Can you Design a Musical Instrument?

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Calling all budding musical instrument inventors! The 2024 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, the Oscars® of the musical instrument world, is now inviting submissions. This is a competition that celebrates the ingenuity and creativity of individuals who push the boundaries of traditional musical instruments.

graphic reflecting the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition ID.

If you are a visionary inventor, this is your opportunity to showcase your groundbreaking instrument and have it recognized on the international stage. There are cash prizes and one-of-a-kind musical instrument trophies to be won.

The competition welcomes entries from a wide range of musical genres and styles. Past competitions have included entries that are based on pianos, violins, guitars, drums, and other traditional instruments, as well as completely new and innovative designs.

Past Piano-Related Entries

In 2021 The Electromagnetic Piano came third in the competition. This modular device comprising a series of electromagnets, one for each note, is attached to a grand piano. These actuators are triggered by the corresponding notes and provide infinite sustain to the piano’s strings, thus opening up a whole new world of performance options.

Photo of the Electromagnetic Piano being played.
The Electromagnetic Piano features actuators suspended above the strings of a Steinway grand piano

Another remarkable piano-related entry, again in 2021, was the Evolano. Evolano is a portmanteau word formed by blending “evolution” and “piano”. This inspirational instrument, designed by Clark Battle, is a complete re-imagining of the piano concept. It has keys, strings and a piano action, but little else in common with its part namesake.

Two sliding short-keyboard assemblies move strings across a curved fret. The position of the keyboard determines the strings’ speaking length.

Although having only 20 or so strings, the prototype Evolano has a range of over 3 octaves. It is also capable of dual-glissando effects. Check out this YouTube video to get a fuller overview as to how the Evolano works.

image and line drawing of the Evolano
The Evolano — a radically different type of piano

Details of other winners and finalists can be found here.

Competition Details

The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition was launched in 1996 by Richard Guthman, an industrial engineer at Georgia Tech, in honour of his wife Margaret’s piano talent. Initially it was a piano contest, but transitioned into a musical instrument competition in 2009. And the event continues to be run by Georgia Tech College of Design’s School of Music.

Past judges have included the likes of performers Laurie Anderson, Pat Metheny, and Jordan Rudess; instrument designers Roger Linn (Linn Drums), Tom Overheim (Oberheim Electronics), and Dave Smith (Sequential Circuits and MIDI pioneer); and academics Ge Wang (Stanford), Marcelo Wanderley (McGill) and Rebecca Flebrink (UAL).

The deadline for submissions is October 3, 2023. Once the submissions are received and reviewed, a select group of approximately ten finalists will be chosen to present their instruments at the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta on March 8 and 9, 2024. Finalists will receive financial support to help defray their travelling costs.

The entry form for the 26th Guthman Musical Instrument Competition is available on the Georgia Tech website.


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