SELF - TUNING GUITARSHAVE emerged over the years in such forms as the Fret-king Super-matic, Gibson Robot, Transperformance Self-Tuning Guitar, and Synthax Tronical Powertune, all of which use some type of computer-controlled machinery to physically pull the strings in tune. The Line 6 Variax uses digital modeling technology to create different tunings on the fly, but you still have to manually tune a Variax.
Last January at the Winter NAMM show, Peavey introduced an entirely electronic self-tuning guitar called the AT-200, which it developed in partnership with Antares Audio Technologies— the same company that invented Auto-Tune for vocals. By incorporating Antares’ proprietary technology, the AT-200 could completely tune itself and also correct for any intonation discrepancies that occurred when playing in different fretboard positions. Suffice to say we were very impressed by the AT-200’s abilities as well as its sub $500 price!
The production version of the AT-200 on review here looks purposeful with its clean lines, trans-red finish (black is also available) and complement of humbuckers. The instrument radiates quality vibe throughout, and sports a nice-feeling maple neck that attaches with five bolts for enhanced rigidity. The gloss black headstock facing and black hardware are classy touches, and the spot-on setup makes for easy playability on a 24-fret rosewood ’board.
With a cord plugged into the 1/4" output jack (which activates the electronics) and the Tone control in its down position, the AT-200 is ready for tuning in about two seconds—a status indicated by a green LED on the bassside bezel of the neck pickup. Give it a strum and follow with a press of the Volume knob, and you’ll hear a swooshing sound as the strings are electronically tuned to an A440 reference (an accurate state of tune was confirmed by a Peterson StroboSoft tuning app). It’s important to strum the strings cleanly and evenly, however, so that the Auto-Tune for Guitar technology can “hear” all strings properly and tune to pitch.
The tuning process has to be repeated whenever a cord is unplugged from the guitar, but we’re told that an upgrade from Antares will enable the AT-200 to store its tuning after being unplugged. The AT-200 is equipped with a 8-pin jack for connecting to the optional AT-200B breakout box (available separately, price TBA), that will reportedly handle audio, power the electronics, allow for instant tuning changes, and facilitate software updates—all through a single cable.
The AT-200’s humbuckers deliver a good blend of clarity and punch, and there are plenty of tones available for rhythm and lead playing via the 3-way selector. The Auto-Tune for Guitar system’s String Tune technology senses the strings via piezo saddles in the bridge, but no piezo content is detectable in the amplified sound. At very low volumes it’s possible to be fooled into detecting a slight pitch aliasing (sort of like chorusing), but this is simply the sound of the strings ringing acoustically along with the tuned sound coming through the amp, and nothing that is actually present in the technology. You can’t hear it when the volume is turned up (or when using headphones), and the phenomenon is virtually nonexistent if the strings are already tuned to standard pitch before tuning electronically.
The Antares system has the uncanny ability to keep everything soundly in tune as you play, and with accurate intonation in all fretboard positions, yet the technology gives no feeling of latency, nor does it interfere with string bending, tuner twisting, or even accidently knocking the guitar out of tune. Antares’ circuitry switches off when the Tone knob is pulled up, and the guitar instantly reverts to its original state of tune. This is the mode to be in if the four AA batteries go dead, or if you just want to play the AT-200 like a standard guitar.
The AT-200 has some interesting advantages for players who like a lighter, looser feel, as you can drop the strings down to D, C, or anything short of completely slack, and the guitar will still sound like it’s in standard tuning. As stated earlier, the optional AT-200B breakout box will make it possible to switch to alternate tunings on the fly, but for now you have to “trick” Antares into altered states of tune by fingering the strings in specific patterns while tuning up. The manual shows ten simple patterns that can be used to get tunings such as DADGAD, drop D, baritone, double drop D, open G, drop C, etc. Other “custom” tunings can be obtained by experimenting with your own creative fingerings.
The AT-200 presents a radical breakthrough in tuning technology, and does so in a thoroughly playable and hip-sounding instrument that any working musician can afford. If you’ve been on the fence about selftuning guitars because of their cost and/or complexity, you definitely owe it to yourself to give the AT-200 a try.
PRICE $499 street
NUT WIDTH 1.7"
NECK Bolt-on maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25" scale
TUNERS Die-cast inline
BRIDGE Hardtail with adjustable saddles
PICKUPS Two Peavey humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume and Tone (both with switching functions), 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS .009 - .042 set
WEIGHT 7.5 Lbs
KUDOS Amazing self-tuning ability. Plays and sounds like a quality solidbody. Affordably priced.
CONCERNS Can’t change tunings on the fly. (Players who purchase the optional AT-200B breakout box and upgrade package from Antares will be able to change a variety of settings instantly, including tunings.)