Chameleon Guitar: Guitar of the Future?

MIT student Amit Zoran''s Chameleon Guitar uses an internal computer and interchangeable soundboards.

Cambridge, MA (March 10, 2009) -- It seems like every few months, an instrument heralded as “the next great technological advancement in guitars” is unveiled. From the Moog Guitar and Gibson’s Dark Fire to more obscure concepts, like 3D printing for tonal variety, there are a substantial number of builders looking to advance the boundaries of the guitar. In many cases, this is accomplished through digital technology and modeling, which many players feel still falls short of being perfectly authentic. This is why we were particularly interested in the concept known as the Chameleon Guitar. It sticks to the basics of using different tonewoods to achieve a variety of tones, but employs technology to make it happen.

As you might imagine from the name, the Chameleon Guitar has the ability to be everchanging and adapting. Created by MIT Media Lab master’s student Amit Zoran, the Chameleon is an electric guitar with an interchangeable central soundboard. Zoran’s idea was to be able to “plug in” the acoustic qualities that are unique to each piece of wood without changing the feel of the guitar.

Each interchangeable soundboard provides a unique tonal base due to its composition and structure. From there, the signal is processed through five pickups and can then be manipulated digitally in the guitar’s built-in computer to simulate different sizes or shapes of the same wood—allowing for sounds that would not otherwise be physically possible. Zoran says that the nature of the Chameleon Guitar lends itself to greater freedom to experiment. Instead of having to buy an entire new guitar to experience different wood combinations, players would be able to make a relatively small investment in a new soundboard. It would also be possible to take advantage of the tonal characteristics of pieces of wood that aren’t large enough to build a full guitar. For example, Zoran used a wooden beam from a bridge in Vermont to build a soundboard.

Zoran built the first proof-of-concept version with instrument builder Marco Coppiardi last summer, and debuted a more polished version at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January ’09. He plans on continuing the guitar’s development as his doctoral thesis project, and hopes to eventually develop it commercially.

Watch a video of Zoran explaining and playing the Chameleon Guitar:

Johnny Marr’s latest LP spans influences from New Order to the Staple Singers while staying rooted in his clockwork timing and copious talents as arranger and melodicist.

When the great Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes passed away earlier this year, I thought a lot about Johnny Marr. Marr was moved deeply by the girl groups of the ’60s—their positivity, energy, and the convergence of ecstasy and melancholy in the music. He was even fired up by the audaciousness of their style: The impressive beehive hairdo worn by Spector’s bandmate Estelle Bennett famously inspired the jet-black pile Marr wore at the height of Smiths fame.

Read MoreShow less

See a sampling of picks used by famous guitarists over the years.

Marty Stuart

Submit your own artist pick collections to for inclusion in a future gallery.

How does a legacy artist stay on top of his game? The pianist, hit singer-songwriter, producer, and composer talks about the importance of musical growth and positive affirmation; his love for angular melodicism; playing jazz, pop, classical, bluegrass, jam, and soundtrack music; and collaborating with his favorite guitarists, including Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia.

Read MoreShow less