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Growing Past the Robot Guitar: The Evolution of the Min-ETune™

Russell Hall

No one would deny that significant innovations in guitar technology have been rampant through the years. For decades, however, an extremely desirable innovation remained elusive: how to simplify, or automate, the process of tuning a guitar. Recent years have seen that long-held player’s dream at last become a reality. In fact, the latest generation of Gibson’s renowned Min-ETune™ system makes tuning as simple—literally—as strumming a guitar.


Let’s take a quick look at the evolution of the Min-ETune™ device. The story begins in the late ‘90s, when a young guitar enthusiast named Chris Adams became determined to develop an automated tuning system. Adams’ efforts bore fruit in 2007, when in partnership with Gibson the Robot Guitar was introduced. Sporting technology based on what was then called the “Powertune” system, the Robot Guitar’s features were available on limited Gibson models.

Early generations of the system functioned splendidly, but they did involve modifications to the guitar’s bodywork. Specifically, the system consisted or wiring between the guitar’s controls and its tuners, which were activated via a modified Master Control Knob. Special piezo sensors were installed in order to transmit the pitch of each string to a microprocessor. The microprocessor, in turn, analyzed the signal and, to achieve proper pitch, triggered activation of Powerhead Locking Tuners. The rotation of each tuner was powered by a small servo motor that worked in sync with the bridge to alter string tension.

Tweaks to the automated tuning system were made throughout the years, but an especially significant upgrade came at the turn of 2013. Dispensing not only with the Master Control Knob, but also with the associated bodywork and wiring modifications, the new design housed the Min-ETune™ in a black box attached to the back of the guitar’s headstock. In other words, the controls were confined entirely to the headstock unit, making the mechanism much less invasive than before and eliminating the need to remove precious tone wood. Such innovations also allowed the Min-ETune™ to become an optional extra on a greater range of affordable Gibson models.

In tandem with the rollout of Gibson’s 2014 models, the latest generation of the Min-ETune™ is far and away the best yet. Improved battery life for the rechargeable lithium battery allows for 80-100 tunings on a single charge. Suppose, however, that you find yourself at a gig, and discover you’ve left the battery at home in the charger? No worries—the dual-mode tuners also allow for conventional manual tuning. The Min-ETune™’s “ability” to “learn” your personal guitar has also been improved—i.e. the more you use the mechanism, the faster it tunes. How fast? Strum the guitar, and generally, in about three seconds you’re in business.

It’s not for nothing that the device is called the Min-ETune™. Smaller and lighter than ever, the mechanism is now so unobtrusive you can’t tell, looking the front of the guitar, that it’s been installed. Indeed, the truss rod cover on Min-ETune™-equipped guitars now bears an “eTune” designation, just so there’s no confusion among players browsing inside a retail establishment.

The new generation of Min-ETune™ comes with 12-presets: standard tuning plus 11 common alternate tunings. You can also create and store six tunings of your own. The mechanism can even tune to a reference point—a must-have feature if you find yourself accompanying a piano that’s tuned slightly flat, for instance.

Small wonder that, for 2014, the Min-ETune™ is a standard feature on more Gibson models than ever before. Simply put, it’s the simplest, most accurate lightweight tuning system in the world. Some experts have gone so far as to assert that, in the not-so-distant future, all guitars will come equipped with the mechanism. After all, any innovation that results in more time for playing, and less interruption, is an altogether good thing.

Further Reading:

Five Min-ETune™ Myths: Busted

Min-ETune™: Smaller, Lighter, Faster, Better

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