Better Than Air Guitar
Acoustic guitars have been enchanting audiences since they were invented 4,000 years ago. Michael Kuzma ’20 is giving the rock ‘n’ roll staple a modern-day twist.
A music-loving, electrical engineering major, the Avon, Ind., native has invented a self-playing guitar that he hopes will one day bring live music to the masses. His creation is an aggregation of whirring motors, solenoids and metal scaffolding that attach to a guitar’s neck and body. A computer program instructs picks which strings to play.
To date, Kuzma has programmed his creation to play a dozen songs, including “Here Comes the Sun,” by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” and the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Kuzma lent his invention to a Peoria-area retirement home, where it struck a chord with listeners.
“They liked the idea because they could roll it from room to room for patients in isolation,” he said. “They can also do shows in the lobby, and it can play any song that you can imagine. It has much more flexibility than a self-playing piano.”
He’s also envisioning the instrument providing ambient music in hospitals, restaurants and private homes.
Kuzma has played the guitar since the third grade. During his time at Bradley, he studied abroad in Granada, Spain, the birthplace of flamenco.
“The self-playing guitar gave me an excuse to apply what I was learning in the classroom,” said Kuzma. “I couldn’t sleep when I first came up with the idea. It’s been exciting.”
Two years ago, he won Bradley’s inaugural Big idea Competition, sponsored by the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and designed to help students turn ideas into potential business opportunities.
The competition, and its $8,000 grand prize, served as proof of concept for the budding inventor.
“Until then, I had no validation that any of this was going to work. The competition gave me an, ‘OK, let’s try it’ mentality.”
But a good idea alone isn’t a ticket to success. In the summer of 2017, Kuzma interned for The Turner Center, for which he helped organize training programs and make connections to the local business community. The experience helped to give Kuzma the confidence to continue developing his self-playing guitar. He hopes to encourage investor support and turn his idea into a business.
“We were so impressed with Michael’s passion for entrepreneurship, and we wanted to support a student seeking to make a bridge between engineering and business,” said James Foley, director of the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship. “His personality and curiosity about bringing the two together was infectious.
“To see the self-playing guitar come to fruition two years later was impressive.”
— Andrew Faught