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Lebanese duo invent automatic guitar tuner
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BEIRUT: Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro, one of the frustrations that comes with playing a stringed instrument is the time that must be spent tuning it before a sound can be coaxed from it that bears any resemblance to music.

Thanks to an ingenious invention by a pair of Lebanese techies, the cacophonous sound of an out of tune guitar may soon be a thing of the past. Bassam Jalgha and Hassane Slaibi, founding members of the Lamba Labs Beirut Hackerspace in Mar Mikhael, have come up with Roadie, an automatic guitar tuner due to go on sale in the summer of 2014.

The pair have taken advantage of the modern smartphone capabilities to create a free app that, when paired with a handheld metal device that automatically turns the pegs of any guitar, will ensure the instrument is in tune to a level three times more accurate than can be detected by the average human ear.

“Roadie connects via Bluetooth low energy to a mobile app,” Jalgha told The Daily Star by email from the U.S., where the pair are staying until the end of January to be close to their main market. “Users can choose different tunings, they can create their own custom tuning and they can even keep track of their string quality. The mobile app is where all the audio detection and processing happens, kind of like the brain of the system, and it sends commands to Roadie that ensures the proper tuning.”

Roadie is formulated to adapt to an individual instrument, he explained. The device will create a profile for a specific guitar and track changes in the instrument due to age, moisture and temperature, informing the user when new strings are needed.

Jalgha, who describes himself as a “hardware guru” into music, electronics and robotics, designed the control system and is handling manufacturing of the device. The need for an automatic tuner first occurred to him when he began studying the oud, at the age of 12, and found tuning the instrument complex and frustrating.

He has been working on making his idea a reality for five years, since competing in the 2009 pilot series of “Stars of Science,” a pan-Arab reality TV show dedicated to regional innovation. “Winning the competition gave me the initial funds and support to move forward in the project,” he said. “A lot of iterations and development happened afterward.”

In 2012 he teamed up with Slaibi, a software engineer and signal processing expert with perfect pitch, who worked on designing an audio process for Roadie that could mimic and even surpass his innate ability to identify any note.

Once the design was finalized and prototypes tested, the pair launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $60,000 they need to set up for production, rewarding those who donated funds with prereleases of the tuner at a reduced price. Within four days of the Nov. 20 campaign launch, they had already reached their total and Wednesday afternoon, with 24 days left, the total pledged stood at $122,189 – more than double their initial goal.

“We reached our target pretty quickly,” Jalgha said, “It was pretty awesome and unexpected. The reason the idea proved so popular is that such a product is built by musicians for musicians, and it came from a personal need.”

“The $60,000 target that we initially set is the very bare minimum that is required to set up for our production. ... With the extra funds we will have to deliver more Roadies of course, hence more expenses, but we have set new goals of extra perks and features.”

Having raised $120,000, the inventors have pledged to add a “wind” and “unwind” button to the Roadie device, allowing users to unstring and restring their instruments at the touch of a button. If they make it to $180,000, they say, they will ensure that every Roadie tuner comes with a leather case.

The device is being manufactured in China, which Jalgha said is the ideal place to produce electronic hardware.

“Funding opportunities exist even in Lebanon,” he said. “Especially nowadays, the Lebanese community is more and more open to technology investments and there are a lot of opportunities that didn’t exist a few years back. However, the infrastructure in Lebanon does not help much – the political instability, and also the expertise and facilities needed for quick and efficient hardware development are virtually not available.

“It is a challenge doing hardware development in Lebanon but we’ve already done it for more than two years now and we will still do it ... The plan is to contribute back with whatever expertise we gather while bringing our product to market.”

Jalgha said that the first production run is imminent and that all Kickstarter orders should be shipped by June. Roadie will be released for sale online and in stores around the world soon afterward.

In spite of Jalgha’s inspiration for the idea, the tuner is designed for standardized pegs and will not work on bass guitars, ouds or other stringed instruments. This may change, however.

“There are many ideas for improvements and other products lined up in the future,” Jalgha revealed, “but for now all we can say is that Roadie is just the beginning.”

To find out more about the Roadie tuner, please visit www.roadietuner.com.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 12, 2013, on page 16.
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