Feel-Good Sounds Made Possible by Technology #1
The Engaging Guitar that Amplifies the Joy of Music
February 8, 2023
At first glance, it looks like a normal acoustic guitar. Play one strum, however, and the TransAcoustic Guitar will take you on an unparalleled adventure by producing rich, enveloping sound that makes it feel like you’re performing in a concert hall.
The TransAcoustic Guitar is characterized by its built-in chorus and reverb effects; in other words, you can make your playing sound multi-layered or echoed without needing external amps or effect pedals. When you play, the vibrations of the strings are converted into electrical signals, which are processed into effects. Then, the signals get sent to an actuator, which transmits vibrations to the guitar body and into the air, generating sound. This mechanism results in authentic chorus and reverb effects blending with the natural tone of the guitar, all from inside the body. Driven by the novel concept of TransAcoustic™ (“transcending the acoustic”) technology, this innovative guitar was created by designers who wanted to achieve a playing experience surpassing that of acoustic instruments.
How “Transcending” Is Different from “Changing”
First released in 2016, the TransAcoustic Guitar builds on the technology of the TransAcoustic Piano, which generates and projects sound in the same way as its acoustic counterpart by converting electrical signals into vibrations. Following the debut of this piano in 2014, Yamaha’s designers began to wonder what would happen if they applied this unique technology to the guitar.
“There’s no single definition for what it means to ‘transcend’ the acoustic. If we wanted a guitar that plays a much louder sound than the conventional acoustic guitar, we could simply make one that’s gigantic in size,” says Shingo Ekuni, a member of the original design team of the TransAcoustic Guitar. “We came up with more than 100 ideas that attempt to ‘transcend’ what it means to be acoustic, and even built 20-30 prototypes. The products we have now are the culmination of rigorous testing to discover the most engaging guitar.”
More than half of the members making up the Guitar Division are avid guitarists themselves. Ekuni is one of them; he even took a year off from university to live in Ireland and indulge in traditional Celtic music. He would busk on the streets during the day and jam with local musicians at bars in the evening. Through music, he blended into the local community and met a diverse range of people — an experience he says truly expanded his horizons. After returning to Japan, Ekuni decided to join Yamaha, where he would be able to grow his long-time passion for music and craftsmanship.
Ekuni hopes he can contribute to a better future by inventing new instruments that inspire people to explore new possibilities. While the TransAcoustic Guitar was born from the concept of “transcending the acoustic,” he emphasizes that it was never about altering the characteristics that define acoustic guitars.
“We wanted to keep everything good about the acoustic guitar because our mission was to elevate its possibilities, not change them. One of the best things about an acoustic guitar is that you can just pick it up and start playing on the spot, unlike an electric guitar which requires additional equipment. We kept those inherent qualities unchanged, while exploring ways to integrate additional features that you can’t get with a standard acoustic guitar.”
A Magical Instrument Full of Surprise
While the TransAcoustic Guitar is fundamentally an acoustic guitar, it envelops you in incredible resonance, recreating the sensation of performing in a large concert hall. Taiki Oshiro, a marketing specialist who showcases the TransAcoustic Guitar to the public, describes it as “like magic.”
“A rule I have when introducing the product to customers is to keep the technology behind it a secret. When I first presented the TransAcoustic Guitar to a group of dealers in Canada, I just handed them the guitar without any explanation and suggested they have a play. The moment one of the dealers strummed the guitar, everyone gasped in astonishment, saying ‘Magic!’ It was the exact response we had hoped for.” The guitar was then passed from one person to another, filling the room with the kind of excitement you might find at a student band rehearsal rather than at a business meeting. In addition to being business owners, these dealers were top-notch guitarists. Seeing their excitement, Oshiro knew that the TransAcoustic Guitar would be a success.
Since picking up the guitar in junior high school, Oshiro has shared countless compelling moments with his fellow musicians. “Music has made my life richer,” he claims. His current job of communicating the value of instruments draws on his long-standing enthusiasm to show others that music adds meaning to life.
In addition to music, Oshiro has been a fan of magic tricks since he was a child. He feels that the skills he gained through impressing others with magic are put to great use when he presents the TransAcoustic Guitar. “Imagine if magicians revealed their tricks before the show; no one would be spellbound by their magic. The same thing can be said about the TransAcoustic Guitar. The best way to convey the wonders of this instrument is to surprise people without revealing the secret. The technological jargon can come afterwards.”
Challenging the Norm for a New Kind of Joy
When guitarists first dive into the magic of the TransAcoustic Guitar, they’re usually struck by its special functions. As they spend more time with the guitar, however, they start to tune in to the passion behind the technology. Whereas most instruments are designed with the audience in mind, the TransAcoustic Guitar is “a performer-first” instrument at its core. Indeed, Ekuni and his colleagues developed the product to maximize the enjoyment of the player.
Butch Walker experiences the Yamaha TransAcoustic Guitar
When you use external amplifiers or effectors, the sound travels from the speakers toward the performer or audience. However, the TransAcoustic Guitar produces chorus and reverb effects from its own body. In other words, the guitar itself acts as an immersive speaker, sending vibrations through the player’s body and outward into the surrounding space. This idea was born in large part because the designers themselves were also guitarists.
“Instruments are usually built to enhance the player’s musical expression. It’s primarily designed with a stage and audience in mind,” Ekuni observes. “Yet, if you look at the amount of time that a player spends with their instrument, most of it is dedicated to practicing alone. We thought that it would be an absolute delight for guitarists if the quality of that practice time were more enjoyable. That’s how we set out to make a guitar that feels great to play.”
Quality Time Between You and the Music
Playing an instrument consistently is no easy feat. Many people who take up the guitar quit in less than a year. But what if they could play the TransAcoustic Guitar, and be filled with joy every time they stroke the strings? Once you discover that new sense of oneness with sound, you’ll probably find it hard not to come back for another session.
“Anyone can enjoy playing music. The thing is, when people start learning an instrument, many of them compare themselves with other people or get discouraged by the struggle of practicing. I think it’s okay to play music purely for your own pleasure. You don’t necessarily have to be good at it, as long as you’re having fun! The TransAcoustic Guitar can help you enjoy music regardless of skill level, by providing a self-contained, resonant sound experience,” says Oshiro.
You don’t need to compare yourself with anyone to enjoy playing music. If you can find the right means to play comfortably, you’ll start to spend more time with music and see progress before you know it.
“I hope the TransAcoustic Guitar makes people look forward to spending more time with their instrument, gradually extending their practice time from five minutes to ten, and so on,” Ekuni says with a smile. “It can bring you a deep sense of accomplishment when you perform better than you did the day before, or when you master a technique that previously seemed impossible. The TransAcoustic Guitar can amplify that joy and become the perfect partner for your never-ending musical journey.”
(Interview date: September 2022)
Ekuni is a member of the Guitar Division. He contributed to the original design of the TransAcoustic Guitar and is now in charge of product strategy and management. When he was a student, he traveled to Ireland and performed in the local community, falling deeper in love with music. Outside of his professional work, he plays traditional and folk music on various string instruments ranging from the guitar to the violin.
Oshiro takes on a marketing role in the Guitar Division. He uses powerful storytelling to communicate the TransAcoustic Guitar, among other products. He was previously involved in activities to spread music and instrument education in emerging countries (now known as the School Project) and lived in India and Canada as an expat. He joined Yamaha Corporation hoping to share the message that music makes life more fun – something he has felt throughout his life.
*Bio as of the time of the interview
Three-Part Series: Feel-Good Sounds Made Possible by Technology
- #1 The Engaging Guitar that Amplifies the Joy of Music
- #2 The Quest for the Ideal Car Audio
- #3 How Designers and Users Inspire Each Other
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Feel-Good Sounds Made Possible by Technology #3
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