Gittler Guitars Are Back
Avraham Bar Rashi (Allan Gittler) made history in the 70s when he debuted his concept guitar “The Gittler.” Designed to distill the functions of the electric guitar to the most minimal form possible, Allan’s “Gittler Guitar” found sympathetic minds in musicians, including Andy Summers of the Police. The Synchronicity II video, in fact, features Summers playing his. Between the 70s and 80s, Gittler made 60 of his metal, minimal axes, and eventually an additional 300 were machined. In the years since, the Gittlers have become museum pieces (literally, including one on display at MoMA.) As the world has seen so many changes to how we make music, the guitar has stayed mostly the same. Peripherals have changed, sure, but even today, the Gittler looks like something from a Giger drawing.
Maybe that’s what led Yonatan Bar Rashi (Jonathan Gittler) to look at returning to development of the instrument. Among other things that have been added as signs of technology marching on, “Roland ready” MIDI interfacing and LED fretmarkers certainly make the Gittler worth another look. However, in a turbulent market and with expensive tastes, the guys at Gittler are looking to crowd source funding for the first run of the new designs. It appears they learned a thing or two from their friends over at Keith McMillen. You can get your chance to chip in as a T-shirt sporting well wisher, or to lock your reservation on the first ones off the line by going over to their Kickstarter Campaign.
In the meantime, we caught up with Gittler Instruments’ President, Russ Rubman. Russ took a moment to answer some of our questions, and saved me from having to write very much at all. So for that, I have to thank Russ.
u2: The Gittler Guitar is and has always been a forward thinking oriented instrument. Was there a “Eureka” moment that made you (or Jonathan Gittler, rather) decide to return to development? If not, what did draw you to bring the product back to market?
RR: I always held a fascination with the guitar because of it’s underlying design principles. I am a great believer in minimalism as a way to identify and isolate artifice. Once everything that is not strictly needed for function is removed it provides the designer with a clean palette to work with. In many cases the process will leave a great number of unnecessary conventions exposed for a fresh critical view. I made the decision to revive the design and enlisted the help of Jonathan Gittler (whose chosen name is actually Yonatan Bar Rashi). Together we agreed to undertake a line of instruments based on his father’s design principles but encorporating a great many forward-thinking technologies.
u2: Besides the obvious “looks cool” factor, were there more practical considerations that led to the inclusion of LED lighting on the new designs?
RR: We didn’t have fretmarkers. From the onset our main goal was to evolve the instrument using key ergonomic principles. We wanted it to be as playable as any standard traditional design that guitarists were already familiar with. On a darkened stage with no fretboard markers to guide the guitarist, this was a small stumbling block. Our LED markers are buried in the instrument and it is only a small pinpoint of light that is seen. It’s a very high key design concept with important functionality but it can also be turned off.
u2: In your mind, is the Gittler a guitar for every guitarist, or do you think there are “ideal users” for the brand?
RR: That’s a great question. You actually hit on our biggest challenge as a company. The guitar looks like it might be difficult to play but in actuality it plays very much like that Strat or Paul sitting on your stand at home. Our lack of a fretboard only magnifies the fact that there was never a need for one in the first place! We see every guitarist as a potential customer. The pricing is high but it always is when you break convention and design from the ground up. We call our plight “The Minimalist Revolution” and we have taken on a bold challenge… To re-acclimate by inventing new tools, to re-educate by shining a light on the flaws that we accept as our norm. To re-orient by facing in a new direction.
u2. Roland compatibility being a part of the design, has development been working with Roland guitar systems, or has there been any testing alongside popular modern plug ins? If so, care to do any name dropping?
RR: Well of course we respect Roland and we owe a debt to the VG Forums and all the brilliant electronic musicians that helped us through development. We started our journey with Keith McMillen and his fantastic “Stringport” line. We still highly recommend his products. Our own journey has taken many turns and most of the hard electronic design work was accomplished in house. We wanted an instrument with better tracking. It took hundreds of hours to get to the core of what needed to be done but I now firmly believe that we have the best synth tracker in the world.
u2. Have you considered adding USB MIDI compatibility to future designs?
RR: Our friends at Brian Moore have done so and with great results. We thought of taking a page from their book but it is a fairly simple affair with our D13 output to interface with the computer world and those 13 pins are all critical to other aspects of our design. We have limited architecture available for a USB port but we are not ruling it out for the future.
u2. Locked in a room with a bunch of traditional guitar players, how would you define “subtractional refining” if trying to bring them around to the company’s approach to instrument design?
RR: Designers all protect their own nest. It is hard to re-educate someone that has spent a lifetime selecting fine examples of superior tonewoods. We try very hard to be non-combative in our approach. We love exotic wood here. I myself own a collection of more than 30 vintage guitars. There are many things that you can add that will (subjectively) improve on the guitar’s tone but here at Gittler we believe that if you start with the core principals of straight wire and gain, it will then be easier and more beneficial to add all of those things. Start with a clean palette and you are more likely to find what you are striving for. By utilizing “subtractional refining” on each new product, it is like we are removing all the seasoning and condiments from a meal and then slowly taking away one ingredient at a time. Eventually we find that point of diminishing returns by realizing that even one more deletion results in a product that is less than the sum of its parts. That is our ground zero.
u2. You got to show off the new design at this year’s NAMM show- how did guitarists typically react to hearing one for the first time?
RR: We had the whole gamut of reactions. Guitarists can be a fairly traditional lot but that comes back around to what I was saying. In order to convince them we need to first teach them. Take them by the hand and prove to them that the benefits are truly staggering. In the meantime we will make steady progress and continue to make inroads with the more adventurous musicians (as well as bass players who are next up for the Gittler treatment)!
u2. Is there anything else you’d like to say to perspective backers for your Kickstarter project?
RR: Just that we have a 10 days return policy and that you can ask for a return of your deposit at any time should you change your mind. We are confident that the guitar, once in your hands, will tell it’s own story.