W+K Open Source: Bridging the Email-Typing/Guitar-Shredding Gap Using Technology

Our own David Neevel shares project plans and code for an Arduino-powered email-writing guitar.

WK recently allowed me some time to tackle a problem that plagues workers everywhere whether they are working in advertising or some other job that involves a lot of email typing. I’m talking about the problem of not being able to devote enough time practicing shredding the guitar. The solution of hooking a guitar up so that you could use it like a computer keyboard had been in my head for a few years and it was a real joy to get to follow through on it.

Learn about it from this video:

For anyone who would like to build their own Email Guitar I’ll show you some more on a few of my favorite parts of the project.

Here’s the plan I made before I started working on it. I ended up staying true to this plan.


Here’s the optoisolator circuit I used. Getting this thing to work was the hardest part of the project. A few other plans I found for this circuit didn’t work. I even bought a MIDI shield in desperation, and it didn’t work at all.

Here is the design for the relay board and the relay board itself with a couple components attached. It was the first time I’ve had a PCB board printed, and I was happy not to have screwed up so bad I had to scrap it and start all over.


In order to make the relay make the right connections on the keyboard brains, I had to map out the connections made on the keyboard. These are the layers in a keyboard that the relays are taking the place of. I color coded them to make them easier to follow.

Once I got all that working correctly it was time to program the arduino. That was a lot of work but it was pretty straightforward. Here is a link to the code I used.

Hopefully soon workplaces will be filled with the tones of badass guitars instead of boring key click noises!

See more of Neevel’s projects at his personal site, DavidNeevel.com.

23 thoughts on “W+K Open Source: Bridging the Email-Typing/Guitar-Shredding Gap Using Technology

    1. David Neevel

      Agreed! That would do the trick. It would miss on one of my goals for the Email Guitar though, which was to be able to just plug it into a computer and have it work.

  1. Jamie

    😀 This is awesome! With an arduino Uno in HID mode, you could even skip the relay circuit and the usb keyboard circuit.

      1. ralda

        Hi David, a simpler solution would be generating same signals as a PS/2 keyboard (directly from arduino, just 2 wires). If you need to connect to USB there are cheap converts PS/2 to USB (doing all the HID stuff)

  2. Ken Westin

    Just tried it and played some Sabbath to see what it would come out as in text, it looks like it is Aramaic, or some other ancient language, I started saying the words out loud and think I might have accidently opened a portal to Hell. You might want to include a warning in the manual/schematics and put some language in the EULA so you are not held responsible for the End of Days.

  3. David Salter

    That is probably the most ineffiecient way to solve this problem (no relays needed!). All you need is an audio to midi converter to convert the guitar note to a midi note, then a simple bit of code is needed to convert the midi note to an ASCII character.

  4. Cayne Morgan

    Ideally, you are going to want to lay out the keyboard better on the fret board. Place all of the frequently used letters like NRSTL on a pentatonic and then all of the vowels on another. Then fill in the rest based on frequency. This will make it easier to use like the invention of the qwerty keyboard.

  5. Marc Olberding

    I like the idea, although I don’t think the whole Roland hardware MIDI translator is really necessary. If the MIDI output was required in real time (I.e. it was being used to trigger notes as part of an arrangement), it would be justified. But in this case, if you play 15 notes, you really don’t need all 15 translated into digital immediately. My suggestion is to use a DSP to determine the notes via a Fourier transform and just output in serial to the computer. That would require quite a bit more programming though and a decent background in signal analysis. I don’t know how comfortable you would be with all of that, but it would be much cheaper. Just a few thoughts.


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  8. Sven

    If you could wire most used words to real chords, you would actually learn playing the guitar while writing text with it.

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