Improvising Object Guitar

Prepared Tabletop Electric Guitar In Improvised Music

This thesis is accompanied by the Object Guitar Archive, a work-in-progress document of my practice. To access the archive, visit

Table Of Contents

  1. Abstract

  2. Introduction

  3. The Paper Guitar

  1. Experimental Instruments
  1. Exploratory Practice with the Object Guitar Archive
  1. Conclusion

  2. Bibliography


I would like to thank the whole Sonology community and my dear friends. In particular I want to thank my supervisor Richard Barrett for his tireless support of my research project, Gabriel Paiuk for the many helpful meetings, and my teachers Johan van Kreij, Justin Bennett, and Peter Pabon. Thank you to Pelle Kuipers, who built the 18-string Object Guitar. Finally I would like to express my deepest gratitude towards my dear friends and (musical) collaborators Marlene Fally, Otis Thomet, Quartus Vlak, and Pedro Latas.


This thesis traces the transformation of a prepared electric guitar practice into a practice where improvisation is infused in all of its facets. Through this research, I have developed a personal approach to the prepared tabletop electric guitar that I call Object Guitar. I leave the historical frame of the prepared guitar as a reflection of the prepared piano and take an interpretation of the 1912 Guitar sculpture by Pablo Picasso as a starting point for a new direction. Through Picasso’s use of improvised techniques and heterogeneous materials, we can see the prepared electric guitar practice as possessing a similar process of bricolage and the agency and recalcitrance of the objects used to prepare the guitar becomes apparent. This makes the prepared tabletop electric guitar fundamentally impossible to master, so mastery gets substituted with the process of assemblage—the improvised arranging of disparate found materials.

With this approach, I developed a series of experimental instruments and devices. Experimental instruments explore novel possibilities in instrument design but also provide a platform for experimentation. These instruments magnify the improvisational characteristics of the existing electric guitar. The 18-string Object Guitar is a gradual development of the electric guitar into a dedicated tabletop instrument. A series of Deconstruction Guitars break down the electric guitar into fundamental elements to understand their function in the prepared guitar system. All the instruments and devices form an open-ended series of constructions; each playing situation has a different configuration of these instrument and device modules.

Along with the instruments, I created a new practice method for the prepared tabletop electric guitar in improvised music. As mastery falls away as a criterion for the prepared guitar practice, my focus shifts towards an exploration of the instrument. Practicing becomes a progression of questions and curiosity, with each question leading to new questions. The Object Guitar Archive gives structure and context to this method. The exploratory practice method spans the entire range of prepared guitar practice activities. Each step of the process is supported by the Object Guitar Archive.

1. Introduction

When I first encountered the prepared guitar, I was utterly oblivious to how important it might become to me. As a fifteen-year-old, I stumbled upon it through a half-accident half-experiment when I used the broken-off volume knob of my brother’s bass guitar to play the guitar. With the knob, I could press and release the strings near the guitar’s bridge while using my left hand to press down the strings on the fretboard, creating complex composite chords. Soon after, I expanded my small set of objects with a paintbrush and some coins. I enjoyed the sounds I could achieve with them, their immediate tactile response, and their sensitivity to small changes in playing technique. There was a directness and simplicity to how I could physically engage with the objects.

In my mind, I had discovered a new way of guitar playing, so I was amazed to find out that there was a whole tradition of doing this, which is generally called prepared guitar. I learned about Fred Frith, who used the prepared guitar to try to escape the morphology of the guitar sound, and Keith Rowe, who incorporated his ideas about visual arts into the prepared guitar. I learned through these and other prepared guitar practitioners, and direct experience with the instrument, because there was never an abundance of information about the prepared guitar. The information I could find was mainly through scattered video demos or internet forum posts.

Since I first started with the prepared guitar, more literature has been published on the topic, including Nice Noise by Bart Hopkin and Yuri Landman (Hopkin and Landman 2014), the republished and revised Prepared Guitar Techniques by Matthew Elgart and Peter Yates (Elgart and Yates 2020), The Contemporary Guitar by John Schneider (Schneider 2015) (also republished), and Mike Frengel’s The Unorthodox Guitar (Frengel 2017). While each of these books is a valuable contribution to the field of the prepared guitar, I felt that aspects of the practice were missing or misrepresented, especially in the context of improvised music. This seemed strange to me since improvised music, particularly free improvisation, constitutes a large share of the prepared guitar field (as detailed in Gary Butler’s Prepared Instruments in Improvised Music (Butler 2000, 170)). There is also a general lack of historical context in the existing literature, which primarily showcases specific techniques without going into their background, the process and history of the practice, and the nature of the instrument.

My discovery and subsequent exploration was always with the electric guitar rather than the acoustic. The electric guitar is where I feel most at home, and by learning the nuances of the prepared electric guitar and its magnetic pickup, I could perceive striking differences between the acoustic and electric guitar. These differences are so fundamental to me that I view them as separate instruments. For this reason, this thesis will focus solely on the prepared electric guitar.

Parallel to developing my prepared guitar practice, I developed an interest in improvised music, mainly free improvisation. In fact improvisation has been interwoven in every area of music I have been involved in, so this thesis does not exclude other manifestations of improvisation. Previously, I regarded the prepared guitar and the practice improvisation as separate parts of my musical activity, but I have since seen how strongly connected they are.

Subsequently, I tried to create a more extensive reflection on the practice of the prepared electric guitar in improvised music than I had found in existing literature, but through this process, my own practice transformed. This thesis is a document of this transformation. The first chapter traces the shift from an understanding of the prepared guitar rooted in the prepared piano to one that comes out of collage art, cubist deconstruction, and bricolage. This new understanding leads to a new way of playing, which I call Object Guitar, with the guitar as a shifting assemblage. In the second chapter, the guitar as a physical object is deconstructed and built anew as a modular, flexible, and improvised instrument. The third chapter follows the transformation of my practice method to include a broader range of activities. Collecting objects, live performances, and the object guitar archive become integral parts of this method. The practice goes from aiming for mastery and control of the instrument to an exploration of the guitar.

The Object Guitar is an improvisational instrument—an instrument made for improvised music, through the process of improvisation, and with improvisation in mind.

This very personal research touches upon multiple subjects and, as such, can be found useful in different contexts. First and foremost, it offers a new perspective on the electric guitar grounded in improvisation and fluidity, providing practical information for playing the prepared guitar. This thesis is filled with pieces of information that might help prepared guitar practitioners in their explorations, as is the object guitar archive. Some of the obstacles I encountered during the research process will be familiar to others, and my reflections on how I dealt with them might be helpful. As pointed out before, the existing literature does not go into the actual process of this practice. This research offers a detailed example of my practice, since the process is unique to each player. Many particularities of the prepared guitar come to light through describing the process. Woven through each chapter is a great deal of historical context for the prepared guitar, which can help gain a broader understanding of the instrument’s history. In Exploratory Practice With The Object Guitar Archive I present a practice method for the prepared guitar. This method may indeed also be applied to practicing other instruments in free improvisation. With this, I aim to add to the literature on practicing free improvisation, about which little has been written so far. The exploratory practice method is unique, and might inspire others to develop their own practice strategies or to reimagine their own free improvisation practice.

2. The Paper Guitar

2.1. John Cage and the Prepared Piano

Over the past 60 years, the prepared guitar has evolved into an established practice, but still, there have not been many attempts at defining what lies at the core of it. Existing literature emphasizes the practical side, mainly showcasing possible techniques but rarely delving deeper into the how and why. This kind of showcase, while helpful to a certain extent, only scratches the surface of the practice.

In the brief sections in prepared guitar literature that concern the historical context, there is a predominant focus on the lineage of the prepared guitar coming from the prepared piano. The most obvious example of this is in the name. “Prepared guitar” is directly borrowed from the term prepared piano. Prepared Guitar Techniques, by Matthew Elgart and Peter Yates, even goes as far as to say: “If one uses the word instrument in place of the words piano and grand piano [in the definition of the prepared piano] one arrives at a workable definition for a Prepared Instrument of any kind” (Elgart and Yates 2020, 5). While it is true that there is a strong connection between prepared guitar and prepared piano, this is only one facet of its history. Multiple fundamental differences divide the two instruments, and through this, we can conclude that looking at the prepared piano is not the only way to understand the prepared guitar. To see these differences, we must first examine the origins of the prepared piano.

The origins of the prepared piano have been well documented. While working on a piece of music for ballet, John Cage ran into the problem that the theater where the piece was supposed to play did not have enough space for a percussion ensemble. Being confined to the grand piano, he recalled his mentor Henry Cowell’s string piano, a technique where Cowell would use his fingers to pluck the strings inside the piano. So he went to his kitchen, took a pie plate, and placed it on the piano strings. The resulting sound did not satisfy him because the pie plate was too unstable: “The piano sounds had been changed, but the pie plate bounced around due to the vibrations, and, after a while, some of the sounds that had been changed no longer were” (Bunger 1981, 5). Cage preferred screws and bolts for their ability to stay in position, providing a more predictable execution.

In Cage’s early prepared piano works, the preparations were precisely indicated in the score to be prepared before the concert. He used tables to denote the exact positions of the preparations, which string they were supposed to attach to, and what the resulting pitch was. This made the whole rather timely to set up. The piano needed to be prepared before the concert, hence the name prepared piano. This would take up to 3 hours for Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (Larson n.d.), and in certain concert situations, five separate pianos would be prepared (Bunger 1981, 6).

This amount of setup time would be caused partly by the extensiveness of preparation for pieces but also by the nature of the piano. When preparing the piano, great emphasis is placed on not damaging the instrument. Actions like forcing objects between the strings, striking objects with the hammers, letting objects touch the soundboard, inserting inflexible materials at the ends of strings, or touching the strings with unwashed hands could damage the expensive and delicate instrument. This is why pianists are careful when preparing the piano and often use wedges to place objects between the strings. The guitar is an everyday object, which sets it apart from the grand piano. The electric guitar especially is not as delicate or expensive as the grand piano. If a string breaks on the electric guitar, it is easily replaced, which is not true for the grand piano. The electric guitar’s design is simple, making it durable and easy to repair.

The prepared guitar also differs from the prepared piano in its mutability. Due to the difference in instrument interfaces, the prepared guitar is more flexible than the prepared piano. In the electric guitar, especially when in a tabletop position, the strings are much more accessible. In the grand piano, the lid has to be opened, and the pianist has to reach inside the piano. Pressing down the keys and changing the preparation objects simultaneously is a somewhat awkward movement. With the electric guitar, there are no obstacles between the guitarist and the strings. Also, the pianist can prepare different piano registers with various objects, switching between registers to change timbres. The guitar does not have enough strings for this. It has to stay flexible to make changes in the timbre.

All these aspects — the predictability, the preparation time, the delicacy, and the mutability of the instrument — are different in the prepared guitar. Therefore, the prepared piano is not a helpful model for understanding the prepared guitar’s particular characteristics. Relating it to the prepared piano only gives us a limited view of the practice of prepared guitar. This is why I want to introduce an alternative model that better represents the nature of the prepared electric guitar: Pablo Picasso’s 1912 Guitar sculpture.

2.2. The Paper Guitar Sculpture

Pablo Picasso created his paper guitar sculpture in the fall of 1912. It is considered a seminal work in the development of modern sculpture for its revolutionary use of materials and techniques. The sculpture consists of multiple panes of cut and bent paper and cardboard. It is held together by twine, glue, tape, and pins. The frets are tied on the neck with twine, and the guitar’s headstock loosely rests on the sculpture. The shapes of the guitar deviate from standard guitar design, though they still suggest a Torres type of Spanish guitar (the archetypical “classical” guitar design). The soundhole is a rolled paper cylinder glued to the guitar’s body. In some versions of the guitar, it rests on a small tabletop made of cardboard that slopes downwards.

Christine Poggi, in Picasso’s First Constructed Sculpture: A Tale of Two Guitars (2012), points out several key aspects that give the paper guitar a unique place in the history of sculpture and that can help us better understand the prepared guitar. This does not lie in the sculpture as a cubist aesthetical object, but in how its creation process can lead to a recontextualization of the prepared tabletop electric guitar and a new way of playing the instrument. More specifically, its use of found materials, bricolage and improvised techniques, and assemblage approach can inspire us to see the prepared electric guitar in a different light.

What is striking about the materials used in the sculpture is how they break with sculptural tradition. Until then, classical sculpture was made from homogeneous, specifically artistic materials like marble or bronze. What is most radical about the paper guitar, according to Poggi, is “the material and technical heterogeneity of Picasso’s constructions, as well as their status as objects that defied conventional norms of painting and sculpture” (Poggi 2012, 295) Picasso utilized various “improvised” techniques to create the sculpture. The materials, apart from having a variety within them that was not displayed in traditional sculpture, are decidedly non-artistic. They have an everydayness because they were probably whatever Picasso had lying around in his studio then. The tabletop is visibly made from a cardboard box, still including the staples that originally held the box together. There is also a specific everydayness to the guitar as an instrument. For Picasso, a Spanish artist, the guitar was, first and foremost, a popular folk instrument - something very different from the piano, for example, which at the time in Spain was considered a high-class instrument.

The paper guitar is part of the trajectory of cubist collage art. Collage art originated with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque incorporating bits of readymade materials, such as newspapers and wallpaper, into paintings and drawings. This created a polyphony of different material textures, which in the paper guitar sculpture extended into the third dimension. As a Cubist sculpture, the sculpture deconstructs its subject matter, the guitar, to provide a multitude of perspectives on it. This can be seen in the sound hole of the guitar, which is a rolled cylinder instead of a void in the body of the guitar. With this, Picasso offers a different perspective of the sound hole - it projects into space.

Picasso made a series of guitar sculptures that could be grouped together. He made two smaller cardboard-and-paper guitars and a sheet-metal guitar. The sheet-metal guitar is especially similar to the paper guitar, so much so that some consider the paper guitar to be a model or maquette for the metal guitar. Regarding it as a maquette, however, neglects the importance of the paper guitar to sculpture. The paper guitar contrasts with the sheet-metal guitar in two ways. Firstly, the sheet-metal guitar highlights the ephemerality of the paper guitar’s materials and techniques. The sheet-metal guitar is a more consciously crafted object, while precisely what is interesting about the paper guitar is its fleeting materials and improvised techniques. The paper and twine are more subject to change than metal, which will last much longer. Contrasting it with the sheet-metal version emphasizes the transient nature of the paper guitar. Apart from the mutable materials, Poggi also points to the mutability in the constructions in which the paper guitar appeared. The paper guitar was part of “an arrangement of familiar elements within a developing, open-ended series” (Poggi 2012, 292) It appears on its own, with the tabletop or without, on the studio wall juxtaposed with various guitar-like drawings, or in the Construction with Guitar (Guitar and Bottle) (1912), where the guitar is part of an assemblage with a drawing of a bottle, paper sheet, and tabletop.

2.3. The Prepared Guitar Bricoleur

According to Christine Poggi, in making the paper guitar, Picasso was a bricoleur. This term, taken from Claude Levi-Strauss’ The Savage Mind, describes “a man who undertakes odd jobs and is a jack of all trades or a kind of professional do-it-yourself man” (Levi-Strauss 1966, 11). Levi-Strauss contrasts the bricoleur with the engineer. As Poggi summarizes:

Whereas the engineer or scientist seeks to solve a problem or carry out a project by using tools and materials designed for the purpose, the bricoleur is adept at performing a large number of tasks with whatever materials and tools lie at hand. These constitute a diverse but finite set that is the contingent result of previous projects and occasions to renew the stock, including elements that were collected precisely because they might come in handy. This set cannot be defined in terms of any specific project but only by its actual or potential uses, by the universe of possible relations or meanings it can generate. (Poggi 2012, 284)

John Cage’s invention of the prepared piano is a perfect example of bricolage. When in search of a new sound for the piano, he used what was at hand at the time, materials that he was familiar with, but used them in a devious way to achieve unexpected results. Like the bricoleur, the prepared guitarist uses a limited set of heterogeneous materials and tools, namely the set of preparation objects. This set of objects, although subject to gradual change, is what the guitarist uses for every situation, so it is not limited to specific projects. In improvised music the situation is in constant flux, so there is no use for tools that are too specified. A set of elements that “might come in handy” is what suits best. When playing the prepared guitar the guitarist reflects on the set, its history of uses, its potential implementations, and its possible relations.

… the bricoleur may achieve brilliant results, but his materials and their relations will remain mutable, open to substitution and transformation. In comparison with the craftsman, who (like the engineer) employs recognized skills to carry out well-defined tasks, the means employed by the bricoleur will seem indirect or ‘devious,’ despite the fact that he still works with his hands. (Poggi 2012, 284)

The prepared guitarist doesn’t carry out well-defined tasks like the guitarist who holds a more traditional approach to guitar would. In each guitar idiom, whether classical or jazz, the techniques are well-defined and specific to playing guitar in that style. They have been developed to suit the needs of a certain music, often shaped by the material construction of the guitar. But none of the prepared guitar objects have been developed specifically for guitar. It is a heterogeneous collection of different found materials. Because the techniques are not as clearly defined as traditional ones, the prepared guitarist has to use “devious” means and improvised techniques. Because the different materials and techniques constantly shift in relation to each other, like the glass becoming a square, it is impossible to form a specified set of tools.

We can compare the introduction of preparations to the guitar to the introduction of non-artistic and heterogeneous materials and techniques into sculpture with the paper guitar. Just like the shift from artistic materials like marble and bronze to paper, cardboard, twine, and tape, the prepared guitar foregoes traditional techniques and materials in favor of a more heterogeneous repertoire of materials. The traditional guitar is relatively homogeneous in its use of materials and techniques (plectrum or fingers) and timbre. The prepared guitar opens this up to contain various materials lifted from everyday life.

The non-specific and non-artistic tools of the prepared guitar are the (found) guitar objects. They are often unstable and unpredictable because they are not designed and developed for stable use with the guitar like a plectrum is. Take 202208151516 Object 76 (Spring bolt mallet), for example. This object was initially intended to be a mallet for a percussion instrument, but in the context of the prepared guitar, it has many other uses. One such use case is to use the shaft of the mallet, which is a relatively stiff spring, to “bow” the strings ([202209071456 Assemblage A.23.76]). The shaft is already prone to get caught on the string randomly because of its serrated edge, but through practice, it is possible to develop a feeling for the pressure it takes for the Spring bolt mallet to get caught. However, the shaft’s bottom end is cut off roughly and leaves a sharp and protruding edge. This does not influence its original use as a mallet since only the head is used to strike the instrument, but it does make bowing the strings with the shaft very unpredictable. The edge constantly gets stuck on the string, and no amount of practice can prevent this. Matthias Haenisch shares this understanding of the impossibility of control and mastery in his analysis of Andrea Neumann’s practice with the Inside piano. This instrument has a similar indeterminate character as the prepared guitar:

[T]he contingency and resistance of the material is not a matter of insufficient playing technique that could or should be completely mastered with practice and increased control. (Haenisch 2013, 167)

In this situation with the Spring bolt mallet we can see the agency of the object and instrument in the prepared guitar system and how objects can be recalcitrant. The agency of the instrument has been discussed extensively in publications such as those by Perks (2023), Haenisch (2013), Dolan (2012), and Cobussen (2017). But what is particular about the prepared guitar and Andrea Neumann’s Inside Piano is the high level of recalcitrance among its actors. Bruno Latour, in his book Politics of Nature provides a context for the notion of recalcitrance:

Actors are defined above all as obstacles, scandals, as what suspends mastery, as what gets in the way of domination, as what interrupts the closure and the composition of the collective. To put it crudely, human and nonhuman actors appear first of all as troublemakers. The notion of recalcitrance offers the most appropriate approach to defining their action. (Latour 2004, 81)

The protruding edge of [202208151516 Object 76 (Spring bolt mallet)] is a constant obstacle to the intentions of the prepared guitar practitioner. It is a troublemaker that prevents control over the instrument. There are many such examples to be found in the interaction between (found) objects, the guitar, and the prepared guitar player, which will appear in other sections of this thesis and in the object guitar archive.

2.4. A Shifting Assemblage

The impossibility of mastery means that "Sound and playing technique cannot be traced back to an antecedent intention” (Haenisch 2013, 157). We can see this also in the playing of Keith Rowe, who Brian Olewnick describes as being “anti-technique” (Olewnick 2018, 327) but possessing a “mastery of choice and placement” (Olewnick 2018, 328). So, rather than focusing on the mastery of well-defined techniques, the techniques themselves are improvised, like in the paper Guitar sculpture. The emphasis of the practice shifts to the improvised assemblage of constructions of the instrument, which is made up of the guitar and the guitar objects. We can then see playing the prepared tabletop electric guitar as assemblage art, “art that is made by assembling disparate elements – often everyday objects” (Tate) This connects it back to the paper Guitar sculpture, one of the earliest examples of assemblage art.

The tabletop position is crucial to the shift towards an assemblage instrument. The first person to play the guitar while it was lying horizontally was Keith Rowe. His background in visual arts, and in particular his interest in guitars in cubism, led him to an urge to deconstruct the guitar. He was inspired by Jackson Pollock painting with the canvas on the floor. Laying the guitar flat meant he could “liberate his instrument (canvas) from the absolute reins of his wrist and hand,” as Brian Olewnick (2018, 118) observes. With the guitar on the table instead of in direct contact with the body, it ceased to be an “appendage” and gained “a more individualized, even autonomous position” (Olewnick 2018, 118). Rowe himself said in the documentary film Amplified Gesture that tabletop guitar, compared to his previous playing position, was “reflective rather than expressive” (Hopkins 2013) and has remarked, "What I do on guitar is itself a heavily disguised painting” (Olewnick 2018, 417).

In the prepared electric guitar assemblage, the tabletop acts as the substrate. It is the canvas upon which the assemblage of the guitar and the found objects is constructed. This assemblage is not permanent but is being reassembled constantly. It is an ever-changing, open-ended arrangement of different objects relating to the guitar, like Picasso’s Construction With Guitar. But where the Construction with Guitar slowly shifts from one assemblage to the next, the prepared tabletop electric guitar is assembled in the moment of performance. The configuration of the instrument is being improvised on the spot. The guitar becomes “a series of constructions, with the electric guitar featuring as a common element included in each new version” (Butler 2000, 175), as Gary Butler observes about Keith Rowe’s instrument.

It is useful here to extend the notion of assemblage from merely referring to cubist constructions to understanding assemblage as a general “mode of ordering heterogeneous entities so that they work together for a certain time” (Muller 2015, 28). Doing so allows us to see the agency of nonhuman actors and human actors on the same plane—to analyze object, guitar, and player equally. It also shows the importance of interrelationships in the assemblage. Marcel Cobussen writes:

For Latour, in order to describe a certain assemblage, it is necessary to pay attention to all heterogeneous (human and non-human) actants and the relations, associations, and interactions involved. Both the actants and their associations undergo a process of metamorphosis, a translation, in each mode of assemblage. With this, Latour obviously describes a field of encounters that cannot be reduced to a priori definitions about humans, actions, objects, or factual matters; their definitions and identities depend on the very results of concrete assemblages. (Cobussen 2017, 45-46)

An assemblage approach to the prepared tabletop electric guitar allows us to emphasize the relationality between all actors: between objects themselves, between the player and the objects, the objects and the space, between the player and the guitar, the objects and the guitar, and the multitude of other interactions in the prepared guitar system.

In the existing literature on the prepared guitar, one object is equated to one technique, which is used in isolation. I also found this attitude in myself and most other prepared guitar practitioners. When the objects are used in succession, with a limited use per object, playing the prepared guitar does not differ so much from playing the non-prepared guitar. Even if the objects in themselves are unpredictable, there is a predictability to the structure of the music. The music is shaped in discreet blocks defined by the object used in each period of time.

By emphasizing interrelations between the elements of the prepared tabletop electric guitar assemblage, we can develop a new way of playing the instrument that embraces the agency and recalcitrance of the guitar objects and allows a rich complexity of interrelations to emerge. We can construct assemblages of objects, let them unfold, negotiate with the feedback the objects give us, deconstruct the assemblage, and reconstruct it again. The guitar becomes a complex and fluid whole, where every small change in one actor can influence the assemblage significantly.

2.5. Object Guitar

As explained in section 2.1. John Cage and the Prepared Piano the term “prepared guitar” does not represent the actual practice of the prepared tabletop electric guitar. The prepared guitar is not prepared before a concert, like the prepared piano, but constantly shifts and includes heterogeneous techniques and procedures. This is why I prefer to propose an alternative term. In Prepared Instruments in Improvised Music, Gary Butler mentions that guitarist Davey Williams called his practice “object guitar” (Butler 2000, 329). This is the only mention of the term I could find, but it stuck with me. “Object guitar” better encapsulates the essence of my practice. It highlights its two most important aspects—the guitar and the objects used with the guitar—and their interrelation.

In this thesis, I use “object guitar” to refer specifically to my own practice with the prepared tabletop electric guitar. For any reference to the historical practice, I use the term “prepared guitar.” For the same reasons that I no longer use the term “prepared guitar” for my practice, I will not use the prevalent term “preparation” to refer to objects used to play the guitar. Instead, I use “guitar object” to distinguish these objects from other objects.

3. Experimental instruments

We could see in the paper Guitar sculpture that deconstruction can provide new perspectives on the guitar. We can take the principles of deconstruction and reconstruction Pablo Picasso used in his 1912 Guitar sculpture and apply them to the guitar as a musical instrument. To examine its fundamental parts and try to re-imagine them to come to a new way of approaching the instrument. This re-imagination is not an abstract conceptualization but a concrete presence growing out of a personal experience with the guitar. This manifests in a series of new experimental instruments: the Object Guitars. The Object Guitars constitute a modular and fluid instrument that involves various mutations, including the 6-string Object Guitar, 12-string Object Guitar, No-string Object Guitar, *Prepared Table, Object Zither, a control panel, and a spring reverb tank. These instruments are experimental in two ways: they explore novel possibilities in instrument design but also provide a platform for experimentation.

3.1. A Gradual Development

My personal experience with experimental instruments has evolved over several years. Temporarily changing the guitar sound with found objects led to exploring more permanent means of modification. One of the first modifications I made to my instrument was to wedge a contact microphone in between the springs of the tremolo unit. This alternative way of receiving sound from the electric guitar opened me up to a new way of playing. With the contact microphone not touching the wood but only the metal parts, it was picking up very little of the resonance of the strings. Instead, it made all the surface textures of the guitar audible. This meant the inclusion of the whole body of the guitar, rather than just the strings, within the act of playing. Techniques like scraping the tremolo springs, rubbing the guitar body, or picking the string ends at the headstock, became possible. This then led me to explore new modifications, such as attaching different surface textures to the guitar body. With the contact microphone and magnetic pickup these surface textures like hook-and-loop, sanding paper, and felt created a variety of new sounds.

My interest in the modification of the electric guitar led me to the work of Yuri Landman. Apart from modifying guitars, Yuri Landman is well known for his work as an experimental instrument builder. As part of a workshop, we built his White Eagle guitar. This is a rudimentary guitar, made of hardware store components, but with a string section behind the bridge that is tuned three octaves above the string section in front of the bridge. The two string sections will resonate through each other, creating a haunting shimmering sound in the section behind the bridge. Underneath this higher-octave string section sits a magnetic pickup that can go to a separate output or be mixed in with the regular string section. The behind-the-bridge sound was unlike any guitar sound I had heard before and made me aware that there are possibilities beyond the traditional electric guitar design that are worth exploring. The White Eagle—like Yuri Landman’s many other instrument inventions—reinforced my view on the amorphousness of the electric guitar, opening up the path to a more fluid conception of the instrument.

Another instrument that led me down this path was an double-neck Epiphone SG guitar, which Wiek Hijmans was so kind as to lend to me. This guitar has two necks, one with 6 strings and one with 12 strings, with both necks having their own pickups. This makes it essentially two guitars in one body. With a switch it is possible to select one or the other, or both guitars at the same time. Initially I was mostly intrigued by the potential of the 12-string. I already wanted to explore for some time the potential of having string courses, instead of single strings. This makes it possible to use objects in a similar way to the prepared piano, for example by wedging them between the strings. I decided that the most effective way to learn more about the instrument would be to directly engage with it in a musical context. The Sonology electro-acoustic ensemble (SEE) workshop of November 2021 provided a perfect opportunity for this.

For this workshop I had to main goals regarding the guitar:

  1. Getting more familiar with playing the guitar in a tabletop setup.
  2. Exploring the technical possibilities of the double-neck guitar.

Apart from the technical possibilities that the 12-string configuration brought, there was another aspect of the guitar that proved very interesting. Having essentially two guitars in front of me allowed for a whole different interaction with the instrument. The double-neck has a much larger number of strings and has double the amount of pickups of the conventional guitar design, which increases the the potential for complex interactions within the guitar. Multiple objects can be used at the same time, with the objects engaging with each other through the guitar. It is possible to place objects and use the pickup switch to have them sound or not. Thus, the idea of the prepared guitar as a shifting assemblage gets extended.

The potential of the double-neck is obvious, but there are some disadvantages to the instrument that are hard to ignore:

A new guitar

As there are no production tabletop electric guitars, I had no choice but to design a new guitar. Doing so would give the added benefit of being able to rethink the electric guitar from the ground up, to physically deconstruct and reconstruct the guitar and pour my own experience into it. Starting the process of designing a new guitar provided a catalyst for further development of a whole range of devices: the 12-string object guitar, the 6-string object guitar, the No-string object guitar, the Prepared table, the Object zither, a playable spring reverb, a control panel, and different tabletop setups. This catalyzing potential is essential to developing truly experimental instruments. It means that the instrument not only explores new areas of guitar design, but is also a platform for experimentation. These experimental instruments are tools for the research that can generate new thoughts about the guitar, as much as being themselves intended to perform music. This process creates a feedback loop between instrument and performer, where both can lead each other to unexpected results, as my own experience indicates.

3.2. Extending The Guitar

Building a new guitar from the ground up gives us the opportunity to reflect on what we might think is essential about the instrument. By first deconstructing our relationship with it, we can then perform a physical reconstruction of our view of the instrument. The new instrument in turn also transforms this relationship. This process gives us a feedback loop of instrument development. In the present section, I would like to highlight certain aspects of the electric guitar as a physical object which are essential to my practice as an improvising musician, and which were points of departure for creating a new guitar, based on the fact that improvised music requires the performer to be flexible and to develop a personal approach to the music. These aspects are:

The electric guitar already has these characteristics that make it ideal for my assemblage approach (section 2.4. A Shifting Assemblage. One of the main ideas of the Object Guitar is to take these qualities and extend them. With this extension we arrive at new possibilities, while retaining the essence of the original instrument.

3.2.1. A Miniature Orchestra

One of the main characteristics of the electric guitar in the context of this research is its timbral sensitivity. The guitar has an enormous tonal range and is very sensitive to any changes in playing technique. Dionisio Aguado states already in his 1843 book New Guitar Method: “Who would think that of all those used today it is perhaps the most suitable for producing the effect of an orchestra in miniature?” (Aguado 2004, 3). After him, Andrés Segovia expressed a similar sentiment in a video interview:

[the guitar] is like an orchestra to which we could look with the reverse side of binoculars. I mean by that, that everything, every instrument of the orchestra is inside the guitar but in smaller sound size. (Nupen 1994)

In the same clip Segovia demonstrates this by playing a wide variety of sounds on the guitar. He makes it sound like a cello or a brass instrument. His direct and tactile interaction with the strings makes the sound very malleable. Subtle changes in hand position, angle, force, and weight can result in relatively large changes in sound. This amounts to an instrument that has the dynamic and tonal range of a compressed orchestra.

With the introduction of the electric guitar, the dynamic range of the guitar has been greatly extended. At the same time, the direct and tactile interaction with the strings remains. Although it is not usually seen as such, the electric guitar is an extremely sensitive instrument. Amplification brings out the intricacies of the string-hand interaction. It acts like a microscope, bringing quiet sounds to the foreground. Guitarist Wiek Hijmans compares the pickup to placing an ear up close to the strings (personal conversation). The magnetic pickup directly picks up the vibrations of the string instead of the sound waves resonating through the body and feeding back into the strings, as in the acoustic guitar. This resonance enriches the sound, but at the same time, some details of the string-hand interaction are lost. While the sensitivity of the electric guitar is commonly used to create very loud music, it is most apparent when playing more delicately, in which case the touch of the player has to be significantly lighter than with the acoustic guitar. This is a well-known fact for players transferring from acoustic to electric guitar.

Once we introduce (found) objects into the electric guitar system, the sensitivity and timbral range of the guitar is even further extended. The strings and pickups are already sensitive to being actuated in different ways, but so are most of the objects used to actuate them. Every small change in one of the actors in the system can cause a major shift in the whole.

The sensitivity of the objects marks a clear difference between these and using effects processing, which is a more common way to extend the timbral range of the electric guitar, as Otso Lähdeoja and Hans Tammen point out:

[playing with effects pedals] opens few possibilities for a truly dynamic interaction with the augmentations leading to the sonic stasis common in electric guitar playing: the player chooses a specific sound for a musical part with “on/off” effect switches, playing with the same timbre until the next “monolithic” modification. (Lähdeoja et al. 2010, 43)

Those effect pedals aren’t very flexible anyway. They often do just one sound, or a little variation on it. But I’m interested in the relation between multiple sounds, placing them in order, or juxtaposing them to create a sonic progression. But for that, and for the people you’re playing with, you need to be flexible and fast. I figured the best way was to use all sorts of materials to agitate the strings, sticks, stones, screws, metals, motors and the like, because a slight change in the position of the screw can create something totally different. (Hopkin and Landman 2014, 6)

This “monolithic” transformation of the sound obstructs the timbral heterogeneity of the instrument, a crucial part of the notion of the guitar as a miniature orchestra. The prepared guitar, through its ability to modify strings separately and to allow multiple objects to be used simultaneously, greatly extends this timbral heterogeneity, which also connects to the idea of the prepared guitar as assemblage, of being many instruments in one. Each part of the assemblage becomes an “instrument” in the orchestra of the guitar. We can say then that the prepared electric guitar is a direct extension of the historical notion of the guitar as a miniature orchestra, as conceived by Aguado and Segovia.

3.2.2. The Electric Guitar is a Modular Instrument

The electric guitar as an instrument does not just consist of the guitar itself, like the acoustic guitar, but of the whole system involved in producing the sound. Fred Frith observes: “it doesn’t become an electric guitar until I plug it in … and also send it through whatever I want to send it through. So it’s only [the guitar] plus [the effects chain] + [the amplifier] which is an electric guitar” (Frith 2007). All these parts are integral to making the electric guitar function as a whole. They are the modules that make up the electric guitar. Each module is interchangeable; we can use any combination of guitar, amplifier and effects pedal and the interrelationships within this system remain fundamentally the same.

We can go one step further and see that each component that makes up the system of the electric guitar is itself also built up out of modules. This is especially apparent in the designs of Leo Fender for the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation. Guitars like the Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster stand out for their modularity. The guitars are broken into as many small modules as possible. In the Fender Stratocaster it is possible to replace the whole neck down to the individual bridge saddles, or the tremolo springs, with relative ease. Originally this was intended to allow for mass manufacturing and easier servicing, but it also invites modification. It is common among guitarists to swap guitar parts like pickups, tuners, pick guards, and strap buttons. None of these operations require specialized technical skills or equipment.

The guitarist can choose from a virtually infinite variety of pickups, plectrums, cables, effects pedals, guitar components, vacuum tubes and so on. This makes each electric guitar a very personal instrument. Very rarely will the combination of modules that make up someone’s electric guitar be identical to that of another player. This makes it very difficult to transfer in detail some particular sound to another player’s setup. When composing music this can be a challenge, but as discussed earlier, in improvisation this kind of idiosyncrasy is embraced.

That the electric guitar has so many different manifestations among practices also makes the idea of the electric guitar more amorphous, as Otso Lähdeoja points out:

The instrumental environment offers a high degree of configurability for the musician: tone woods, pick-ups, effects, amplifiers, loudspeakers etc. All these elements can be chosen separately and therefore allow for a thorough customization of the instrument. As a result, a wide variety of diverse objects coexist under the common name ‘the electric guitar’. (Lähdeoja et al. 2010, 42)

The modular nature of the electric guitar also makes it very flexible. The electric guitar system not only differs from guitarist to guitarist, but also has much variety within itself. It is constantly open to change and can be adjusted to the needs of the player. The guitarist chooses which components to use for each unique playing situation. In this way, the instrument can grow and evolve alongside the player and their practice.

3.2.3. The Simplicity and Portability of the Electric Guitar.

At its core, the electric guitar is a very simple instrument. It is possible to make a basic electric guitar out of a plank of wood, metal strings, a magnetic pickup, and some nails. The magnetic pickup is a very simple device, consisting only of a magnet wrapped with copper wire. It is thus very easy, especially since pre-made components are widely available, to build your own electric guitar. This is a stark contrast with other instruments such as the piano, drums, or oboe. The electric guitar is also much simpler to construct than the acoustic guitar.

Many electric guitar designs have body shapes that reference historical acoustic guitar designs, or that are shaped to be ergonomic. This is not necessary for the basic functioning of the guitar, however. The guitar Les Paul built in 1939, called “The Log”, illustrates this. The Log was originally constructed using a block of pine with a neck, bridge, and pickups attached to it. To make the guitar seem more familiar to the public, Les Paul attached two wings to the sides of the pine block. This gave the guitar a conventional appearance, while actually being a very simple log shape. So, before the electric guitar became more complex in its construction, it was a simple block of pine with strings and a pickup.

Les Paul with The Log

This simplicity, together with the modularity, gives the electric guitar a low threshold for repair or modification. It means that the guitar can become a platform on which to experiment and work on technical and musical ideas. Through these modifications and experiments, a more personal instrument is formed – a fluid and open-ended instrument, which can take on many shapes and is in constant development.

3.3. The 18-String Object Guitar

The first instrument that I started to develop I call the 18-string Object Guitar, in reference to Derek Bailey’s “19-string (approx) guitar”, a 6-string acoustic guitar with loose strings dangling from the guitar body. The 18-string Object Guitar is a culmination of all my previous experience playing prepared (tabletop) guitar, with the double-neck Epiphone SG as a starting point. Just like the double neck SG, the 18-string guitar has one part with six strings and one with twelve strings. In the 18-string guitar these two parts are separate instruments that can function fully independently, as described below. However, when the two guitars are used together and form the 18-string guitar, they give the full benefit of the double neck Epiphone SG. It’s possible to create complex assemblages and many simultaneous layers in a way that is impossible on a regular 6-string guitar.

3.3.1. 6-string Object Guitar

The concept of the 6-String Object Guitar is centered on two main features: the modified Hawaiian guitar body and the mobile pickup.

As discussed before, the body of the guitar should be as small and simple as possible, while being suitable for tabletop playing. As there are no production tabletop guitars, we have to look in other places to find similar approaches that can inspire the design. The electric Hawaiian guitar or lap-steel guitar is historically closely related to the electric guitar. They were originally referred to in the same breath, as “Electric Hawaiian” and “Electric Spanish” for the instrument we now call the electric guitar. Often these instruments were used in a similar context and played by the same players. (For more information on early electric guitars, see Hill (2013).)

The Hawaiian guitar is made to be played on the lap, using a steel bar to press down the strings. This lap position makes the Hawaiian guitar interesting to the tabletop guitarist, since both employ the guitar horizontally. With this horizontal position, the Hawaiian guitar developed crucial construction differences from the electric Spanish guitar.

The main difference between the Electric Hawaiian guitar and the tabletop electric guitar is that the tabletop guitar is not made to be played only with a steel bar. For the 6-string guitar under discussion, I would like to still be able to fret the strings, to have a very quick and immediate way to modulate the pitch. To enable this, Pelle and I modified the Hawaiian guitar by adding frets and making the action (the distance between the fretboard and the strings) much lower, since the Hawaiian guitar has a much higher action than a regular guitar and has frets only to mark where the different pitches are located along the strings.

To expand the possibilities of the 6-string Object Guitar I added a mobile pickup, which that can be moved along the length of the string. This feature allows us to understand better what influence the pickup position has on the sound, but also creates the opportunity for different pickup behaviors to arise.

I had the idea for the mobile pickup when studying the headstock pickup Fred Frith uses on some of his guitars, which have a pickup mounted on the headstock, but hanging over the strings close to the nut. What this provides is essentially a “reverse guitar”. Since the headstock pickup receives the sound from the opposite side of the string from the fixed pickup (which is mounted close to the bridge of the guitar) the pitches move in the opposite direction along the string: the higher a note is fretted, the lower the pitch becomes. Since the intonation of the frets is set for the side of the fixed pickup close to the bridge, the pitches picked up by the headstock pickup do not correspond with equal temperament, creating interesting microtonal intervals. More than this reverse guitar effect, however, what interests me is the potential of having two distinct guitar signals deriving from one gesture. The guitar is split in two, and new interrelationships between the two parts can arise.

The mobile pickup in the initial version of the 6-string Object Guitar was a Gretsch Filtertron. It was directly wired to the output, which was also part of the container, and could be directly sent to a mixer or amplifier, or routed through the output of the fixed pickup, so that the two pickups could be blended together into a mono signal. However, it was quite challenging to achieve a balance between the signals. A pickup positioned closer to the bridge has a consistent output, while the output of the mobile pickup, because of its changing position, fluctuates constantly. Especially positioning the pickup very close to the nut is a problem, since the output signal at this position is very low compared to that of the fixed pickup, whose much higher output needs to be reduced using the passive volume control. The combined signal then is at a very low level, requiring more gain to be added. The end result is a noisy signal.

I thus decided to send both signals directly an active mixer (see section 3.4. The Object Guitar Control Panel, so that the controls from the guitar and the “wing” of the guitar body could be removed completely. This brought two additional benefits, because previously the controls would block certain actions, like bowing the strings in some positions, so that removing the control gave more flexibility to such actions. Also, the guitar became even simpler and the shape more rudimentary, bringing it closer once more to the idea of the electric guitar being a plank of wood with strings and a pickup.

The other change we made to the guitar was to replace the Gretsch Filtertron pickup. I chose the Filtertron because of its humbucker technology and its adjustable poles. A humbucker has two coils which together cancel out any interference in the signal, making them less noisy. However, this also cancels out some of the high frequencies, those whose wavelength is smaller than the distance between the two coils. Since the prepared electric guitar is intended as a full-range instrument in comparison with the regular electric guitar’s typical desired frequency range, this loss of high frequencies is not ideal. I decided to replace the Gretsch Filtertron pickup with a Lace Sensor pickup, to fix this issue. The Lace Sensor is a single-coil pickup, so that it has a broader frequency response, but is also less susceptible to noise interference. An added benefit of the Lace Sensor is that it is about half the width of the Gretsch Filtertron, making it possible to reduce the size of the container. The smaller the container of the mobile pickup is, the less it becomes an obstacle in the way of playing the 6-string Object Guitar.

3.3.2. The 12-string Object Guitar

The principles behind the construction of the 12-String Object Guitar are largely the same as the 6-String Object Guitar, emphasizing portability, simplicity, and experimentation. The major differences are the number of strings, their distribution, and the lack of a fretboard.

The 12-String Object Guitar has 12 strings to enable the exploration of an area between the prepared guitar and the prepared piano. One of the defining differences between these is the prepared piano’s construction with coupled strings. Depending on the pitch, a single hammer strikes one, two, or three strings simultaneously so that it is possible to wedge objects between the strings, a common practice in piano preparation. With a regular 6-string guitar, this is much more difficult since the gap between the strings is much larger. Also, the fact that there are only 6 strings greatly reduces the possibility for a multiplicity of objects, whereas the 12-string has six courses (pairs) and a greater number of strings, while staying close to the design of the historical guitar. Many historical iterations of the guitar have included string courses, but as far as the electric guitar is concerned the 12-string guitar is the only instrument strung in this way. The 12-string electric guitar is most associated with musical acts like David Bowie, but seeing the parallels with the courses of piano strings allows us to see it in a very different light regarding its potential for preparation. An important adjustment to make to the 12-string guitar so that it works more like a prepared piano is to increase the string tension. The possibility of wedging objects between the strings depends not only on the size of the gap between the strings but also on the tension holding the strings and the object together. This is why the 12-String Object Guitar has extra heavy gauge flat-wound strings, increasing the string tension dramatically.

Increasing the string tension does make it harder to press down the strings, but this problem is avoided by leaving out the fretboard entirely, which in turn opens up many possibilities that can make the 12-String Object Guitar more complementary to the 6-String Object Guitar. For example, without the fretboard, it is possible to place mobile pickups underneath the strings, which can slide along the whole length of the string. It is easier to interact directly with an upward-facing pickup than the downward-facing mobile pickup of the 6-String Object Guitar. At the same time, the absence of the fretboard creates space for new kinds of interactions with the strings (see example 202304252118 Assemblage B.E3LR.15.20).

Having two pickups able to move freely along the string allows us to examine more closely how the pickup position interacts with objects. The pickup acts as a filter, accessing different harmonic partials from different positions on the string. Also, the output volume becomes louder the further the pickup is moved from either end of the string. Stopping a string with a finger, slide, or other object divides the string into two portions so that each portion produces a different pitch (unless the string is stopped exactly at its central point). The position of the pickup determines which string portion is heard. With the slide, the relation between the two string portions is relatively straightforward: as the pitch of one portion rises, the other pitch goes down. But with other objects such [202304021751 Object 62 (Bracelets with Beads)], or the addition of more objects, this relation becomes more obscure. The pickup position then becomes part of a complex interplay of mutated and muted string portions.

Making a guitar with two pickups that could slide along the string turned out to be quite challenging, and Pelle Kuipers and I went through several design iterations before finding a solution. An early idea was to create rails along the side of the guitar, using regular curtain rails with curtain hooks to attach the pickup enclosure. The problem with this idea was that the guitar became very wide, and the hooks couldn’t hold the pickup reliably in place.

Another attempt involved using two aluminum tubes that acted as rails for the pickup enclosure to slide on, as in the Westone “Rail” bass. It proved impossible to create such a feature on a hand-built guitar, because the holes to accommodate the tubes must be milled with very great precision to allow smooth movement of the enclosure. Another idea involved a steel fretboard and a magnet attached to the bottom of the pickup enclosure, which would hold it in place. However, this also made it very hard to move the pickup gradually.

Eventually, we settled on a design where the pickups are placed in a trough. An advantage of this over the other designs is that it makes the guitar lighter and more compact. The pickups may be moved freely and even taken out of the guitar easily since they are not fixed to anything. This is only possible because the 12-string Object Guitar is a dedicated tabletop instrument. With the guitar horizontally, gravity will hold the pickups in place. Two magnets on either side ensure the pickups stay in place during travel.

For this guitar, I used Lace Sensor pickups again for their broad frequency range and relatively low interference noise. However, a strong hum was caused by the pickups being ungrounded – being entirely separate from the guitar, they weren’t connected to any metal parts that could ground them. Pelle solved the issue by using a tape measure attached along the side of the trough. Its flexibility keeps it in contact with the screws of the pickup, which ensures that there is always a connection to the ground. An additional benefit is that it is possible to read and transfer the exact location of objects along the strings using the tape measure for its original purpose.

3.3.3. A Tabletop Setup for the 18-string Object Guitar

While I was developing the 18-String Object Guitar, I realized that I needed a setup that could support it. The notion of the instrument is extended, as mentioned previously, to include objects, amplification, and signal chain, so that the physical setup itself is an element of the instrument. The positions of the guitar and the objects come with specific affordances. Where a certain object is placed on a table determines with which hand the performer will most likely pick it up. The influence of the position of the guitar, and specifically the tabletop position, has already been discussed in section 2.4. A Shifting Assemblage.

For the first performances I gave with the Object Guitar I used whatever table the venue could provide, which meant much variation in the size and height of the table, and the chair provided with it. While my aim is to be as open as possible to the differing circumstances of each performance, I found that this variation between table heights impedes rather than triggers creativity. Having a table that is too high makes the angle of the arms to the guitar awkward, restricting the movement of the body. A table that is too low forces me to bend over, which physically shuts me off from my surroundings. In general, I prefer to stand during a performance since this allows for physical movement and opens up the body to the space. Standing while playing makes the performance less static. It became clear to me then that I would have to develop a setup that could provide me with a consistent height made for a standing position.

I built a portable tabletop that I could place on a keyboard stand and microphone stand. These two types of stands are widely available at (almost) every venue or rehearsal space so that I can reduce the proportion of the setup I have to bring myself. The tabletop consists of two pieces that can be folded to exactly fit the case I use for the 18-string Object Guitar so that its size is maximized while still enabling it to be brought along easily. It has just enough room for the 6-string Object Guitar, 12-string Object Guitar, various objects, and guitar pedals.

After playing with this setup for a few concerts, I realized it was not working for me. To support all of the aforementioned items, the wood of the tabletop needed to be relatively thick. When I carried it in the same case as the 18-string Object Guitar, the case was much too heavy. Moreover, setting everything up before a concert was very time-consuming since I needed to plug in all the pedals separately and attach the power supply to the bottom of the table.

I realized that I did not need a tabletop for underneath the guitars, since they already support themselves. I place the guitars directly on the keyboard stand, and for the objects, I use a smaller percussion table resting on a keyboard stand extension and a microphone stand to support its weight. A tray can be added to the microphone stand to place a spring reverb tank (section 3.5.4. The Spring Reverb) or controller (section 3.4.2. Stereo Control Panel on.

I still needed more room for larger objects like mallets, skewers, brushes, and nails, for which I borrowed the idea of the percussionist’s stick bag, which can be used for any object, not just sticks. It can be attached very quickly to the keyboard stand extension, takes up very little space, and all the objects are readily accessible. This makes it an integral part of the Object Guitar setup.

The modularity of this deconstructed tabletop setup allows me to choose appropriate elements for each unique playing situation. Being able to break it down into smaller parts also means it is compact and easy to pack. This makes it more convenient to travel with than the previous tabletop I was using.

Also, when performing live, the differences between this setup and previous ones are apparent. The previously mentioned difference in flexibility of the arms and the ability to stand are an important part of this, but it is also possible in other ways to relate differently to the instrument. Having no tabletop beneath the guitars, while making it impossible to put objects on the table to excite the guitar (as in Keith Rowe’s use of handheld fans), removes an obstacle in the way of exciting the guitar in different ways. It is possible, for example, to hang objects directly from the guitar or to excite the guitar from below.

It is very important that all objects are quickly and easily accessible. The speed with which objects can be changed has a great influence on the flexibility of the musician in an improvised performance. On a regular table, the objects can be placed very close to the guitar, where they are all visible. With the deconstructed tabletop setup, on the other hand, the objects cannot be as close to the guitar, but I strive to approach the speed of action afforded by the regular table as closely as possible. I work with the placement of objects inside the setup to achieve this, most importantly by deciding on a (semi-)fixed place for each object. This way, I can develop familiarity and habit with the objects. But, since I want the setup to trigger creativity and spontaneity, these positions should not be decided by traditional means. A division between right-hand and left-hand objects, for example, would be too restricting, suggesting the idea that these objects are limited to use in one hand only, while my aim is to explore a more fluid relation between performer and objects. Grouping objects according to their function or usage would not work for the same reason. For these reasons, I make rather arbitrary groupings of objects based mostly on their material and size. These parameters have a bearing on the sound, but not always in the same way. A collection of stone objects can have vastly different sounds. A large nail ([202208252212 Object 33 (Large Nail)]) and a mallet ([202303252102 Object 36 (Felt Mallet)]), although similar size, are entirely different objects. Using these groupings gives me enough familiarity with the positions of objects while not restricting their potential uses.

3.4. The Object Guitar Control Panel

While working on the 18-string Object Guitar, I decided to move all the controls for the guitar away from the body and to one centralized place. An electric guitar often has three basic controls: volume and tone knobs and a pickup selector. These are located in the control plate or control panel of the guitar. As such, the guitarist has basic sound-shaping possibilities on the guitar itself. The 18-string Object Guitar has six total outputs: one fixed pickup, a mobile pickup, and a piezo for the 6-string Object Guitar, and two mobile pickups and a piezo for the 12-string Object Guitar. I needed a device with the basic sound-shaping possibilities of the traditional control panel but with all the controls in one place. Thus, I took the control panel’s simplicity as a starting point, trying to limit myself in terms of signal processing with effects. Effects tend to obscure the morphology and timbre of the interaction of the guitar objects with the guitar.

I designed a modular signal chain that has multiple possible physical forms but uses the same basic modules:


The mixer balances the six inputs from the 18-string Object Guitar, but can also be used to solo or mute individual inputs, increasing the range of possible sounds by hearing only the piezo microphones or only the mobile pickup of the 6-string Object Guitar instead of always everything at the same time.


The compressor ensures that dynamics stay within a limited range to avoid loud transient peaks. Because the prepared electric guitar is such an uncontrollable instrument, its dynamics can also be challenging to tame. An example of this can be found in Keith Rowe’s solo prepared guitar album A Dimension Of Perfectly Ordinary Reality (Rowe 1990), where the signal is constantly clipping because the guitar is too loud. While this large dynamic range is something to be embraced, loud transient peaks can cause hearing damage and make the audience extremely uncomfortable.


A characteristic part of the electric guitar sound is the saturation of the vacuum tubes of a guitar amplifier. This is part of what gives the electric guitar its distinctive sound. The saturation distorts the signal and emphasizes harmonics.


Different types of filtering occur throughout the electric guitar signal chain. The tone control on the control panel of the guitar is a simple low-pass filter, the jack cable does subtle filtering, and the EQ section of the guitar amplifier and the speaker and cabinet also filter the signal. Filtering can emphasize or make audible sounds that would otherwise not be heard. It shifts the perspective on a sound, much as the solo and mute features of the mixer do.


Reverb can create depth. When used sparingly, this can be very effective. When too much reverb is used, it can become more like the monolithic effect mentioned above, smoothing out the sound and losing much interesting detailed information in the sound produced by the objects.

3.4.1. Mono Control Panel

The first manifestation of the control panel is in a collection of stomp boxes (effects pedals with footswitches to bring them in and out of the signal chain). Like the rest of the Object Guitar, this pedalboard was designed with flexibility and portability in mind. The goal here is to use as few stomp boxes as possible not to complicate the setup. All stomp boxes are attached to a pedalboard to speed up the setup process before a performance. Usually, the pedalboard is placed on the floor, but I put the pedalboard higher and closer to the hands, so that I can manipulate the knobs of the stomp boxes, for example to make quick adjustments to, for example, volume, drive, or reverb level.

Stompboxes are most often used for guitar, and so are less likely to have stereo capabilities. Stompboxes that allow stereo signals, like reverb and delay, are usually placed at the end of the signal chain. Because I am not interested in creating an artificial stereo effect using these devices, the pedalboard setup remains mono. It contains the following components:

Old Blood Noise Endeavors Signal Blender

The first pedal in the chain is the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Signal Blender, which acts as a simple 3 input/1 output mixer.

Electro Harmonix Platform compressor

The Electro Harmonix Platform compressor is one of the few stereo compressors with limiting capabilities on the market. Its limiter function is very useful to avoid extreme transient peaks.

Strymon Iridium

The Strymon Iridium is an amplifier emulator that performs multiple functions in the signal chain. Its primary function is to emulate guitar pre-amplifiers. This means it also emulates the saturation of the valve amplifier. I use the EQ section of the pedal for filtering, with an expression foot pedal set up so that at the heel-down position, the treble knob is rolled down and the bass knob up. The heel-up position is the opposite, with maximum treble and minimum bass. With the pedal in the middle position, all knobs are centered. This results in a sweep filter, allowing me to organically shift the filtering with the music, sometimes to an extreme degree to create contrast.

The Strymon Iridium also has guitar amplifier speaker cabinet emulation, but I choose not to use this. I prefer a flat frequency response as default, only utilizing the speaker cabinet emulation for specific filtering. It is impossible with the Strymon Iridium to quickly switch the speaker cabinet emulation on or off.

Power supplies

The power supply is an often overlooked component of the pedalboard. For most guitarists, the differences between power supplies are also subtle. A poorly designed power supply can introduce interference to the signal as a static hum. This is not a significant problem when a plectrum or fingers are used to pluck the strings. But the Object Guitar, being such a dynamic instrument, needs compression or other gain alteration to boost the very quiet sounds. These soft sounds can be relatively close in volume to the hum caused by the power supply, so it is vital to use a grounded power supply with inputs isolated from each other to keep this hum as quiet as possible.

3.4.2. Stereo Control Panel

The pedalboard setup described above worked as intended, but having only the option of a mono signal turned out to be very limiting. One of the initial ideas of the 18-string Object Guitar was that its six outputs could be sent to different speakers, providing separation and layering to create more depth in the sound. I was in search of a solution that would achieve stereo or multi-channel spatialization, but, as often with the object guitar, no ready-to-use solution existed: once an instrument strays slightly outside the parameters of standardized design, many practical obstacles start to emerge.

I tried initially to use an analog mixer, which worked well for controlling the volume and panning for each channel. Unfortunately, there are no compact mixers in production with six high-impedance inputs. Guitar pickups and piezo microphones are both high impedance, so I would need at least four DI boxes, creating extra costs and extra weight when the mixer is already relatively heavy, partly because it incorporates many unnecessary features for my setup. More impedance mismatch issues appeared when I tried to connect external stomp boxes to the send and return of the mixer.

In search of other solutions, I returned to stompboxes to see if there was an alternative way to use them to get a stereo mixer. I tried to use two Old Blood Noise Endeavors Signal Blender devices to double the inputs to six. I divide the six inputs of the 18-string Object Guitar over the two signal blenders, sending the two magnetic pickups of each guitar to opposite sides (left and right). In both of the guitars that make up the 18-string Object Guitar, the pickups closest to the bridge tend to be used most often. This is a relic from traditional guitar playing, where all pickups are positioned closer to the bridge than the nut. In my practice, I try to subvert the dominance of this pickup and use more of the pickup closer to the nut, but this is an ongoing process that will take time to complete. To counterbalance this dominant pickup, I send the single piezo microphone signal of each guitar to the opposite side.

This configuration is static in its spatialization. Any movement has to come from the playing itself. If I play only one pickup for an extended period during a performance, having it come only from the left speaker may not be ideal. It would be better to be able to control panning across the stereo spectrum during the performance, for which there are no prefabricated solutions so that a custom-built mixer would be necessary, similar to a device like the Electro Harmonix Tri-Parallel Mixer, but with six inputs and a panning control. It has been impossible so far for me to build such a device for practical reasons, but I intend to develop it in the future.

As an alternative to this custom mixer, I started using a configuration with a laptop running the visual programming environment Max. I send the six outputs from the 18-string Object Guitar to an audio interface with high-impedance inputs and then to the patch written in Max. This setup is flexible and configurable since Max has virtually limitless possibilities. The danger here is to get lost in these possibilities and forget about the simplicity. Therefore, I had to restrict myself to the basic elements of the control panel as defined in 3.4. The Object Guitar Control Panel.

The six signals from the six channels of the 18-string Object Guitar first go through separate limiters. Then, all the channels have individual gain and panning controls that pan each signal across the stereo spectrum. From there, the signal is sent through two VST plugins: an amplifier emulator (Audiothing Valves) and a reverb (Valhalla Plate). The amplifier emulator adds saturation and filtering. The benefit of using this emulator instead of the Strymon Iridium stomp box is that it is possible to switch the cabinet and speaker emulation on or off here. This allows me to use it as an additional filtering device.

For performing with Max, I use two MIDI controllers. One is configured like a small mixer, with sliders for the gain of every channel and a knob to pan them across the stereo spectrum. I have selected five cabinet emulations and mapped them to the buttons on the left-hand side of the MIDI controller. I chose these five cabinets for their variety. In the context of an improvised music performance, these filters are best used to produce clear shifts in emphasis on the sound, for example, using cabinets that are very narrow in frequency range, like the “1940” cabinet that emulates a 1940s radio speaker, next to large cabinets with boosted low frequencies.

Another MIDI controller (a foot pedal) controls the master gain in Max. Its function corresponds to the analog volume pedal that forms part of the pedalboard setup for the Object Guitar.

3.5. Deconstruction Guitars

While developing the 18-string Object Guitar I began to feel the need for a more fundamental deconstruction of the guitar. The 18-string Object Guitar does indeed deconstruct my relationship with the guitar, offering a new perspective on the electric guitar as a personal, sensitive, and simple instrument. Still, its two constituent guitars in themselves are not as modular as I would like them to be. This was an opportunity to develop new instruments that break down the electric guitar into its functional parts to enhance its modularity while allowing me to focus on specific instrument parts. From this process of deconstruction, a new instrument, along with a new understanding of the electric guitar, might arise.

The deconstruction guitars are so far four in number:

These instruments mustn’t be just one-off experiments but fully functioning, independent instruments that can be used for live performance, which is always a critical reference point in my practice. Performing allows me to reflect and gather feedback from others. It forces the deconstruction guitars to consist not of merely abstract experiments but also to always relate to the music I want to make. At the same time, the deconstruction guitars expand the object guitar instrumentarium, broadening the range of their possible applications. A situation where I had to bring as little as possible to the performance resulted in the No-string Object Guitar. Another situation where an acoustic instrument was required gave rise to the Object Zither.

3.5.1. The No-string Object Guitar

Through playing the prepared guitar, I realized that I tend to employ techniques involving the specific characteristics of the magnetic pickup. I often interact directly with the pickup, mainly through the use of (ferro)magnetic guitar objects, which are themselves sensed by the pickup and not only through their action on the strings. This realization made me curious to see what would happen if I had only the pickup and the objects. Would this bring me closer to the core of my interaction with the guitar? Would it still feel like I am playing guitar?

I decided accordingly to frame a new instrument I call the No-string Object Guitar, which is only a magnetic pickup wired directly to a jack output. Having only the pickup allows me to zoom in on its particularities and interaction with the guitar objects.

When I first played with the No-string Object Guitar, the answer to my second question became immediately apparent. Much of the experience of playing the 18-string Object Guitar is transferred to playing the No-string Object Guitar. I immediately gravitated towards a tabletop position, maintaining the same tactile interaction between hands and objects. The basic tension, always present in the prepared guitar, between resonance and recalcitrance, is still there. I constantly listen to the objects and the pickup, trying to negotiate with their behaviors. This means that playing the No-string Object Guitar remains a process of discovery and curiosity. The experience of playing the guitar is there, while the guitar itself is absent. Strictly speaking, the magnetic pickup itself is of course not a guitar, but for my purposes it is treated as if it were. So much of my experience, as an electric guitar player, with the magnetic pickup is in the context of the guitar that it is impossible to separate it from this history. It feels as if the rest of the guitar is still there, like a phantom limb.

This notion points to my answer to the first question: does it bring me closer to the core of my interaction with the guitar? The phantom limb sensation emphasizes the missing parts of the guitar, whose function within the prepared guitar system is highlighted by their absence. The absence of strings can be felt in the reduction of the modulation of pitch and dynamics in the No-string Object Guitar. Having the strings as a surface between the pickup and objects extends the capacity for modulating pitch, as well as making possible a gradient in dynamics from quiet to loud that is not possible with only the guitar objects. This is a fundamental part of what makes the guitar such a sensitive instrument.

I realized that the core of the prepared electric guitar does not lie in one specific component like the magnetic pickup, but in how different fundamental parts function together. This led me to make multiple deconstructions of the guitar, each focussing on another essential component of the prepared electric guitar system.

Focussing on the magnetic pickup allows us to examine the differences between the wide variety of available pickups, with their specific affordances related to prepared guitar over and above their apparent difference in sound. This is why I have three different iterations of the No-string Object Guitar: the Gretsch Filtertron pickup (202302041802 E1 (Filtertron Mobile Pickup) , the Lace Sensor pickup ([202302041744 E3 (Mobile Lace Sensor Pickup) ], and the TrueTone SH-20 ([202302041801 E2 (TrueTone SH-20 Pickup)]). These three pickups differ in magnet type, coils, and enclosure materials.

The Gretsch Filtertron pickup has an Alnico magnet with magnetic pole pieces, while the Lace Sensor and TrueTone SH-20 pickups have ceramic magnets. The Alnico magnet is much more powerful, resulting in a different interaction of (ferro)magnetic objects with the pickup. When a (ferro)magnetic object is held close to the Gretsch Filtertron pickup, it is hard to control the distance, often resulting in the object hitting the pickup with a loud knock. With ceramic pickups, the magnet’s pull is much weaker, making it possible to hold the magnetic object closer without hitting the pickup. The absence of magnetic pole pieces also makes the magnetic pull on objects more even, as can be heard in [202311061500 Assemblage E2.52].

The enclosure of the pickup also influences its interaction with objects. Because the enclosure is in direct contact with the magnet, its surface texture is also picked up. The Gretsch Filtertron has a smooth nickel enclosure, while the TrueTone SH-20 has a wooden enclosure, and the Lace Sensor pickup has a primarily plastic enclosure.

3.5.2. The Object Zither

In the same way as we can reduce the guitar to the magnetic pickup (the No-string Object Guitar), we can also reduce the guitar to its strings. A pure isolation of the strings is impossible since they have a very low volume, which must be reinforced using a magnetic pickup or contact microphone. This solution would reduce the desired difference between the different deconstructed guitars, so that reinforcing the sound of the strings with a sound box is a more appropriate solution. While an acoustic guitar, being the closest relative to the electric guitar, might seem an obvious solution, developing the object guitar has shifted the identity of the instrument, so that the acoustic guitar is no longer its closest acoustic equivalent, because of the number of strings, playing position, and playing technique have changed.

Instead, the concert zither can be regarded as the closest acoustic equivalent to the 18-string Object Guitar. The concert zither, or Viennese zither, is a tabletop instrument with two sections, one fretted section and one with open strings, like the 18-string Object Guitar. It has many strings (the specific zither I own has 33), unlike the standard acoustic guitar, which only has six. These features make it ideal for exploring the acoustic realm of the Object Guitar sound.

One example of this exploration is [202306021411 Assemblage I.L1.42.65]. In this assemblage, [202109222057 Object 65 (Knitting needle 10mm)] is placed underneath the strings against the fretboard of the Object Zither. [202305172117 Object 42 (Handheld Fan With Velcro)] is then used to excite the strings with its hook-and-loop tape that is attached to the spinning head of a handheld fan. The loop side of the hook-and-loop tape is used, so the surface consists of tiny soft hairs. These hairs lightly brush against the string of the Object Zither. This results in a sound of constantly morphing harmonics of the string. The unevenness of the surface of the hook-and-loop tape and the slightly warped spinning of the head of the handheld fan make it next to impossible to maintain even pressure on the string, while this pressure influences the harmonic content. Through the Object Zither, it is possible to hear more of the upper harmonics that the magnetic pickup (because of its more limited frequency range) could not pick up. When a magnetic pickup is used, it also picks up the electromagnetic interference of the motor, depending on how close the handheld fan is in proximity to the pickup. The Object Zither allows us to explore in detail the changes in the harmonics produced along the whole string length.

Through its absence, we can better see the characteristics of the magnetic pickup. Even though the Object Zither has a sound box to reinforce the sound, it is still relatively quiet with a relatively small dynamic range. We could use an air microphone to capture and amplify its sound, but this would still not make it as dynamic as the guitar with a magnetic pickup. Relative to most air microphones, a correctly wired and grounded magnetic pickup (especially a humbucker pickup) has an excellent signal-to-noise ratio. The magnetic pickup also has a good gain-before-feedback ratio. When playing the Object Zither in a live performance it is still hard to control the feedback, even when using a microphone with a hypercardioid pickup pattern. Because the magnetic pickup does not have these issues, it lends itself better to amplifying extremely quiet sounds. A different interaction with the instrument becomes possible, requiring a delicate touch and focused attention to small details.

The object zither was also helpful in developing a fretting technique for the 6-string Object Guitar. Since the 6-string Object Guitar is positioned horizontally, we cannot use the traditional guitar fretting technique. With its tabletop position combined with frets, the zither can show us a possible fretting technique for tabletop guitar. Zither technique focuses on applying pressure from the weight of the arms rather than the strength of the hands. The player should be high enough above the instrument for the arms to weigh on the zither fully. The traditional zither technique uses the thumb rather than the little finger to press down the string. These technical principles benefit the 6-string Object Guitar, making the fretting technique much more effortless. I then extended this technique by copying it to the right hand. The right hand can also press the strings down in the 6-string Object Guitar because it has a lower string tension than the concert zither. We can “tap” the strings with both hands, achieving a new way of playing the tabletop guitar.

3.5.3. The Prepared Table

The unplugged acoustic sound of the solid-body electric guitar is often overlooked when talking about the distinctive sound of the instrument. It is, however, one of the defining differences between this instrument and the acoustic guitar. Whereas the acoustic guitar is designed so that the body amplifies the sound of the strings, the solid body of the electric guitar is designed to deaden vibrations to reduce feedback. This has a considerable impact on the resulting acoustic sound. To allow me to focus solely on the acoustic sound of the solid electric guitar body, I use a tabletop, as the electric guitar body is essentially a plank of wood. At the same time the tabletop is itself an essential part of the object guitar.

For the prepared table we need different means of transducing vibrations. A magnetic pickup does not sense the electric guitar body directly, so it is not useful for the prepared table. An air microphone does pick up the sound from the tabletop, but its acoustic sound is very low in volume. This means the microphone will need a great deal of gain. This is not a problem in a quiet environment, but in a live performance setting, feedback issues start to occur. This is why I prefer to use a contact microphone for the prepared table. Contact microphones, or piezo pickups, are often used to amplify acoustic guitars. This kind of device is sufficiently resistant to feedback for live performance and has a distinct sound. The fact that it senses pressure results in an entirely different layer of sound from the No-String Object Guitar magnetic pickup and the Object Zither air microphone. The three different transducer types—magnetic pickup, air microphone, and contact microphone—can work together to give a broader projection of what is usually considered electric guitar sound.

Using different tabletops as prepared tables, we can perceive the variety of resonances and textures in tabletops and guitar bodies. When I played a concert with the Sonology Electroacoustic Ensemble in the Willem Twee Toonzaal on March 31st, 2023, I could especially see how the resonance between tables differ. I decided to use a table provided by the venue to play the Prepared Table. The technical configuration for the performance, using this specific table with the speaker directly behind it, was prone to feedback. This feedback came out of the resonant frequency of the table. It was a particular pitch, different from other tables I had used. I decided to embrace this feedback and use it (cautiously) throughout the performance.

Since the contact microphone senses pressure, the surface texture of the table becomes central. Unfinished wood has a rougher surface than polished wooden tables, so comparatively, unfinished tables provide more friction. This allows for actions with objects that need friction to sound, such as scraping or bowing. We can also modify the table by adding different surface textures. This can be done temporarily by placing objects on the table and using them as a base for other objects, but it is also possible to modify the surface texture of the table permanently. An example of this can be found in Bart Hopkin’s “Scraping Surfaces” in Nice Noise (Hopkin and Landman 2014, 60) Bart Hopkin glued different materials to a guitar in order to scrape them, creating a patchwork of surfaces. A future project in my research would be to create a similar patchwork on a Prepared Table.

It is not only the tabletop itself that influences the sound of the table. The legs of the table also affect its resonance. When these are made out of metal, they tend to be especially resonant. This is noticeable when using a keyboard stand to support the tabletop, as in the 18-string Object Guitar tabletop setup. This resonance can be used as musical material but can also become limiting. It is especially present in some situations, to the point that every sound made on the instrument is infused with this resonant pitch. It then becomes challenging to create any kind of variety. For this, I sometimes use pieces of foam to act as a buffer between the table and its legs. This does not completely isolate the tabletop but at least suppresses the resonance.

3.5.4. The Spring Reverb

A spring reverb tank is a device that usually forms part of a guitar amplifier. The input transducer of the spring reverb takes the guitar signal and uses it to vibrate springs. This vibration is, in turn, transformed back to an audio signal using the output transducer. The springs’ movement, length, wire gauge, and diameter contribute to the characteristic reverberated sound.

We can take the spring reverb tank and use it outside the guitar amplifier to deconstruct the amplifier physically. By taking the spring reverb out of the amplifier it becomes much more flexible. It may be placed anywhere in the guitar’s signal chain to achieve various effects, but perhaps more strikingly, we can now play the spring reverb itself, using our hands to pluck the springs, mute them, or scrape them. This transforms the spring reverb from an effect to being a kind of guitar in itself. The springs in the reverb tank do not function so differently from guitar strings since both are ferromagnetic objects whose vibrations are sensed by a pickup.

Taking the spring reverb from the amplifier also opens it up for interaction with guitar objects. We can use guitar objects as well as hands to extend this interaction. .

The transformation of the spring reverb from being a part of the amplifier to being an instrument in itself makes clear that the traditional borders between different components of the electric guitar system (guitar-effects-amplifier as seen in section 3.3.2. The Electric Guitar is a Modular Instrument) are in reality not so strictly delineated. This compels us to rethink the categories in which we place the parts of the guitar. Each is in itself a collection of individual components. The guitar consists of strings, magnetic pickups, and the guitar body. The spring reverb consists of springs, pickups, and a container. The amplifier consists of a pre-amplifier (which also can be seen as part of the effects section), a power amplifier, a transducer, and a speaker cone. To understand the workings of the electric guitar it is more helpful to look at these individual parts and their function in the whole than to look at the static arrangement of these individual parts as defined in a traditional guitar setup. If the guitar-effects-amplifier arrangement is just one of many possible arrangements, others may also be explored. The spring reverb can be a transducer for the guitar signal, but can also become a string.

This undermines the understanding of the prepared guitar as a static blank canvas where only the objects are shifting within the assemblage. The guitar itself is also capable of shifting in the same way.

3.5.5. Functions in the Prepared Guitar System

Through my experience with the No-string Object Guitar I came to understand that the core of the prepared electric guitar lies not in one specific part, like the magnetic pickup, but in how different fundamental parts function together. Instead of relating those parts in the traditional order of guitar-effects-amplifier, or as modules that make up the construction of the guitar, the different deconstructions of the guitar reveal how different objects can have similar functions. These functional units may be defined as transducers, magnets, exciters, modulators, and bodies. The transducer came out of the No-string Object Guitar, the magnet out of the Object Zither, and the body out of the Prepared Table. The exciter and modulator functions came out of meditating on how I myself operate in the prepared guitar system.


A transducer is any object that converts electrical energy to mechanical energy and vice versa. The magnetic pickup is a transducer that converts the mechanical energy of the strings to an electrical signal. The reverse would be a tactile transducer, as used in a speaker. [202204072145 Object 56 (E-bow)] has a special place in this, as it receives mechanical energy from the string but sends it back again to excite the string.


A magnet is any object that has (ferro)magnetic properties. The most common form of magnet in the guitar is the string. The strings of an electric guitar are made out of ferromagnetic materials like nickel or steel, which makes direct interaction with the magnetic pickup possible. There are, however, many other objects that can perform a similar function. [202208141637 Object 75 (BBQ Skewers)], for example, is a barbeque skewer, essentially a long and thin steel bar, not unlike the guitar string. Less similar shapes still perform the same function of interacting magnetically with the magnetic pickup. Examples are [202311062259 Object 125 (Paper Weight)], [202302071332 Object 5 (Large Putty Knife)], [202307292205 Object 111 (Dumbbell Disc 0,5 kg)], but also [202303051651 Object 50 (Milk Frother)]. [202303051651 Object 50 (Milk Frother)] emits electromagnetic interference, and as such, is also a magnet.


An exciter is any object used to excite other objects in any form, whether by plucking, scraping, picking, bowing, or other means. In the context of the electric guitar, the two most common ways are plucking the strings with the fingers and picking the string with a plectrum. Nearly any object can be an exciter when used to strike or scrape another object. These can be as varied as [202302091355 Object 11 (Painting Brush 50)], [202203161843 Object 2 (Triangle mallet)], [202209071141 Object 23 (Steel Wool)], and [202304041719 Object 64 (Rice)]. There always needs to be one object exciting another for sound to be produced.


A modulator is any object that modulates the (ferro)magnet. In a non-prepared guitar, this is typically done with the left hand, which can press down, bend, or mute the string. The modulation of the magnet is a crucial factor in the sensitivity of the (electric) guitar. Another conventional example would be the bottleneck or slide. Historically, this object has been used so frequently that it has become part of the standard guitar. But other less conventional objects can also be used to modulate the magnet, such as [202212111234 Object 32 (Stone)] or [202307212019 Object 97 (Metal Cup)]. In [202307222034 Assemblage A.F1.97.101], [202307212019 Object 97 (Metal Cup)] is placed on the string of the 6-string Object Guitar. [202307212023 Object 101 (Knife Rest)] Is then used to strike the metal cup, which causes it to wobble uncontrollably. This results in a chaotic vibrato modulation of the pitch of multiple strings simultaneously.


A body is any non-magnetic that is connected to the strings of the electric guitar, or any magnetic object that is connected to the strings but outside the direct proximity of the pickup. As seen in the Prepared Table, this could be a guitar body, but also a tabletop. Many different objects could be used as a body, such as [202302161506 Object 60 (Wool Cloth)], [202304031044 Object 57 (Gaffa Tape)], or [202308221202 Object 114 (Pine Cone)]. Their textures each get received differently by the transducer as they are going through the strings.

A Fluid Guitar.

The fundamental function of objects is not static, nor is each object bound to one function. As the assemblage of the guitar shifts, the functions shift along with it. Relationships between objects are in constant flux and with this, their functions in the system. An object can have multiple functions, even at the same time. [202205211755 Object 15 (Milk frother)] in assemblage [202303031227 Assemblage 15] is simultaneously an exciter, (electro)magnet, and body.

It is also possible for objects to morph between functions through assemblages. [202209071143 Object 79 (Snare Drum Wire)], a mat that is usually mounted underneath the snare drum to give it its characteristic buzzing sound, can be an exciter when used to “bow” the strings, a body when placed upon the strings and excited by another object, a magnet when placed over the magnetic pickup, and a transducer when the E-bow ([202204072145 Object 56 (E-bow)]) makes it vibrate. It is important to note that other objects can morph the object’s function, not only the object itself.

The deconstruction of the guitar into fundamental modules that function together in the prepared guitar system can, apart from providing a new understanding of the prepared guitar instrument, also open possibilities for new instruments. Now that the electric guitar is free from any definite configuration of its parts, being rather a concept that mainly manifests in the interrelations between them, we can develop a new guitar that radicalizes its fluidity. I call this new instrument the Phantom limb guitar, referring to the phantom limb sensation I felt when playing the No-string Object Guitar. This idea of the guitar being there in my mind while physically being deconstructed is central to the instrument.

The Phantom Limb Guitar starts as an empty tabletop but is assembled every time I play it. On this table I can combine transducers, magnets, exciters, modulators, and bodies, as I deconstructed them in the deconstruction instruments in order to form what I think of as a guitar. I can then change its configuration to create a new guitar while playing. This makes the whole an open-ended series of guitars and gives the guitar itself a fluidity that the configuration of objects already possesses. In the present research, I did not have the space to develop the Phantom Limb Guitar, but I plan to build this instrument in the future.

3.6. An Open-ended Series of Constructions

All the parts of the Object Guitar—the 6-string Object Guitar, the 12-string Object Guitar, the tabletop setups, the pedalboard control panel, the Max patch control panels, the No-string Object Guitar, the Object Zither, the Prepared Table, and the spring reverb—are not successive instruments in a linear development, but rather exist simultaneously. Each part is a module in the object guitar instrument. With every performance, this instrument is reconfigured into a new assemblage. I can choose which parts fit best according to the needs of a specific performance. This will be different in every situation, so the instrument is constantly morphing, becoming an “open-ended series of constructions” like the paper Guitar sculpture by Pablo Picasso.

With the Phantom Limb Guitar then, the assemblage quality of the instrument is further amplified. With the instruments I have developed so far, the assemblage shifts only from performance to performance, but with the Phantom Limb Guitar the assemblage shifts within the performance itself. This brings the whole instrument closer to the flexibility and modularity of the guitar objects, which also constantly shift while playing. The entire instrument, not just the configuration of the guitar objects, becomes improvised. Gary Butler identifies Keith Rowe’s instrument as “a series of constructions, with the electric guitar featuring as a common element included in each new version” (Butler 2000, 175). With the developments of the Object Guitar, the electric guitar is no longer the common, static element in the construction but is also in flux.

4. Exploratory Practice with the Object Guitar Archive

4.1. Practicing Free Improvisation

Practitioners of free improvisation tend to fall into two distinct categories: those who routinely practice, and those who do not practice outside of a performance environment. In many musical traditions, this choice does not arise; practicing is inherent to being an instrumentalist. Practicing enables the classical guitar player to play a written score and the jazz guitarist to translate melodic phrases from their imagination to their instrument: practicing allows the player to exert control over the instrument.

We can also see this desire for control in the attitude towards practicing of improvisers like Evan Parker, who stated:

My practice is concerned with maintaining a confident relationship in control of the instrument. I practice across the whole gamut, from the memorization of existing material: at the moment Dolphy, Monk, Lacy, Monk. The development and memorization of self-invented patterns largely concerned with patterns generated by limited interval types, tone rows etc. Then the usual scales and arpeggios. Then the purely physical relationship for maintaining a good embouchure, control of overtone selection using material derived from Rascher. (Parker 2020)

The free improvisation practice approach of guitarist and improviser Derek Bailey also deals with the control of the instrument but through the notion of malleability. During his instrument practice Derek Bailey tried to develop materials for maximum variability, to work in as many different musical situations as possible. Dominic Lash claims that Bailey “deliberately developed his vocabulary at the micro-level so that it could be combined in as many ways as possible at the macro-level” (Lash 161). He worked out “bits”: specific approaches to musical materials that could be molded to fit the situation. One of the exercises that Dominic Lash found in Bailey’s notebooks was to play a G major scale in as many timbral combinations as possible (Lash 2011, 154). The focus here is not on playing the G major scale in itself, but on being able to quickly switch between different timbres, so that in performance, Bailey was able to respond in the moment with the timbre he deemed appropriate.

This approach gives the player the flexibility needed for playing improvised music, but it is inappropriate for the object guitar. Malleability presupposes the ability of the player to be able to mold musical materials. Derek Bailey recognized the agency of the physical construction of the guitar in his playing, stating that “the instrument is not just a tool but an ally” (Bailey 1993, 99), but in his practice the construction of the guitar itself is static and relatively stable. This enables him to mold materials to his desire. In my practice with the object guitar, this is not possible. Through the shifting assemblages, the instrument is in constant flux. The level of control over the object guitar is much lower than with the non-prepared guitar, so there is not much malleability of materials but rather a fluidity of the instrument. The “vocabulary” at the micro-level emerges from the interaction between the components of the system. I see the impossibility of mastery over the object guitar not as a shortcoming of the instrument but as an invitation towards a new perspective on it. This is why I avoid trying to fit into a practice framework concerned with controlling the instrument.

If existing practice methods for free improvisation are not well suited to the object guitar, one response might be to avoid practicing altogether. Players like Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura — similarly both players of unstable instruments — explicitly avoid practicing. Nakamura, a practitioner of the no-input mixing board but previously a guitar player, has this to say:

I don’t practice at home. Because that doesn’t mean anything. I want to experiment, with people, […] in a live performance situation. So every time I play it’s really open. (Hopkins 2013)

I don’t have full control over it. So I just make some guide for my instrument and just let it happen. Just observe and put some helping hands […]. After the first note or first sound I could follow the machine itself—or instrument. Also I could sense the atmosphere in the room. So maybe I’m not so important in the music. After more than 10 years unfortunately I started to learn—I start to know what it is like. So I have attachments now. […] I built a friendship. (Hopkins 2013)

This kind of attitude towards practicing implies that the more time we spend with our instruments, the more predictable they become. This predictability would then lead to creative stasis. In my experience, this is not true. I acknowledge that it is possible to hit a wall after a long period of practicing, but the same would be true when only performing live. Only with enough time and attention can one break through this wall. I have encountered many of these walls throughout my years of practicing the prepared guitar, but I always obtained a more expansive view of the instrument’s possibilities after I broke through it. Usually, the amount of time and attention needed for such a breakthrough is more than is afforded by performance alone but requires continuous involvement with the instrument involved in practicing.

4.2. Exploratory Practice

I would like to propose an alternative practice method which has the consistent engagement of instrumental practice, but also keeps this open and fluid enough to work with the nature of the guitar and of improvisation. This method is based on exploration of and experimentation with the instrument. With the lack of control over the object guitar, we need another goal to give direction to the practicing. Marcel Cobussen, in his analysis of prepared guitar player Fred Frith’s practice, identifies the experimental and exploratory nature of prepared guitar: “With every performance Frith re-explores his instrument, elicits unknown sounds and playing possibilities, in short, searches for its resistances” (Cobussen 2017, 123). If we can extend this exploration into our daily practice, as opposed to only in live performance, our engagement can reach new levels of depth otherwise unavailable to us. Cobussen continues:

The guitar, for its part, constantly poses problems to Frith, thereby holding within itself a permanently creative potential, as these problems are never solved once and for all (Evens 2005: 160-1). Hence, for Frith the guitar becomes a site of experimentation. (Cobussen 2017, 123)

These problems that the instrument poses through its recalcitrancde can act as the impetus driving the practice forward, in order to break through to a constantly renewed understanding of the instrument. The impossibility of solving them provides the continuing engagement needed for the practice. Seeing the guitar as a site of experimentation allows us to question the interaction between objects, between us and the guitar, and it ultimately will enable us to question the guitar itself.

Part of the exploration is letting go of preconceived notions about techniques and objects. At the start of this research, I aimed to define criteria for objects (e.g., objects have to be quickly switchable, objects have to contain a wide variety of sounds within themselves), but I realized that this only limits my playing. Improvisation, in its fluidity, does not require specific tools but non-specific ones (see section 2.3 The Prepared Guitar Bricoleur).

4.3. The Object Guitar Archive

To access the archive, visit

My exploratory practice method revolves around the object guitar archive. The archive is a place to engage with the guitar from different angles and to keep track of the evolution of the practice. This digital archive is built out of individual notes (files) grouped into note types. Each note type presents a different angle for analysis. The following note types exist in the archive:

This archive is used for its creative potential. It is not finished, nor will it ever be finished. As the instrument practice is endless, so is the archive. It is in constant development as long as I practice the object guitar. Its principal function is not to provide a finished product for others to see but to stimulate my creativity to help me develop new music, instruments, guitar objects, and connections.

Using questions as its driving force, the archive itself must enable curiosity and exploration. The archive centralizes questions, potential openings, possibilities, and ideas. Simultaneously the archive leaves enough of the structure open for these to take shape however needed.

All notes are densely connected using hyperlinks and tags. A central tenet of the object guitar archive is providing context for the exploratory practice. I search for this context within the practice by looking for connections between objects, assemblages, recordings, and practitioners. But there is also the context outside of my own practice, in the form of contemporary and historical related examples.

Each note type is built on a specific template that structures the information related to the note. Structure is important to give direction to the practice, but it can also limit exploration. The structure should always remain open enough to shape itself around my curiosity and allow for the idiosyncrasies of the improvised nature of the process. In the subsequent sections, the structuring of the templates will be further examined.

The object guitar archive is non-prescriptive. Existing prepared guitar literature often prescribes specific techniques, objects, and even the dimensions of those objects. This implies that objects of exact dimensions will give the same result if transferred to another guitar and that there is a “good” or “bad” way of using objects. However, a sound being “good” or “bad” depends entirely on its musical implementation. Each guitar setup and each assemblage of objects is unique and will react in a different way. It is of no use then to prescribe certain techniques or objects.

The object guitar archive is entirely written in Markdown. Markdown is a plain-text markup language and, as such, is one of the most future-proof ways to preserve information digitally. Each note contains a UID (unique identifier) to make it searchable regardless of the software that is used.

4.3.1. Object Notes

The first type of note in the archive is the object note. Each of these describes one unique guitar object from my collection. Each object note receives a unique ID (UID) and a number. The UID ensures that it is always possible to find the specific note on a computer. Even if the name of the object changes, the UID stays the same. This makes it possible to link between notes without the link ever becoming broken. In this case the UID is a code that consists of the time the note is created. A note created on the 6th of March 2023 at 11:30 would have the UID 202303061130. Each particular object receives a number to identify it. This way I can reference the specific object without confusion over multiple objects that have the same or a similar name. There are, for example, multiple stones in the archive. To name each “stone” would cause confusion. Numbering objects ensures I can identify each unique object. An example of a file name would be: “202305292226 Object 82 (Steel Weight 100g).” Devices that are part of the object guitar, such as instruments, transducers, and stompboxes, are sorted alphabetically. Within each category of devices, I use numbers to specify the exact device. For example, a mobile pickup, in general, corresponds to “E”, and the specific mobile Lace Sensor pickup corresponds to “E3”. To further clarify the object, I add an image of the object to every object note.

The object notes have multiple sections to store information about the object. These sections are divided from one another by headings: type, material properties, development, recalcitrances, assemblages, open questions, workshop notes, research recordings, history, historical recordings, potential and ideas, and related objects. These headings are listed below, together with explanations of their relevance to the archive.


The typology of the objects is subdivided into two: the origins of the object and the functions of the object. This typology is not meant to restrict objects by putting them into a neat category but to help me see patterns across objects. I divide the origins of the object into found objects, self-made objects, and hybrid objects. The difference between these types is significant. There are obvious cultural and historical differences between the objet trouvé and the object crafted by oneself. But the most significant difference lies within the practice itself. With the found object, its interactions with the guitar have to be found by the player according to its own particularities. When an object is crafted and designed by the player, their own (musical) intentions are already inside it. This I saw as a challenge, since my own imagination and designs were not as wild and unpredictable as the found objects. Rather, they were tame and restricted in their functionality based on my intentions, without the emergent interactions that happen when an object that is not designed for this purpose is combined with the guitar. My response was to create hybrid objects, which take a found object as a starting point and try to expand it. Often I will do this by intentionally destabilizing the object, as I did with [202205211755 Object 15 (Milk frother)]. Originally, the only moving part of the milk frother was its rotating end, but the spontaneous addition of a rubber band to the end caused the body of the milk frother to vibrate chaotically so that the potential usage of the object is expanded and destabilized.

I make another division in origin between artifact and biofact. Here artifact means a human-made object and biofact a natural object. As I understand it now. the practical implications of this are not as large as the division between found objects, hybrid objects and self-made objects, but the artifact/biofact categorization does help me further examine where the differences between the two lie.

Here also the functions in the prepared guitar system, as defined in section 3.5.5. Functions In The Prepared Guitar System are included. These functions are not included as a strict limit to their uses but as a challenge to expand upon them, allowing me to be conscious of the limits of my imagination when it comes to a certain object. It could then become a goal during a practice session to find new functions for an object.

Material properties

For each object I collect, I document its material properties, including its materials, dimensions, weight, and surface texture. This allows me to see more clearly the connection between them and their behavior in the object guitar system and to see patterns that I can work to break out of. For instance, I have a lot of steel or iron objects, mainly because of their ferromagnetic properties. But, seeing this, I can challenge myself to use other materials, like glass or rubber, more extensively. I also notice that I favor heavier objects, owing to their stability on the guitar, since they are less prone to fall off. Since stability is actually not something I aim for, I set myself the task of exploring more light objects that tend to be less stable and predictable.


Each object undergoes a process of development from the moment I first find it. Under this heading, I document this moment of collecting the object, including an image of the specific moment and place I found it. This helps me see patterns in how and where I collect objects and why I choose particular objects. With each one, I reflect on why I collected it and why I think it would work as a part of the object guitar. I can then compare this information later on with how I ended up using the object. Such a comparison can provide valuable insight into incongruences between my expectations and what happens. Each object has a natural development, with all objects being subject to decay. Objects can slowly break or morph as time passes. For instance, [202209071141 Object 23 (Steel Wool)] slowly becomes loses its density. The wires of steel wool get loose, with some wires protruding out of the mass. This makes the object more unpredictable, as these loose wires are more likely to get stuck. Sometimes, objects are developments of other objects, or I modify them or create a new object that takes this object as a starting point. This section traces this path of development over time.


Recalcitrance is vital as a theoretical concept to assist my understanding of the workings of the object guitar and the interaction between objects, but how does it manifest itself practically? To see the recalcitrance is to have a deeper insight into the instrument. Through engaging in practice and focussing on the recalcitrance of objects, I realized that recalcitrance is not intrinsic to any object but lies in the interaction between actants. It happens between me and the object or between one object and another. This is why I try to understand the recalcitrance always as part of an assemblage, and because of this its documentation starts in the assemblage note. The recalcitrance section in the object note is only an overview of the recalcitrance that takes place in assemblages.


See section 4.3.2. Assemblage Notes for a description of the notion of assemblage in the context of the object guitar archive. This section contains a list of all assemblages that involve this object.

Open Questions

When practicing, many questions will emerge about various aspects of the object guitar. These questions are the driving force behind the exploratory practice method and are integral to my instrument practice routine. Many will not have a definite answer but serve more as sources of creative impetus.

Workshop notes

To keep the practice method as open and spontaneous as possible, it is crucial that any thoughts and experiences with the guitar can be freely captured. The workshop notes section gives space for thoughts in their messy, unorganized, and rough form. From this point of departure, the rapidly recorded thoughts can be organized into any of the other sections.

Research recordings

When I am practicing, I record as much interesting material as I can. These recordings are organized into separate recording notes. This section of the object note lists all recordings that involve the specific object.


It is essential to be aware of the history of each object. An object like [202209071141 Object 23 (Steel Wool)] has a rich history in prepared guitar, having been commonly used since the early years of the instrument by such players as Keith Rowe and Bjorn Fongaard to contemporary players like Sandy Ewen and Nicola Hein. [202302011406 Object 14 (Violin bow)] has an immense history, not only with the (non-tabletop) guitar through players like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin or Jónsi of Sigur Rós, but of course, also in the context of bowed string instruments like the violin. This rich history can point towards possibilities and help us understand the cultural context of its use.

Historical recordings

A list of recordings of other practitioners who used similar objects.

Potential and ideas

Apart from open questions, the exploratory practice keeps its forward momentum by the ideas that I generate, which can take many forms — from a modification of the object itself to trying a new assemblage. Here, it is also important to write down ideas and try them out freely to reinforce the experimental character of the practice.

Related objects

All objects relate in some way to another object. Here I identify how the object is related to others and group them together. Each group of objects is defined differently, which might be according to material, shape, size, or history.

4.3.2. Assemblage Notes

In section 2.4. A Shifting Assemblage I described an approach to the prepared guitar that sees the prepared guitar as a shifting assemblage of objects. Here, “assemblage” refers to a configuration of actors defined at a particular moment. This notion of assemblage can also be used as an analytical tool to aid in practicing the object guitar. It can be compared to the notion of “technique” in guitar vocabulary. “Technique” refers to the general ability to play the guitar (guitar players will refer to someone having “good technique” or “bad technique”) and to technical procedures such as “hammer-ons,” “pull-offs,” or “sweep-picking.” It is a very broad term that is used in a wide variety of cases. We can borrow Tom Nunn’s definition for his electroacoustic percussion board techniques to get to a more focused and helpful definition for the prepared electric guitar. He defines technique as implement (guitar object in the prepared guitar context) + action + device (guitar). It helps to separate implement and action clearly because each action becomes vastly different from implement to implement. The division between implement and device becomes less useful in the context of the object guitar, as boundaries between instrument and guitar object are blurred (see sections 3.5.4. The Spring Reverb and 3.5.5. Functions in the Prepared Guitar System.

We can use the assemblage to specify further and make useful how objects are used in the object guitar. An assemblage includes all actors in the network and emphasizes their relationality. Through this, it becomes possible to not only analyze the action of the prepared guitar player, but also the interaction between other actors, such as the objects, the guitar, and the amplifier. As Marcel Cobussen writes:

For Latour, in order to describe a certain assemblage, it is necessary to pay attention to all heterogeneous (human and non-human) actants and the relations, associations, and interactions involved. Both the actants and their associations undergo a process of metamorphosis, a translation, in each mode of assemblage. (Cobussen 2017, 24-25)

So, we can analyze each assemblage’s actors, relations, associations, and interactions. An assemblage, rather than a guitar technique, which is a neatly separated category, is in constant flux as actors and interactions transform. As such, the assemblage, when it is defined in the archive, is only a reference point. I do not intend to “capture” the assemblage to be able to practice and master it by documenting it in the archive, as this is impossible. The usefulness of the assemblage lies in the possibility of analysis and its potential as a starting point for further exploration.

The file name to identify each assemblage is similar to that used for objects in its use of a unique identification code. It differs in that each assemblage name consists of the code numbers of all objects and devices used in it. This includes every object, from the specific guitar and the effects processing, to all the other guitar objects involved. This results in a name such as [202307101344 Assemblage A.B.F1.F1.]. This example denotes an assemblage consisting of the 6-string object guitar, 12-string object guitar, two JFR contact microphones, a violin bow, steel wool, an E-bow, a small metal plate, and a mortar. Once more, assemblages are described under several headings: description, action, Hornbostel-Sachs classification, development, workings, objects, recalcitrance, parameters, open questions, workshop notes, research recordings, history, historical recordings, and potential and ideas.


Here, I describe how the assemblage is constructed, its elements, and its specific layout, together with a picture of the assemblage, making it more straightforward to see the exact positions of objects.


This refers to my actions that influence the assemblage. I realize that this is a complex network of interactions between actors, but it is also helpful to simplify it to see

As with other sections in the archive, this simplification of the action enables me to see the friction it creates between a broad categorization and what is actually happening in detail. If I define the action of with [202209091815 Object 61 (Velcro dowel)] as “bowing,” I then have to challenge this simplification by researching how it differs from bowing.

Hornbostel-Sachs classification

I elicit a related friction by engaging with the Hornbostel-Sachs classification method. This is the most widely used classification system for musical instruments. It divides instruments into idiophones, membranophones, chordophones, aerophones, and electrophones. Each category has multiple levels of subdivision to determine specific instruments. In the archive, I attempt to find a corresponding category for each assemblage. Interestingly, the object guitar itself does not fall neatly into one category but exists in many separate categories. When viewed through the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme, each assemblage is classified as a different instrument, reiterating my statement that the object guitar is many instruments in one. Additionally, many assemblages do not fall into any classification categories, making it clear that the object guitar is indeed fundamentally different from traditional instruments that fit neatly into this classification.


Where does the assemblage come from? Is it a development of a previous assemblage, or did I stumble upon it during improvisation? The way I use the assemblage can also change slightly over time, a process which can lead to new assemblages.


The prepared guitar brings with it many issues not directly explained in existing literature on the technical workings of the guitar. In exploratory practice, formulating questions around the workings of the object guitar helps us better understand the instrument through engaging with it practically, in order to gain new practical knowledge or to see theoretical knowledge in a more practical context. A better understanding of the technical workings of the guitar ultimately leads to a greater insight into the interaction between the elements of an assemblage.


A list of all objects which form part of the assemblage.


As discussed in the object note under this heading, objects are recalcitrant against other objects, so it is most beneficial to analyze recalcitrance in the context of the assemblage. I engage with this issue in practical terms by repeating movements and assemblages. Each repetition will be unique, allowing me to analyze the differences between each repetition and to understand the recalcitrance as it appears in the assemblage.


What are the technical parameters of the assemblage? Each assemblage involves specific parameters that influence the sound and interaction between actors. In this section, I identify these parameters and ask myself what their influence is on the whole. Often, this is not straightforward because one change in a parameter can cause a chain reaction leading to results that are difficult to define. However, I still try to describe the change a parameter induces, as it helps me engage more deeply with the interaction between actors in the object guitar system.

Open questions

Like the open questions in the object note, these questions drive the practice forward.

Workshop notes

Again, this is a place where thoughts can be collected freely without needing to organize them.

Research recordings

This section lists all recordings that involve the specific assemblage.


I aim to document the historical context of each assemblage, even when its history is very brief, if it exists at all. The object guitar being such a personal and idiosyncratic instrument, there is little overlap between practitioners in the assemblages used. Already, in my own practice, I am rarely able to repeat the exact same assemblage. Prepared guitar practice is primarily a personal exploration, where it is improbable that different people will stumble upon the same configuration.

Historical recordings

A list of recordings of other practitioners who used a similar assemblage.

Potential and ideas

Here, I store all my ideas regarding the practice involving the assemblage. These ideas are also copied to a single general document listing all potential and ideas. Again, it is essential here for me not to restrict myself to preconceived categories but to collect any ideas that might be valuable.

4.3.3. Recording Notes

I record as much as possible of each assemblage, experiment, or improvisation so as to be able to refer back to it. Audio examples are more precise and less confusing than verbal descriptions when referring to specific moments. Perhaps having a video with the audio examples would be even better, but video editing makes the whole process much more cumbersome, when it should be as fluent and spontaneous as possible. The naming of the recording note is similar to that of the assemblage note. It consists of a unique ID and a summation of the objects used in the recording. An example of a recording note name would be “202305031833 Recording A.E1.24”, which means the recording includes the 6-String Object Guitar, its Filtertron pickup ([202302041802 E1 (Filtertron Mobile Pickup)]) , and [Object 24 (Torpedo Scraper)].


In this section, I briefly describe the assemblage(s) in the recording and their construction, with references to markers in the DAW file that mark the different sections of the recording.


A list of the assemblages that appear in the recording.


A list of the objects involved in the recording.

4.3.4. Practitioner Notes

This is where I gather information about other prepared guitar practitioners, helping me understand the prepared guitar field and contextualize my practice. Since the history of the prepared guitar is not extensively documented, gathering this information can help create a historical awareness of the instrument. Of course, the emphasis of the object guitar archive is not on other people’s work but on the development of my own practice. Thus, I am mainly interested in other practitioners in relation to my work, and I collect only relevant materials. This also keeps the archive manageable since documenting all information on any prepared guitar practitioner would be a highly time-consuming task. For each practitioner, I collect the following:

4.3.5. Daily Notes

These are chronologically organized notes containing every addition made on one specific day, giving a journal-like structure to the archive, where ideas and developments can be traced through time. The non-linear structure of the rest of the archive provides a fluidity that the daily notes do not have, but in addition to the other notes, the daily notes can be precious.

4.4. Object Hunting

Searching for and collecting objects to use with the guitar is integral to prepared guitar practice. Each guitarist has their own set of objects that define the affordances of their instrument. It is strange then, that so little has been written on this topic. Perhaps this lack of discourse around the collection of objects is rooted in the general intuitive approach to it. Prepared guitar practitioners will take an object without thinking about why or how they took it. Here, I see much potential for a deeper engagement with this part of the practice. The intuitive nature of the collection of objects does not have to mean we cannot engage with it meaningfully.

Seeing this lack of discourse in the context of prepared guitar, I turned towards a closely related practice: field recording. I participated in the field recording workshop given by Justin Bennett at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague to obtain more first-hand experience with this practice. Whereas the prepared guitar practitioner hunts for sounding objects, the field recordist hunts for sounds. By examining the parallels between these practices, I aim to deepen my methodology for object hunting.

Field recording is often a highly exploratory practice, involving a great deal of improvisation and wandering around to deal with the unpredictability of the field. This is similar to playing the object guitar during a concert, in the way the performer searches for sounds and explores the instrument. Here, however, the whole process of searching and finding has to happen within the relatively short span of the concert’s duration. A field recordist might wait for hours to capture a sound. This is more closely related to deliberate practice with the object guitar – by spending more time and attention on it, the chances for serendipitous findings increase. For this reason, I plan extended periods dedicated only to the search for objects, in contrast with my previous approach, shared by many other prepared guitar practitioners, only to collect objects I happened to stumble upon in daily life.

Another aspect of field recording that has risen in prominence during recent years is the agency of the microphone in the recording. Each microphone will affect the sound differently, so their construction and affordances greatly impact the recording. Justin Bennett urges us to “listen through the microphones” in the field, considering the microphone every time we listen for sounds. The guitar and its pickups have a similar agency to the microphone, so this notion could be translated to listening through the guitar or listening through the pickups every time we search for new objects. This has meant that I bring along a magnetic pickup and a contact microphone whenever I go on object hunting trips, so as to experience the interaction between an object and the pickups. I can test the magnetism of objects and directly experience how the surface texture of the object really sounds. It is important here to remember that the magnetic pickup is not the whole electric guitar, as we have seen in the No-string Object Guitar, so there is always a component of imagination involved. It becomes listening through the (imagined) guitar.

Not all potential guitar objects can be captured with this method, however. Often, interesting behavior that I could never have imagined emerges from the objects within the object guitar system. Only collecting objects that prove interesting in the field would limit these rich emergent behaviors. This is why I collect objects liberally, like the field recordists with their vast sound archives. Some objects might spark my interest through their visual appeal, while others might have an exciting construction whose interaction with the guitar I cannot yet imagine clearly. I document the reasons for choosing the objects so that I can refer back to them.

For example, I collected [202307212023 Object 101 (Knife Rest)] because of its unique shape and glass material. A relatively small proportion of the objects I use are made of glass, so this object could add more material variety to my set. [202307212023 Object 101 (Knife Rest)] also has a ribbed surface texture, which is rare in a glass object. I collected [202307292205 Object 111 (Dumbbell Disc 0,5 kg)] because of its heavy weight and because it is made out of cast iron, a ferromagnetic material that the magnetic pickup could sense. I collected [202307212013 Object 95 (Broche)] simply because I found it visually appealing.

Scouting for locations.

I scout for locations that might yield interesting results to prepare for the object hunting. I do this by searching Google Maps and biking through The Hague. I have a job as a bike messenger, which demands that I ride through the whole city, inspired by former Sonology student Martin Hurych’s work as a takeaway delivery driver (Hurych 2022). Martin would use the time during his shifts as a delivery driver to make recordings that he would use in his music. The logistics of my job do not allow me to spend much time recording or collecting objects during my shift, but I can use this time to look for places that might be interesting for object hunting.

While doing this I realized that the urban planning and nature in and around the city of The Hague does not allow for many surprises. Generally, the objects that can be collected outside are relatively predictable. During work hours, I also look for stores, such as hardware or electronics stores, that might sell interesting objects. However, the inventory of hardware stores has become so standardized that I soon met the limits of this kind of exploration.

My favorite type of store for object hunting is the thrift store. These sell a much wider variety of objects than any other kind of store, and their stock is constantly replenished with new objects so that there is a constant supply of new potential guitar objects. Every time I go object hunting in a thrift store, I am surprised by objects that I would never have thought of or did not even know existed. These objects present rich possibilities for the object guitar. Most thrift stores are very cheap so I can collect liberally.

Collecting objects

When I collect objects, I document the process as much as I can. At the moment of collection I take a picture of the object in its original surroundings. This picture also contains essential metadata like the time and place of collection. I roughly note the reason why I collected the particular object.

Back home, I file the objects I collected into the object guitar archive. I create a new object note for them and add the picture of the object in its original surroundings and the metadata to it. I also add the reason for collecting the object, but this time more in detail. I take another picture of the object with a neutral background to clarify its appearance. This picture is placed at the top of the object note, so I can easily recognize the object. Then I weigh and measure it and start to fill in the basic information I know about the object, like its type and which objects are related to it.

4.5. Instrument Practice

After filing an object into the archive, I start practicing with it, led by curiosity. I gather questions regarding the practice in the open questions section of both object and assemblage notes. I also keep a separate document with all open questions and a document for all potential ideas. I can choose from these documents if I want to engage with one of those questions or ideas when embarking on a practice session; or I can think of a new and specific question. However, the focus of the practice session does not always have to be in the form of a question or idea. Sometimes, I have a general feeling of curiosity towards something that I address through playing and experimenting. Alternatively, I might start with a musical improvisation and let this shape the session. Questions, curiosities, and improvisations always lead to new directions with new questions so that the practice process is self-perpetuating and open-ended, with no final goal or direction but a path shaped by my curiosity.

When new questions or other thoughts come up during practice that I want to capture, I write these down very quickly and freely on pieces of card stock to maintain the momentum and focus of the session. Later, I hang these cards on a corkboard that serves as an inbox of content for the object guitar archive. The thoughts I write down are not structured yet to keep the spontaneity of the practice intact. If the practice method is to stay true to the improvised nature of the object guitar, the process itself should be spontaneous and avoid rigidity. Later in the archive, I can organize my thoughts, but during practice I should be open to taking a note of anything.

A practical example of the exploratory instrument practice method can be found in my practice with [202304191608 Object 20 (Slinky Spring)]. This object is a toy spring made out of steel. The spring is very flexible and can be stretched to around 3 meters long. My initial question concerning this object involved finding a way to play the guitar from the maximum distance the spring would allow me. I found that, if I wove the spring through the strings of the guitar and moved it up and down, its vibrations were transmitted through the whole spring to the strings and magnetic pickup. This possibility of playing the guitar from a distance opens up interaction with the guitar to the entire space. I first realized this with [202309282128 Object 119 (Twine)]. This can be woven through the guitar strings so that it can be played from up to 90 meters away, creating a whole new spatial interaction with the guitar. We can also see this in Keith Rowe’s usage of wooden balls and marbles to excite the strings from a distance:

I would put the guitar on the other end of the stage, roll wooden balls or marbles towards it, and they would hit and, obviously being highly amplified, it was uncontrollable as to how the scream would die down. (Olewnick 2018, 119)

Creating distance between the player and the guitar also means forsaking control over the instrument. We can see this in the shift from playing with the guitar against the body to laying the guitar down on the tabletop. Still, more considerable distances lead to an even further relinquishing of control. It is now not possible anymore to make adjustments. Once the marble leaves the player’s hand, what will happen is out of their reach.

The characteristics that make [202304191608 Object 20 (Slinky Spring)] unique are its flexibility and its tendency to return to its folded form, making it very easy to quickly change the distance from the guitar, facilitating a new dynamic in spatial interaction. Through exploring different possibilities with this object, I found [], where the spring hangs from the 6-string Object Guitar. Here, a fluttering sound is produced, which can be accentuated by exciting the bottom of the spring. For this, I needed to crouch down, effectively playing the guitar from underneath, a perspective I had never used before in guitar playing. My questions now went in a new direction: how can I use this perspective to find new possibilities with other objects? We can see here that the original question led down a path of curiosity that triggered new possibilities and questions. Those further questions will trigger more new questions, keeping the practice growing.

4.6. Live Performance

Performing live with the object guitar cannot be separated from instrumental practice. While as detailed in section 4.2. Exploratory Practice, this practice comes out of live performance, the reverse is also true. Exploratory practice leads to exploratory performance. Performing becomes an exploration of the space, the interaction between performers, interaction with the audience, and of the instrument. Improviser Doug van Nort says about this:

The spatial, sonic and social contingencies of electroacoustics and free improvisation, augmented by the technical contingencies of new instrumentation, together have the potential to act to create layers of mediation and networks of interaction that place both performer and audience in a similar space of musical discovery. (Van Nort 2016, 36)

In the context of the object guitar I would add to this the agency of the archive. While the archive is not directly present during the performance, its influence is always felt, consciously or unconsciously. The assemblages of the archive can be used as focal points during a performance. Rather than using them as memorized material, or “bits” (Lash 2011, 144) as Derek Bailey put it, I use them as a starting point for exploration.

As part of the feedback loop that is object guitar practice, live performance serves as a critical reference point. Because the whole practice coalesces in live performance, it is a critical moment to work towards and reflect upon. This is also why I developed the deconstruction guitars as fully functional instruments for concerts. Live performance allows me to reflect and receive feedback, as well as a sense of clarity regarding the instrument. The input of others is extremely valuable for propelling the practice forward and creating new starting points, completing the feedback loop between practice and performance.

5. Conclusion

During this research, my entire musical practice has transformed. Shifting towards my assemblage approach to the prepared tabletop electric guitar has impacted my whole musical creative practice, opening up space for indeterminacy and the instrument’s agency. The results of this shift — the instruments, practice method, and live performance — could never have been foreseen before I started this research. A large part of the research process has involved a deconstruction of my previous attitude toward the guitar, and I strongly feel that I am only at the beginning of building a new practice. The research has laid a foundation for years of practice to come. Already, many possible projects have grown naturally out of it, as outlined below.

The first project will continue my practice method with the object guitar archive. So far, I have spent most of my time creating the archive’s method and structure. I have carried out some practice sessions based on it, but I need much more daily practice to yield substantial results.

As discussed in Chapter 2, the Phantom Limb Guitar is a natural progression from the 18-string Object Guitar and deconstruction guitars. The Phantom Limb Guitar has the potential to drastically extend the transformation of the prepared tabletop electric guitar into a shifting assemblage. One of my main aims for the future of this research is to make this instrument a reality.

While embodying a progression of the deconstruction guitars, the Phantom Limb Guitar does not replace them but rather exists simultaneously with them. I will continue to work on the deconstruction guitars and nurture their further development. I want to create a Prepared Table with a patchwork of surface textures and explore the possibilities of holding the transducers of the Object Zither, the No-string Object Guitar, and the Prepared Table in my hand rather than in a fixed position. Before I worked on the spring reverb, I started to develop a string reverb. This instrument is based on the Ondes Martenot Palme speaker, a wooden cabinet with strings that resonate with the signal from a loudspeaker that is sent through them. I needed to pause the development of the string reverb because it would take a long time to build and be very costly.

I would also like to focus on the further deconstruction and reconstruction of the electric guitar amplifier to explore how I can repurpose the peculiarities of the amplifier to fit the object guitar environment better. There is latent potential in using objects with guitar speakers that I have not yet had the opportunity to explore. Preparing the speakers could greatly extend the sonic possibilities of the guitar amplifier. I would also like to examine the potential for multi-channel speaker systems. Here, I am interested in creating a configuration of multiple guitar amplifiers with a distinct character, such as bass guitar amplifiers, cheap practice amplifiers, and broken tube amplifiers.

As discussed in I still intend to build a custom control panel for the 18-string Object Guitar that can function as an analog mixer, panning each output signal across the stereo field.

There is much potential work immediately apparent from the research so far. This work itself can already sustain my practice for a considerable amount of time, but I am especially curious about what unforeseen directions the research will lead to. Since I could never have predicted where I am before starting this research, I expect this project’s future will be equally wild and uncertain.

6. Bibliography

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