Nashville Fiddle Player’s Invention Turns An iPhone Into A Guitar-Like Instrument

Mike Butera is the founder and CEO of Artiphon, Inc. He's a fiddle player with a PhD in sound studies. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Mike Butera is the founder and CEO of Artiphon, Inc. He’s a fiddle player with a PhD in sound studies. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

At the South by Southwest festival in Austin this week, one Nashville fiddle player will be trying to build buzz for his invention bridging music and technology. It’s a digital instrument called Artiphon Instrument One that turns an iPhone into something that could be played like a guitar or violin.

It looks a bit like it could be an acoustic instrument, with glossy hardwood, a fret board and strum section. But there are no strings, just hundreds of sensors that communicate with the iPhone docked inside.

“It feels like you can access it like a traditional instrument, and you can,” says Mike Butera, Artiphon founder and CEO. “But you can do so much more with it than traditional instruments can do.”

Musicians who’ve already been able to put their hands on the Artiphon – even if they’re guitarists – don’t become instant masters. But they seem universally to like the concept.

Acoustic musicians get a way to tap into computer-generated audio while still having something they can play by feel. It’s tough to perform on a laptop without looking silly, Butera says.

“You can’t cradle a laptop,” he says. “Even an iPad is very mobile, but it’s not something that you play sightlessly.”

Butera is still trying to work out all the bugs, and he’s asked for help from beta testers.

Hundreds of applications have come in from around the world. Some of the first prototypes are going to members of the Nashville Symphony.

“If we can prove this works on the stage and in the studio, it’ll work anywhere,” he says.

Butera see’s potential down the road for his iPhone multi-instrument to be used by schools for music education. But first, he’s got to get the pros to give their seal of approval.

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