Rise of the machines
There’s been a lot of talk in guitar circles about Gibson’s decision to include, as standard, its G-Force tuning system on the vast majority of its 2015 range. The headstock mounted auto-tuner takes away the freedom of the player. It assumes we don’t already know how to tune a guitar, or don’t believe our ears. It eats battery and will die mid-set, leaving you horribly out of tune. It scares small children and cannot be trusted.
Of course, these complaints are often voiced by people who have never even tried one. If you’ve tried one and decided it’s not for you, fine, but if you’re basing your opinions on internet forums and guitar gossip, then hopefully this article will help bust some of the myths and show you the true potential of this new technology.
What is it?
At its core, the Gibson G-Force system is an automatic tuner. You strum your strings, the unit on the headstock recognises the vibration frequencies and uses tiny servo motors to turn the machine heads. Very quickly, very accurately. It runs off a rechargeable L-Ion battery which is good for around 100 ‘tuning’ cycles, and can be charged very quickly. If you run pedals off a battery you’ll know it’s prudent to use a new battery every couple of gigs anyway, so there’s no difference here.
Engineering in action
The G-Force is actually a bit of an engineering marvel. For something so small to operate at the speed and accuracy that it does is impressive. First off, the strings being strummed makes the wood on the guitar’s body and neck vibrate. Nothing new there. What the G-Force does is then ‘translate’ these vibrations. The basic theory is that for every motor there is a small electronic ‘drive’ telling it what to do. The drive reads the vibrations and sends a message to the servo motors giving them exact information about what action they need to take.
Any time you see a robot in a factory making those tiny, jerky, super-quick movements – that’s servos in action. They are accurate to within micrometres, which I’m sorry to say is more accurate than you are. They are also, thanks to the torque employed as they turn, able to start and stop with that same level of accuracy only with incredible speed.
So how can users of G-Force reasonably expect to benefit from their new system? Well, aside from the speed and accuracy we discuss above, there is the near limitless potential of alternate tunings. If you’ve played in standard E all your life, perhaps with the odd dabble in drop D, then you will love the exploration and adventure that comes from playing in a different tuning. And, best of all, you can be all tuned up and ready to play in your obscure new tonality within seconds. Don’t like it? Try another. And another. And, if it’s still not for you, you can be back safely tucked up in your standard tuning bed with slippers and a piping hot cup of cocoa approximately 45 seconds after the whole sorry episode began.
Say you’re recording. Time is money in any studio, and time spent tuning manually is time which could be better spent playing, tinkering with effects pedals or trying to work the vending machine. Knowing that you’re bang in tune, every take, is mandatory when you’re committing to tape, and G-Force takes away the worry of recording what you think is the perfect solo only to listen back and hear it sounds like a burning pet shop.
Another good one to consider is the impact on string changes. No more stretching, tuning, playing, tuning, stretching, tuning etc. You simply feed the strings into the machine heads, strum and it does it all for you in seconds. Finally, a solution for the ‘it’s going to snap and blind me’ issue faced by all guitarists with the high e…
What G-Force isn’t
Put simply, G-Force isn’t the horrible, intrusive, weighty waste of time that some people would have you believe. It’s designed, by guitarists, for guitarists, and serves only to make your life easier.
It doesn’t impact on your tone as the electronics aren’t in any way linked to the guitar’s existing electronics. By that we mean it doesn’t ‘auto-tune’ as you play like some systems, correcting duff notes on the fly.
It doesn’t stop you tuning manually, if that’s what you want. Unlike the earlier Robot Gibson, which could at a push let you tune manually, the G-Force tuners operate at a fairly standard 1:40 ratio and are perfectly happy for you to tinker with them (as long as they’re not in action, so to speak.)
It won’t weigh your headstock down. Players of Flying V and SG guitars know only too well the problem of headstocks drooping down towards the ground, but the small box on the back of the new range won’t make that any worse.
It’s not a new technology. This is a crucial one – understandably, some people are concerned about new technology and its ability to stand the test of time. Well, this is now at least the third iteration of the auto-tuning Gibson, and over time the tech has evolved and become more efficient, more reliable and more user friendly.
To sum up, yes it was a bold move to put this new system on almost all of the new range. Why mess with something which doesn’t need to be messed with. But for every accusation of them creating a solution to a problem which doesn’t exist, there’s one easy response. Gibson aren’t mugs. They’ve been making and selling top quality instruments for more than 100 years, so they know what does and doesn’t work. Who’s to say in 20 years we won’t all be looking back and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.