Creator Paul Vo shows off his instrument. From a distance, it looks like a conventional guitar. But it does things a guitar definitely can't do. Image courtesy Chris Stack.

Creator Paul Vo shows off his instrument. From a distance, it looks like a conventional guitar. But it does things a guitar definitely can’t do. Image courtesy Chris Stack.

It’s been a long time since we had a new hit like the electric guitar. Amidst the wonderful explosion of innovations in electronic instruments – digital and analog – the sound possibilities of acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments seem to have gone largely dormant.

This is the guitar that hopes to change that. In fact, its creators don’t even call it a guitar, preferring instead “Acoustic Synthesizer.” Asheville, North Carolina’s Paul Vo, he of the Moog Guitar and Moog Lap Steel, wants to give guitarists unprecedented control over the timbres they play, both experimental and traditional, vastly expanding the range of what a guitar can produce.

And with just days remaining in the crowd-funding for the project, it’s the perfect time to look at this instrument. The Vo-96, dubbed with a name that sounds more like a Russian rocket designation than a guitar, really does open new chances to shape the sound of the vibrating string. But it’s much easier to watch and see what that means than talk about it. So, the project backers have aided CDM with a massive set of documentation in video for you to ogle.

We could use a few words. Chris Stack of, co-organizer of the crowd-funding campaign, sends us a description that gets to the meat of what the Vo-96 can do with sound:

There are 6 presets – two using all string harmonics, two using only the even harmonics, and two using only the odd harmonics. There are 5 different modulations you can apply: 3 harmonic arpeggios, acoustic tremolo, and an evolving random harmonic motion. Each preset, and each modulator within each preset, is adjustable for intensity, speed, rate or duration. and harmonic balance, which is a slider between low harmonics and high harmonics.

All of these sounds are shaped by what a physical guitar string can produce – because it’s the actual vibration of the string being changed by the Vo-96 that makes the different sounds. For this reason, all the sounds inherit the character of the guitar the Vo-96 is attached to. So it depends on your reference point: If you are comparing to any other acoustic guitar, there are reams of interesting and useful timbres.

The sounds are only one aspect of it, and are not meant to compete with keyboard synthesizers. The real reason for owning and playing a Vo-96 equipped guitar is in the realism of the experience. The synthesizer sounds are real – they are just as acoustic as any sounds the strings of a guitar have ever produced. What you feel at your fingertips and with the guitar against your body is the same sound you hear in your ears from the instrument.

That’s the key to it, the thing that makes it a completely unique experience compared to anything else really: The Vo-96 creates an acoustic instrument having definable and modulate-able timbres. You play it for the same reason you play an acoustic guitar instead of an acoustic guitar patch on a keyboard synth: It’s real.

Debuting first on CDM, here’s a video that looks at that power: “Andre Cholmondeley (performing artist [Project/Object, Delicious] and guitar tech Adrian Belew, Al Di Meola, Steve Howe, Greg Lake) explores modulating harmonics on the Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer.”

Futuristic instruments tend to be dependent on amplification and power sockets. Not so here. Vincent Crow busking in Asheville with the Vo-96, completely unplugged.

Futuristic instruments tend to be dependent on amplification and power sockets. Not so here. Vincent Crow busking in Asheville with the Vo-96, completely unplugged. Thank the optional battery.

But let’s go all out here. With Chris’ help, we’ve got a 360-degree look at all this thing can do. Starting at the beginning, here are the videos that launched the instrument and its Kickstarter crowd funding campaign:


12 physical sensoriactuator channels, 2 per string
96 virtual channels of harmonic control, 16 per string
Capacitive touch interface with LED status indication and lock-out
Power, harmonic blend and note duration touch-sliders
Adjustable modulation effects with instant preset save/recall
6 quick-change presets in 3 sets of 2 using odd, even and all harmonics
3 harmonic arpeggios unique to six presets independently triggered on 6 strings
Hex random harmonic modulation with average rate and amplitude adjust
Hex Tremolo with separate triggers per string and rate touch-slider
Bluetooth Wireless connectivity for firmware updates and TBD advanced features
No moving parts – built to last as long as your guitar
Attaches and removes without marring your guitar
Designed to run on optional internal battery power or external power adaptor
Optional 4/hr advanced LiFePo4 battery with integral charging
Hardware platform has large uncommitted resources for firmware expansion

And videos answer still more questions.

Why does this matter, historically speaking?

What’s it like when you first pick it up? (Al Petteway, Richard Smith and Vincent Crow answer that with their first hands-on impressions.)

Tyler Ramsey, guitarist for Band Of Horses, also gives it a play:

How is it different from just playing a guitar – or a keyboard? Answer: it opens up new hybrid playing techniques, containing elements traditionally associated with either a keyboard instrument or string instrument, but not normally both at once. Here, Chris shows off an improvisation with a “musical setting with piano arpeggio, guitar recorded through its built-in piezo pickup and processed with a digital delay synced to piano arpeggio.”

There’s still time to get onboard the crowd funding campaign.

The Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer by Paul Vo

Got questions for Paul you’d like answered – from the specific to deeper questions about instrument design? Let us know.

More videos go into greater details. First up, an extensive demo by the designer himself:

And, just for kicks, a quick iPhone video showing harmonic arpeggiation:

And because you kids love it so much, a Vine video: