John Kelly – The Kellycaster

Colour photo of John Kelly in profile, singing into microphone and wearing headphones.John Kelly is a disabled musician, writer, actor and active campaigner for disability rights.

He currently is working with Drake Music on Research & Development,  Think2020 and co-leads our monthly Hack Events in London.

In spring 2015 John, who has a physical impairment that restricts the use of his hands, conceived and created a specification for an accessible guitar, bespoke to his access needs. He presented the idea to the DMLab meeting to invite collaboration.

Gawain Hewitt developed a first prototype of the hardware, and the software was developed at the Drake Music accessible music technology hackathon at the Southbank Centre on the weekend of the 30th and 31st May by Charles Matthews, with input from Dave Darch and John Kelly.

The resulting innovative instrument won the hackathon, and was featured in the Independent’s ‘I’ paper that same week.

John Kelly & Gawain Hewitt at the Web We Want festival at Southbank Centre
John Kelly & Gawain Hewitt at the Web We Want festival with the Kellycaster.
Image by Emile Holba.

The Kellycaster is an instrument that uses a real electric guitar as an interface for computer software.

This is combined with software innovations that iPad apps like Garageband for the iPad have showcased, such as software controlled chords.

It allows a musician to play the guitar by strumming real guitar strings, while using an iPad app to control chords and notes, as well as switch control over augmented chords.

From prototype to durable, beautiful instrument, John launched the Kellycaster in 2017.

The Kit

The hardware is based on a Fender Telecaster copy, from which the body has been used.

Pickups are Graphtech Ghost saddle pickups. These allow each string to send a signal which is currently fed into 6 mic preamps and into the computer.

Having 6 large cables linking the guitar to the interface is clumsy, so we are working on a more elegant solution.

The software is a Max MSP patch created in Max 7 by Charles Matthews. John is using the instrument in Ableton Live, and we have chosen Max as it will give him a degree of control over the setup using Max for Live.

We are currently looking to use a Graphtech Hexpander kit to negate the need to use mic preamps.

From that we will then be porting some, perhaps most of the Max Patch into Pure Data Vanilla, with a view to running it on Andrew McPherson’s BeagleRT platform.

This will allow for very low latency processing, onboard sounds and a single connection to computer for additional processing when and if required.

We are also exploring cross talk between the pickups as this has been causing us quite a lot of problems. Physically separating the pickups and removing the traditional Telecaster bridge, which is metal and brings them together, has made a lot of difference.

The ‘kellycaster’ early prototype

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