We all know how a guitar works: put your fingers on the strings across the frets, use your other hand to strum the strings, and BAM, you’re creating music. But what if you could change how one of those elements works entirely?
Anthony Dickens’ Circle Guitar (created by engineers Jacob Boast, Luke Perkin, and Marie Tricaud) looks very similar to a conventional guitar… that is, until you reach the body. Located at the center is a special device designed to strike specific guitar strings at a specific time and rate. In essence, it introduces multiple other fingers to strum, allowing an entirely new sound to be generated which would otherwise be impossible using human hands.
Circle Guitar Step Sequencer
In the video above, for example, sounds are mixed using a multi-channel pickup. By setting certain strings to specific sound effects, you can mix and match a vast number of rhythms depending on what you’re feeling at the moment.
The Circle Guitar’s six onboard switches correspond to the guitar’s six strings. Pressing or releasing each switch denotes whether or not a signal will pass through to whatever output you have hooked up to the guitar. So, along with strumming, the guitar can also be played more like a piano. He explains:
The sound is caught by a hexaphonic or ‘multi-channel’ pickup. Each string has its own output that can be amplified, recorded and processed individually. You can pan each string across the mix, blend different effects across the strings or set up rhythmic gates to turn individual strings on and off in time with Circles set speed. The options for audio processing using guitar effects pedals, amplifiers, modular synthesis or digital audio workstations are vast.“
There are six switches on the body of the guitar that control whether the signal either passes freely to your amp, mixing desk or computer interface or to a button that releases the signal only when pressed. This enables you to play the Circle Guitar a bit like a piano, creating interesting rhythmic chords, lead lines or whatever you want to call what I’m playing above!“
In another video, Dickens plays a more techno sound; this time without strumming or pressing any switches. Instead, he puts his entire hand over the strings (also called “dampening”) while playing chords with the other to create a sound that falls more into the background.
The circle mechanism is essentially a series of plectrums (you know them as “picks”) which pluck at the strings as they pass by. With a rotating speed of 250bpm and a programmable circle that allows you to modify the hardness and arrangement of the picks, you can create very different sounding rhythms or songs.
In his most recent video, Dickens just slides a strumming finger back and forth over the E and A strings. While not complex by any stretch of the imagination, it does create this boppy rhythm which he then adjusts with the placement of his fingers on the left-hand side.
Anthony Dickens is constantly trying new things with the Circle Guitar and showing the results of his musical experiments on his YouTube channel. Though there are no plans mentioned to put the instrument into production, you can join his mailing list at anthonydickens.com for updates and let them know you’re interested.