck, just ever so slightly.”
“And that’s why you typically would re-tune several times, and you will get pretty close, but this is a computer,” he emphasizes.
“It’s scanning like ten thousand times faster.” Noting that it’s digital, he says, “There’s a little micro-processor in here.”
This means that chromatic tuners are no longer necessary. “Absolutely,” he states. “And this does a much better job because it’s actually tuning all the strings at the same time.” While the guitar is atomatically tuning, one can see the strings moving simultaneously.
“You can’t do that,” says Juszkiewicz. “You don’t have six hands. So this can get a lot more accurate, and it’s a lot faster.”
“And it’s still a manual tuner,” he points out. “If there’s any reason there’s one string you don’t want to mess with, you turn it to manual.”
Will this affect the value of older Gibsons that were made prior to this modern feature that are not vintage? Asserts Juszkiewicz, “I don’t think it’s going to affect it at all.”
“Some people say that it makes the vintage guitars more vintage, because they don’t have the electronics, right?” adds Juszkiewicz.
“So I don’t think it will have a big impact,” when it comes to the post-vintage models,” he says.
Juszkiewicz points out, “However you can buy this separately. If you want to have someone install it on the guitars you already own, we will have something out under four hundred dollars, and you can install it on many of Gibson’s older models, as well.”
“So it’s up to you if you think this is cool. If you’re a player, you gotta have this,” he says, noting, “If you’re a collector, you have different values.”
When it comes to performing live, he says, “The average player, first of all, doesn’t understand how often alternative tunings were used in popular songs.” Whether it’s Keith Richards or Jackson Browne, a guitarist can’t get the song to sound the same, playing in standard tuning.
“Jimi Hendrix always played, you know, a half step down, and so they’re looking at the fingering, and it’s not sounding right,” he says of those that are not knowledgeable enough to know that the songs they are learning are played by the artist using different tunings, not standard tuning.
“It’s not just the fingerings, but there’s a different tone when you have slackers strings, and so forth,” he states.
“So for players that are more knowledgeable about tunings, it’s just such a pain,” he emphasizes. “It sounds geeky. Because you’re playing one Stones song, then you want to get back into standard tuning. The pros have a lot of guitars, and they’ll have them tuned to whatever.”
He average player may not have several guitars to have different tunings immediately available.
“So what this does,” he says, “is bring richness in playing compositions.”
When playing a medley, one could change tunings, as well. “It’s remarkable,” reiterates Juszkiewicz.
“Also, if you’re a younger player, and you’re just getting into playing guitar, tuning is like a real big nightmare. You don’t have your sense of pitch developed yet. So even relative tuning, which most players do, it’s not purely accurate. Now with this, bingo,” says Juszkiewicz confidently.
It’s a no-lose situation, both for Gibson and guitarists.
There are times that once you’re more into guitar, you develop pitch sense, and tuning guitars becomes a whole different thing. It’s not about getting guitar in tune, but how you affect the tone and lots of other things. You are still able to do this, but without the hassle factor,” he relates.
Noting how often guitars go out of tune when being played, Juszkiewicz addresses that factor.
“When I play, I do a lot of bends, especially when playing blues. Inevitably, the guitar is out of tune before the end of the song,” he contends. “Well, the average person like me is lazy. I only re-tune the guitar after I play a song. I’ll be bending a note anyway, so it will be close. But with this thing, I just press that button, man, and it’s just remarkable.”
It seems that in the case of many guitars, despite modifying the tuning pegs, there is always that one string that doesn’t stay in tune. “Yeah, yeah,” acknowledges Juszkiewicz.”
“When one string goes out of tune, the other strings go out of tune,” he mentions.
“You just changed the tension on the string significantly,” he maintains. “So all bets are off if you’re playing. You’re going to have to put that guitar down, because you’re going to have to re-tune every string. With this, you press a button, and the other five strings are good to go, and at least, finish your song.”
Juszkiewicz responds to this by saying, “The other thing about this is that it has two other things that are useful, especially on stage,” he states.
“Then re-stringing that string is easy, because it’s a locking tuner. So all you do is put the string in there, tighten it down. Boom. You’re good to go.”
“But normally, you would clip (off the extra string sticking out), but (with the Min-E-Tune) if you’re in a hurry, just put the string in there, hit the button, you’re onto your next song.”
Then a player would normally have to clip the strings, which is not an issue here.
“Otherwise when you wrap, that’s one of the biggest problems in maintaining tuning. Because you just wind it around, and you may not have wound it well, and the tension isn’t right. So the string is constantly slipping,” he states.
“The other thing that happens with new strings is the string is generally not under tension, so it stretches” He strums a chord.
Also, if you’re playing in a warm, humid room for a week, that can change the tension on the strings, making them stay in tune for less time. The longer you use a pair of strings, the less time they will stay in tune.
“With this, push a button, and all that goes away again,” Juszkiewicz says. “New strings, you can press button two or three times during a song.
Then there is the annoying situation when playing live, and a string breaks. Says Juszkiewicz, “All the other strings go out of tune, because you’ve changed the tension on the neck significantly. So all bets are off, you have to put that guitar down, because you are going to have to return every string.”
The Min E-Tune, and all of its components are entirely manufactured by Gibson.
“In fact,” Juszkiewicz points out, “Originally when we came out with it, this is sixth or seventh generation of this technology.”
“We just literally introduced it a couple of weeks ago,” he notes.
There were initially some challenges to getting it right, due to technical requirements as far as powering it, and other issues. Says, Juszkiewicz “But these are nano motors, and there’s a lot of tension. There’s 200 pounds of tension on each strings, so it’s really hard to do that, and do that without a huge battery. This is really nano technology. It’s really, really precise.”
The battery it uses is rechargeable. Juszkiewicz affirms, “There is a charger. You just put it in the charger.” A thin slot allows the battery to quickly slide in.
The batteries stay charged for far more than adequate period of time, especially when it comes to playing gigs. “Yeah, it goes typically, depending on how radical your tuning is. If you’re just E tuning it to standard tuning, it’s not that big of a deal. If you’re going between, you know, a couple of radical tunings all the time, then it obviously uses more power,” contends Juszkiewicz.
“But typically, it will do between two and three hundred tunings,” he says, which allows players the confidence of using it on stage in a club, without worrying, or having to include some back up method for accurate tuning, such as having a chromatic tuner in one’s daisy chain.
The system includes an additional back-up battery.
“Even if it goes dead and you don’t have a back-up, these tuners are manual, okay? So it’s not like the guitar goes dead. It’s just that you don’t have that quick access to perfect tuning. You just have to go back and tune your guitar, is all. It’s not that catastrophic, he remarks. But they’re small, why not just have an extra battery. It would probably be helpful to have an extra battery.”
As far as the weight of the Min E-Tune addition to the guitar, “It’s actually lighter than a traditional guitar,” says Juszkiewicz.
“Try tuning this guitar,” he says, while handing a demo model Les Paul to me. “Just keep strumming, that’s all you’ve got it to.” The strings start moving as if a person was turning the tuning pegs. “Basically, you just press the button once, and what will happen is al the LEDs will go red, right? So now it’s tuning. So when it’s tuned, the buttons turn green, one by one.”
So when they’re all green, it’s in tune. “It’s good to go,” he says.
When tuning the guitar, one doesn’t even do so much as even playing a chord. One simply strums it. If you play a chord, says Juszkiewicz, “It doesn’t know what to tune it to.”
I ask Juszkiewicz if I can try it using a guitar pick. He doesn’t have any. I then remove two guitar picks from a chain I’m wearing around my neck, and hand one to Juszkiewicz.
"You can press the button twice, and cycle through all the different tunings, same thing," he points out, demonstrating the technology.
He hands me back my guitar pick, along with the guitar.
I then tune the Les Paul by using the automated feature.
With this new age gadget, it even takes over when stringing the guitar. Guitarists no longer need to use their string winder or their clipper.
“Then it has re-string mode for when you’re changing strings,” Juszkiewicz adds. “New strings, they’re not under tension yet, right? So this has a special mode where you press a button. It knows that you just put on new strings, and it will automatically get close, and then start tuning,” he reveals. “So you don’t have to mess with winding and winding.”
“There’s even a intonation mode, but that is complicated. Very few players intonate their guitar, like at the factory. But because we have precise tuning, we can do that,” he offers.
“So when you change string gauges on the guitar, you’re messing up the guitar, because it’s different tension,” he explains. “It’s intonated say for using 8’s, now you are using 10’s, or vice versa, and the guitar is not going to sound right.”
This can affect someone that is using a guitar to play some a harder rock or metal song, and then changes to heavier strings to play a jazz or funk. “Right. So this will allow you to compensate, and get it factory perfect.”
It is worry free. Says Juszkiewicz, “It’s all there. You don’t have to add anything; it’s all there. No new stuff or old stuff that you have to buy.”
“Oh, yeah,” reveals Juszkiewicz. “It will be in Memphis guitars, the 335s, and that sort of thing.
“It will also be in acoustic guitars,” he remarks.
“This can go on any guitar. If it has a headstock, we can put it on there,” he says. “It’s very cool.”
Says Juszkiewicz ,“We have some pretty affordable stuff. We will have a couple of Gibson U.S. built models with the Min E-Tune system for under a thousand dollars, which is pretty competitive for a Gibson, right?
“And we’ll also have some Epiphones, he said,” referring to the less expensive versions. Of course, they will cost less than the Gibsons, says Juszkiewicz.
When asked about the vintage and non-vintage Gibsons that don’t have the feature, Juszkiewicz reports that the Min E-Tune feature can be added. “We actually have a retro-fit kit, so you could put this on your old or vintage guitars, depending on which guitars you have.”
If a player is willing to modify a vintage model, Juszkiewicz says, “The only thing that matters is where the holes are, because you have to support the tuners. You have to replace the tuners, because they’re electronic.”
“So the circuit board, the little black thing in the back of the Min E-Tune has to have the holes into the right place, so the tuners go through. So every guitar is different, where they put the tuners, and how big the headstock was,” he points out.
Getting prepared for this, Gibson has several different sizes to compensate varying headstocks and tuner placements.
Says Juszkiewicz So we have 36 different circuit boards that cover about 80 percent of the guitars, even Strats and stuff. But you know, you really should have someone do it for you, because you are re-building the guitar. I mean, it’s not hard, but you really should intonate it. You should adjust the truss rod.”
“Unless you are competent at doing a guitar, don’t try this at home. “Exactly,” cautions Juszkiewicz.
“But the kit is going to be under four hundred dollars. So you can adjust all your guitars, you can do them whenever you want, you know,” he suggests.
“They will be available in two years.” This means that players can take their guitars to whoever they trust to do this modification.
For non-vintage guitars, it is the same thing. “So your investment in your guitar is still good,” he says.
Endorsing NAMM this week was the legendary Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who gave a special performance for Gibson to an overflowing, packed house.
Among the many other musicians here this week on behalf of the guitar line are Tommy Thayer of Kiss, Steve Stevens, Billy Morrison bassist, producer and American Idol judge Randy Jackson, Robb Flynn of Machine Head, Lisa Loeb, Ambrosia's David Pack, Brian Ray of the Paul McCartney band and Dave REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato.
“I know that Jason Hook is here,” remarked Juszkiewicz. “He has a really nice guitar coming out that’s really pretty spectacular, I’m very excited about that.”
The new models for 2013 will include a replica of Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry’s 1958 Les Paul used during most of his work in the ‘70’s. Among Perry’s collection is the Joe Perry Boneyard Les Paul, and his Gibson “Lucille,” featuring his wife Billy’s portrait on the body of the guitar.
With so many products at Gibson, it is difficult for even Juszkiewicz to keep up with them all. “There are so many new models we have,” says Juszkiewicz. “I’m aware of them, because I see them all at one point in time, but I can’t really give you a lot of detail, because I just don’t remember it at this point.”
“It took us a while to get it the way Joe wanted it, and we’re pretty excited that we’re finally able to bring something out. We think it’s going to be pretty spectacular, because it took a while to do.”
Jason was in my office, and presented me this new model, so I know a lot about that.”
“It’s an Explorer, but he’s made it really contemporary,” he comments. “It’s got a beautiful design on it. He’s improved the access to the higher frets on the instrument, and it really feels a lot better than a traditional explorer, which is a little blocky.
“So he did a great job,” adding, “It’s got a great neck that is incredible. So it’s just a really great guitar designed by a player, who knows what a player needs, if you will. So it’s got the look, and it’s just a fabulous instrument.”
At NAMM 2013, Gibson’s booth is on the third floor of the Anaheim Convention Center in room 303 AB.