Guitarist creates a string-picking robot

String-picking guitar robot
(Image credit: Olav Kvern / YouTube)

Ever wanted to improve your picking skills? Imagine if you didn't have to.  Guitar player Olav Kvern has built a robotic device that fits to an electric guitar and picks its strings for you.

The idea started when Kvern was watching a Seattle guitarist he admired, the late  Klaus Lendzian. "As I watched him play, I thought, 'He’s really good. Lyrical, a great sense of timing. Wow, I wish I could play like that. What makes it all work is his right hand, his picking hand. It’s like a machine,'" Kvern writes on "A machine, I thought, at that moment. I can build a machine."

So he did, and you can see it in action below. 

"I wanted to be able to play patterns on the guitar that would be difficult or impossible for me to play," added writer and software developer Kvern, 65. "Or for almost anyone to play. (John McLaughlin or Yvette Young notwithstanding)."

Kvern notes his own poor sense of rhythm and likens the guitar-picking robot to wearing glasses for nearsightedness, and a more authentic alternative to using MIDI instruments.  

"What I want is the sound of the guitar string, vibrating in air, under the influence of other vibrations, and my fingers, in a room, from an amplifier, through the body and neck of the guitar," he writes.

"At the same time, I wanted something I could interact with, an extended instrument. Not just something that would play a given song at the press of a button. I think that would be boring. I think that interaction and improvisation are where music happens, and I’m not particularly interested in 'songs.'"

Robot string picking device on guitar

Olav has called his Indonesian-made modified Squier guitar The Barong –  after an Indonesian temple spirit  (Image credit: Olav Kvern /

It was a long journey to get to the version you can watch above; the designer estimates he's created "at least 20 versions" over the last 16 years.

The Squier Telecaster guitar the design is fitted to is highly modified; it uses a Cycfi hex pickup providing one pickup coil per string. This leads to a Cycfi Nexus GK interface box. "This interface also provides Roland GK-compatible connector and individual outputs for each string," explains Kvern.

There's obviously a lot more to it than that; and Kvern provides a full run-through of his design that you can check out over at 


Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.