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Gibson Min-ETune: A Dream Realized

This was the dream…a guitar that tuned itself. Now it is a reality: the Gibson Min-ETune robotic tuning gears actually tune the guitar all by its lonesome with a mere push of a button.

This is the robotic tuning gears actually turning themselves each to the correct pitch just as you would manually. Watching the tuner engage and turning the keys brings to mind the Transformers movies, Robocop and the old fashion player piano. It is pretty fun to watch.

Gibson used a previous version of this technology on their Robot guitars, which also required a different bridge and a significant routing on the back of the guitar’s body. The next generation Min-ETune is a direct replacement or upgrade for Gibson Les Paul and SG model’s tuning gears: there’s no other change to the instrument, keeping the tone, integrity and vibe intact.

We received a Les Paul with the Min-ETune upgrade installed for a quick first look at the unit.

From the front of headstock, the guitar looks essentially the same. On the back of the headstock are the sealed tuners, and placed in between them is the Min-ETune’s brain. There’s no noticeable added weight added by the system.

Front view of a Min-ETune equipped guitar.

Front view of a Min-ETune equipped guitar.

The little lack box of the CPU has a power switch and a clover-shaped four position selector switch not unlike a cursor mover on a GameBoy with an okay/enter button in the center. There are also LEDs for each string (labeled e, B, G, D, A, E) which change color depending on their proximity of being in tune. Obviously, green means go!

Close up view of the Min-ETune CPU

Close up view of the Min-ETune CPU

After powering up the unit, a tuning can be selected. The unit stores 12 factory presets and 6 user defined tunings. The presets include standard tuning, standard tuning lowered a half step (E flat to E flat), standard tuning lowered a whole step (D to D) and various other open tunings.

The same string-named LEDs also function as bank indictors (by way of color), and mode selector (by way of which single LED is lit). Regardless of what tuning is selected, the LED corresponding with that string does not change name. For example, when the dropped D tuning is selected, the low sixth string’s LED still reads “E”, and cannot be used to determine which tuning is currently being used.

After a mode is selected and the enter button is hit, a strum of the open strings sets the automatic tuners into action. Each tuner reads the tuning of the string, and then goes to work to retune it to the selected tuning.

Reaching the selected tuning averaged around 15 seconds, which certainly is shorter than it would take to retune the guitar manually (the six gears work simultaneously). The longest time the tuners took to put the guitar in tune during our testing was about 50 seconds…still much shorter than our quickest attempts to do so on a non Min-ETune equipped Les Paul. For those using the auto tune in performance, having some pre-prepared dialog might be a good plan, but it is highly likely the guitar will be in tune before you reach the punch line of any joke you might have planned.

The Min-ETune seemed to function best with a single strum, allowing the strings to ring out naturally. In my impatience, I strummed the string a second (and third, fourth) time but it appears that the tuner likes the string to settle down after the initial attack. It also seems that the lower strings continual rings interferes with the higher strings, so muting the lower strings as they register in tune helps speed the process.

After the guitar is tuned, the tuner shuts itself off conserving the rechargeable battery’s lifespan. The Min-ETune remembers the last tuning used, and will default to that when re-engaged unless a different tuning is selected.

The tuning gears can be turned manually as well, but function marginally as conventional tuners. The ration is way of the charts…great for fine tuning, but very poor for trying to change to an open tuning by hand. Plus, there’s the quirk where the tuners for the lower three strings turn in the opposite directions than conventional tuning gears.

A guitar with the Min-ETune upgrade can easily be converted to standard tuning gears, and several models of Les Pauls and SGs can be retrofitted with this automatic tuner.

The Min-ETune ($400 upgrade on various models) is a viable tool to the working musician who finds themselves with the occasional need to tune the guitar down when a key is too high for the singer, or an open tuning fits the bill (can you say slide guitar?), and can beat all but the deftest of hands paired with the most acute ears. It sure beats lugging an extra guitar or two to a gig, and letting the guitar tune itself give the player more time to bond with the audience.

Gear used: Gibson Les Paul Signature T with Min-ETune upgrade, Hosa Elite 20’ guitar cable, Line 6 StageSource L3t (set in electric guitar mode) and Shure KSM-27 microphone.

About the author

Jake Kelly

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