December 8, 2013

Quetzalcoatl snake-guitar

I was born in the year of the Snake in the Water lunar cycle according to the Chinese zodiac. Because of this at some point I wanted to create a guitar that had the shape of a snake. It probably was of some sort of surrogate compensation of me being unable to get some decent sounds out of such an instrument, in spite of many attempts. I never got beyond the plucking of The House of the Rising Sun accords and even then the neighbours called the police to have me arrested. As hardware and software progressed, I used various 3D programs, none of which allowed me to produce the image I had in my head, until Rhinoceros R5 and T-Splines made it possible to approximate my vision.

The programs lacked function and I lacked the skill and time to make a shape that would look 'feasible' when viewed from any direction. The now abandoned trueSpace application came close, but lacked the function to create a mix of smooth surface transitions and sharp creases. Besides that, the program was quite buggy, forcing the user to save the file on which he worked very often in order to prevent loss of data. As a result I was able to make the guitar look good only when viewed from a limited number of angles.

Cinema 4D was less buggy but basically had the same transition problems as trueSpace. Rhinoceros R5 came a lot closer than trueSpace and Cinema 4D, but it still required a heap of tinkering to do what I wanted to do. The T-Splines plugin almost opened new worlds so to speak, certainly a large number of possibilities that do not exist in the default Rhino application. The images on this page are the result of working with Rhino R5 plus T-Splines, that allowed to create sharp and rounded edges wherever needed. It is excellently suited to create organic shapes that can be combined with geometric objects. Rhinoceros R7 has magnificent mesh manipulation tools, but that version didn't exist yet when I was drawing this guitar.

The advantage of 3D applications - as opposed to traditional techniques such as painting and airbrushing, is that it allows to quickly (depending on your hardware of course) amend parts of the design, textures, lighting, view angle etc. Some people say that it is impossible to create works in 3D applications that has a 'soul', but I have to disagree since UV-projection and -texturing allow to apply real-life-like 'imperfections' to the surfaces of the objects. In addition, playing with numerous types of light sources is possible without the actual light sources being visible in the rendered or animated image.

It is also possible to define per object or part if an object casts a shadow and if surrounding objects are reflected in it or not. These type of functions give the 3D artists options that are not available in other methods of visualization. They are often used and probably account for the surrealistic effect that is present in a number of 3D artworks. On the useful side, 3D design makes it possible to mimic body tissue already today, which at some point in time may allow humanity to replace damaged body parts or even alter an individual's physique.... This intriguing potential draws me toward 3D applications - faster than my old computer hardware allows me to do.


The lack of detail in the snake-guitar image is due to the lack of calculating power of my computer. If ever it will be possible for me to purchase a proper machine, the small, but inevitable detail will be added to make the image more realistic. Until that time I will be creating relatively gross approximations in 3D of the visions in my head.

Construction details of the instrument include a hollow neck besides the body being largely hollow. A famous luthier - Ulrich Teuffel - once told me that the quality of sound is not only determined by the shape and volume of the resonance space inside a guitar, but also by the length that the instrument's inner space allows sound waves to travel. Which is why I wanted to give the guitar a hollow neck. I accidently noticed this when my guitar's machine head touched a table and the vibrations continued to travel inside the table's material, which made the harmonics sound quite different - richer and deeper.

The construction material I intended to use, is carbon fiber that is lightweight and has a unique rigidity as well as excellent material density that allows sound waves to travel inside the carbon material (and not just the space inside of the construction), which I think will result in rich harmonic tones. The hollow neck also allows to experiment with pick-ups inside of it (or at a different position inside the guitar's hollow body) which may possibly produce sounds that few other similar instruments are able to match. Also, carbon fiber is impervious to varying climatic conditions (which reduces the number of times tuning is necessary). The famous lutier Ulrich Teuffel once told me that the length of the path along which soundwaves can travel for a great part determine the quality of a guitar's sound - particularly of low and mid range tones, which is what I aimed to achieve with this design.