We focus primarily on new machines and technology that make music directly, but of course, these tools make instruments that make music, too. Having seen an image of a guitar string vibrating from German firm Plek A+D Gitarrentechnologie earlier this week, reader Brian Turley observes that the work that company is doing is impressive.

We’re not necessarily talking mass-manufactured, machine-made guitars, either. The device in this case augments more traditional techniques, and can be put in the hands of an expert luthier. Plek’s technique scans guitar necks in multiple dimensions, creates a virtual fretboard in which you can adjust frets, then cuts some combination of frets, nut, and saddle for the desired result. The upshot of all of this: if the frets are adjusted precisely, it’s easier to play notes and string action is least likely to impede intonation. (It plays better and sounds better, done right.)

Here’s a bit on the technique:

The computer ascertains a 3-D like graph of the fretboard surface, including the position and height of the strings. Thanks to the plek scan the relief of the neck created by the string tension is taken into account while calculating the process parameters.

In the Virtual Fret Dress menu the operator can not only determine how much needs to be cut off from each fret but can also set the fretboard radius and amount of fall-off suited for the instrument or player. You can see the height of each fret, how high each fret will be after processing as well as where fretboard buzz occurs because of frets being too high or too low.

More information:
Plek: Technology

Guitar makers and repair shops then buy these machines for their own use; it’s just one tool in a larger toolchain, and it needs a very skilled operator. Humans, therefore, are no less a part of the equation.

I’m of course way out of my depth here; I think the last time I made a guitar it involved rubber bands and a cardboard box in school. But I’d be fascinated to hear from someone working with these machines. And even for us lay people, it’s a small but fascinating window into the sorts of tools now available to luthiers.

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  • I feel it's kinda obvious that the future of Humanity will come from the relationship between Man and Machine. we've been seeing this in movies for a long while, and people connected to the many areas of scientific knowledge have been questioning themselves about that. and yeah this is both valid into stuff like music making, aswell as instruments making, and most of the areas connected to the music industry, and to all the domains of Human activity. I don't think that robots will substitute Humans, but Humans will become cyborgs someday, and yeah I think these beautiful things that we see daily on this blog might help us to imagine how the future will be in some years

  • genjutsushi

    i have a 2008 Les Paul Standard setup by Plek. The intonation, relief and fretting is absolutely immaculate. Totally convinced of the virtue of the technique.

  • Artyom Mikhaylovsky

    Im absolutely astonished! I wonder if similar technology is also used in pianos or other instruments.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Tiago: Well, indeed, and…

    * Tools and instruments I believe appear in archeological records more or less the same time.

    * The guitar (electric or acoustic) is a kind of machine, too.

  • Artyom Mikhaylovsky

    I know Its offtopic but, I always wondered if it is posible to make a "real analog synthesizer" by first choosing a sound you want it to make and the using machines like this, carving the actual physical instrument capable of producing that sound? Were there any post about this kind of thing before?

  • I know a shop in SF that has one of these.  The shop still employs a handful of very talented luthiers to do a multitude of repairs a machine can never be able to perform.  It seems to me these are tasks that a machine can do with a greater precision than a human being.  That is some fine engineering!  I'd like to plek a few of my cheapo Chinese guitars, but the procedure would cost more than the guitars. 

  • cobb

    @Peter: Yes guitars are machines!
    ..and amazing feats of engineering at that.
       It bothers me to no end when people frown on using "technology" while glorifying acoustic music made on sophisticated wooded structures, bearing tremendous loads, from precision wound metal cables!
       Plek seems like a boon to vintage guitar owners who want a playable guitar, but need to keep as much fret as possible. Re-fretting a vintage instrument can devalue it.

  • nic r

    but this could be used for mass-produced guitars at the factory. would greatly improve quality over some of the cheaper-made 3rd-world-built ones & maybe even some of the higher end models from what i can get from the video.

    this could work for other instruments as well of course. 

  • s

    @Peter 'The guitar (electric or acoustic) is a kind of machine, too'

    Electric guitar maybe, but wasn't it Berlioz that called the piano an 'infernal machine' ?
    Both are ~wooden machines~ of sorts.
    The delicious dance of human, construction & vibration