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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Visionary Instruments

Guitar hacker

Many incarnations

Lightening up

Custom made

Screen insert

Circuit boards

The insides

Lewry's training

The newest guitar

At Visionary Instruments in Oakland, Calif., guitar designer Ben Lewry is putting a new, technological spin on a classic instrument.

Each handmade instrument is custom built and designed to hold electronics that run a video screen mounted on the body underneath the strings.

Videos are loaded into the instrument's 2GB hard drive or run off of an attached USB device.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Lewry said his guitar hacking won't stop with the video guitars. He has plans for other guitar hacks using tech modifications.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Lewry built his first video guitar in 2006. The design has come a long way since then, going through numerous incarnations.

The model pictured here contains a Toshiba laptop which Lewry ordered new, disassembled, and fit inside a custom guitar body. He quickly came to realize that putting an entire laptop inside a guitar made it uncomfortably heavy, and modified the design.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
The second version of the video guitar also used a laptop screen mounted inside the body. Each guitar Lewry has designed has become lighter with the use of new materials. The current version is down to 9 pounds.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
All of the guitar bodies are custom made at Visionary Instruments. Because the design has evolved so quickly, each guitar is made straight through from start to finish. Prices for the guitars range from around $2,500 to $3,000.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
After laying the electronic circuit boards and components inside the body, Lewry lays the screen in place and covers it with tempered glass for protection.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
The screen and the electronic components used for the video guitar, which include a video processing card and an inverter, are ordered from a company that makes commercial photo frames.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
Using the custom circuit board, Lewry designed a system in which a standard Piezo pickup--normally used on an acoustic guitar--reconfigures the sound using the custom analog tone PCB (printed circuit board) and mirrors the standard humbucking pickups to create a rich, warm tone.
Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Lewry does not have formal training in instrument building or engineering, but he did study in Dharamshala, India, with a Tibetan man named Kunga, who hand-built a traditional instrument called the dramyin. (Lewry and Kunga are pictured together in the photo frame at the bottom left of the image.)

Lewry learned to craft instruments with hand tools and applied this knowledge to guitars before setting out with his video guitar designs.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET

Lewry's newest video guitar, seen here, is an edgier design geared toward heavy metal. Two videos loaded on the instrument are a crawling bug video and clips from King Kong. Weighing in at about 9 pounds, the guitar is similar in weight to Fender Strats and Gibson Les Paul guitars.

This isn't the end of innovation for Ben Lewry and Visionary Instruments. While so much technological change has come to musical instruments in the past few decades, most of it has come in the hardware accompanying instruments. The sounds are affected through changes in amplifiers and manipulated with pedals.

Lewry sees a new dynamic emerging in guitar playing, where custom tones and sounds are created right in the guitar with MIDI, and the guitar itself becomes a visual focus of the performance.

Caption by CNET Reviews staff / Photo by James Martin/CNET
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