Artiphon’s Music Maker Gives New Meaning to “One-Man Band”

Xconomy New York — 

Its shape and sound harken back to a lap steel guitar, but also a violin—unless it is held like a cello.

Hang on to that confusion for a minute and gander at the Instrument 1 from Artiphon. With its hardwood construction, virtual strings, and a port for a mobile device, this odd-looking gadget can be played like a bunch of different instruments.

While lots of apps can mimic musical sounds with a few finger taps, the Instrument 1 puts the act of strumming back into the mix. The gadget a self-contained MIDI controller but can be combined with an iPhone 5 or fifth-generation iPod Touch to run musical apps.

The Instrument 1 can vary its sounds from violins to sitars, its fingerboard equipped with sensors that detect picking and plucking much like a real guitar. That can be switched up to play tunes as if it were a musical keyboard.

“These can be strings, these can be pads, these can triggers of any kind,” said Mike Butera, CEO of Nashville-based Artiphon, who demonstrated the device at the New York Tech Meetup last week.

The company worked on the Instrument 1 for three years. The device was created to adapt to the player, Butera said, instead of forcing the player to conform to it. “Rather than tying a skill or technique to a particular instrument, you can play this as multiple instruments,” he said.

To make his point, he pulled a chair on stage at the NYU Skirball Center, and strummed a few deft guitar notes. Not exactly the Grand Ole Opry or Carnegie Hall—but he was playing to a packed audience.

Naturally, the NYTM crowd was curious about the technology behind the device. “We had to design the core components from the ground up,” Butera said. “Every circuit is ours.”

When he switched off the frets and shifted the instrument to his shoulder, Butera played it like a violin. Any MIDI app will work with the device, he said. The Instrument 1 also has connections for USB, headphones, and stereo cables. Using the GarageBand app, he mixed a bass line with some improvised organ music. “It’s a studio within an instrument,” he said.

Butera said the beta program for the device, crafted by hand and pegged to cost $799, started this month. Artiphon’s Instrument 1 is on display until Dec. 22 at the Wired Store in New York, which opens annually for the holidays.

Artiphon CEO Mike Butera demos the Instrument 1 at New York Tech Meetup (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth).

Artiphon CEO Mike Butera demos the Instrument 1 at New York Tech Meetup (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth).