Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Artiphon Instrument 1: Guitar, keyboard, drums and bass, in one place

The Artiphon Instrument 1 was invented by Mike Butera in Nashville. The multi-instrument is powered by an iPhone and can be played as a guitar, violin, bass or keyboard. The Artiphon Instrument 1 was invented by Mike Butera in Nashville. The multi-instrument is powered by an iPhone and can be played as a guitar, violin, bass or keyboard.
Digital instruments of the future
You Rock Guitar
Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee
  • Artiphon Instrument 1 can be played as a guitar, harp, violin, drum machine or keyboard
  • The instrument draws on the computational power of an iPhone, housed beneath its fretboard
  • "I wanted to make something that people at all skill levels could play," says creator

(CNN) -- Is it a guitar? Is it a piano? Nope, it is a crazy iPhone-powered combination of both. Plus it has a built in bass, violin and drum machine to boot. The Artiphon Instrument 1 looks something like a medieval lute, but with a smart phone jammed into its belly.

The new instrument, released for pre-order this month, combines a keyboard, fret board, built-in plectrum and accelerometer-powered wawa effect. Named the Artiphon Instrument 1, it is the invention of Mike Butera, a Ph.D. in sound studies, from Virginia Tech.

The Instrument 1 draws on the computational power of a modern smart phone to make and record sound. A downloadable app on the phone allows you to select different modes, helping you to change swiftly between instruments.

Butera says the invention of the Artiphon came to him at a dinner party in his native Nashville that descended into a late-night iPhone-based jam session.

Read: Intelligent robot recycles waste

The Artiphon Instrument 1 can be played in a number of different positions, including as a guitar
The Artiphon Instrument 1 can be played in a number of different positions, including as a guitar

"It was a bit comical," Butera says, "the singers staring down in their lap at the phone, fingers and hands contorted around a device that just begged to be dropped, trying to tap the right notes to songs we could have instantly played on a normal keyboard or guitar.

"It was then that I had the idea of a multi-instrument that would adapt to each person's playing technique and musical style. This wasn't a guitar or a violin or a keyboard but it could be any of them."

Butera says that he finds contemporary digital instruments such as keyboards, drum machines and laptops boring, so he invented his own device. "I wanted to make something that people at all skill levels could play, a device as agnostic to musical style as the piano but as expressive as a violin."

The Instrument 1 is made out of bamboo and hardwoods, and is produced by Nashville-based woodworkers. The speaker grilles are made of polished aluminum and the entire device is assembled locally.

Butera says it was important to him that the instrument should be high quality in its construction and materials: "I want to make instruments with innovative technologies that people want to keep and pass on rather than toss when they are obsolete," he says.

I wanted to make something that people at all skill levels could play
Mike Butera, Artiphon Instrument 1 inventor

Showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show and the National Association of Music Merchants, Butera hopes the Instrument 1 will be embraced by working musicians. "I'd like to put the Instrument 1 in Brian Eno's hands, since he's broken so many barriers in electronic music throughout his career," says Butera. "And The Black Keys, because they're beyond obsessive about tone ... but I'm probably most excited about the whizkid in Japan who's going to post some killer video on YouTube and blow our minds."

Read: how electric paint is changing the way the world is wired

The invention of new musical instruments has always come from technological leaps. The modern piano was a byproduct of mechanical development in the 18th century, and the electric guitar evolved from amplification experiments being done by big bands in the early 1900s.

The release of the Artiphon Instrument 1 coincides with the 30th anniversary of MIDI, a 1983 innovation that many musicians regard as the birth of electronic music.

The Instrument 1 can house an iPhone in its belly, but it is also compatible with Android and Windows Phone
The Instrument 1 can house an iPhone in its belly, but it is also compatible with Android and Windows Phone

Paul White, Editor in Chief of Sound on Sound magazine says the Instrument 1 "seems like a high-end take on the You Rock Guitar idea, where the fingerboard is replaced by touch switches ... though as a guitar player myself, physical strings feel much more natural than virtual strings. How widely it is accepted remains to be seen but I'm always encouraged to see new instrument ideas make it into the market and this one certainly looks to be well engineered."

In 2008 the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition was established to showcase and recognize the invention of new musical instruments. Commenting on the Artiphon Instrument 1, Gil Weinberg, organizer of the competition and director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, said: "In general, I'm a big believer in using the capabilities of smart phones to power novel hardware. The 'brain' of such devices is already in your pocket, so why not use it?

"Specifically regarding the Artiphon, I think they did a very good job in providing a wide variety of gestural input that can allow for more musical expression than interacting with the iPhone GUI. My only concern is that these new input modalities are still far from providing the expression that acoustic instruments can provide. But as long as users know what to expect, this can definitely be fun to play."

Read: Off-road chair that changes lives

So how does it sound? According to Butera, the instrument "can sound like anything you want." So if you are in the market for a harp that plays like a violin and looks like a space-age guitar, Artiphon's new Instrument 1 may be the one instrument for you.

Milena Veselinovic contributed to this story

Part of complete coverage on
Liquidity lightbulbs at the Milan Furniture Show 2012
See the full coverage of CNN's Blueprint -- a new series exploring the very latest design and technology trends.
updated 2:01 PM EST, Mon December 9, 2013
A swat team assess risk before raiding a building
A baseball-sized shock absorbent camera that can be thrown into a disaster zone to assess risks posed to rescuers.
updated 2:51 PM EST, Mon November 11, 2013
Astronauts wash and drink from the same continuously recycled source for years. So why do we not do the same on Earth?
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013
The Titan Arm
A new strap-on external bicep called the Titan Arm allows humans to lift very heavy objects by giving them instant super strength.
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Fri October 11, 2013
See the origami kayak take shape in our 40-second time lapse video.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Fri September 27, 2013
The Seaboard is a musical instrument like a keyboard that allows you to bend the pitch and volume of each note.
The 'Seaboard keyboard' is a tech forward interpretation of the piano, that reimagines what a keyboard can do.
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
Phonebloks smartphone
What if you could build your own smartphone that would last you for the rest of your life?
updated 4:49 AM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
3D printed gun
Why did the Victoria and Albert Museum in London acquire two models of the world's first 3D-printed gun?
updated 6:09 AM EDT, Fri September 13, 2013
It looks like a regular bike light, but one day Emily Brooke's Blaze light could save your life.
updated 6:01 AM EDT, Tue September 10, 2013
After months of hype and speculation, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch arrived this week with a bang... followed by a whimper.
updated 12:16 PM EDT, Mon September 2, 2013
ARMAR is the ultimate sous chef. He'll bring you ingredients from the fridge and after you've made lots of mess he'll load the dishwasher and clean the surfaces. He's just one of a growing army of robo-chefs that are shaping the future of our kitchens.
Your cooking partner is a robot, your fridge can talk, and your plate is your own personal dietician. This is the kitchen of the future
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
Sound on Intution: sensors attach to your hands,feet and heart to produce music that responds to movement
updated 6:27 AM EDT, Thu August 15, 2013
Not only did Unger have to contend with the typical design challenges of aesthetics and manufacturability, she also needed to become an expert in the reproductive habits of flies.
In 2050, when nine billion people are living on Earth, will high-protein insects be a part of our staple diet?
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
He's invented breathable food, flavor clouds and olfactory telephones. Now David Edwards is bringing edible food-packaging to the table.
updated 6:31 AM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
ASAP is a solar-powered life-saving machine that's cheaper, greener and more efficient than a traditional Jet Ski
updated 6:57 AM EDT, Mon August 5, 2013
Transparent dresses, vacuum shoes, shark-proof wetsuits and more. We imagine a day in the life of a wearable technology user in the year 2015.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon July 29, 2013
Europe spends $13 billion annually on fueling street lights. With a new system called 'Tvilight', streetlamps can sense the arrival of a person.
updated 5:19 AM EDT, Mon August 5, 2013
The earthquake-proof table can combat a ton of falling debris and provides reliable protection for people taking shelter during an earthquake