The Circle Guitar puts a new spin on a rock classic

Anthony Dickens was driving down the M40 when he had an epiphany. It was around 2005, and the designer and amateur musician had been thinking of ways to improve on the guitar to try create something “different and powerful”.
He landed on the idea of placing a wheel underneath the strings, which could spin and automatically strike them in a preset rhythm, creating something that was part stringed instrument, part sequencer. Back at home, he gutted an old acoustic and made a prototype, but then life got in the way and it sat in his bedroom until recently, when he decided to revive the project.


For the last two years, he’s been working on a new prototype at Makerversity at London’s Somerset House alongside Luke Perkin, an engineer who had relevant expertise from building 360-degree camera setups. They completed the project just before lockdown and posted a few videos online. Circle Guitar has now attracted interest from world-class musicians including Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien. The wheel in the centre of the new version spins to create up to 250 beats per minute, and has 128 slots into which guitar picks can slot – striking all the strings on each turn.
The picks are held in place by magnets, and by spacing them out in different arrangements, players can create different rhythms – and the output from each string can be turned on and off individually by the buttons underneath to create changing melodies. Using the wheel for rhythm also frees up the right hand. “It’s a new kind of instrument,” Dickens says.
He has founded a company, Circle Instruments, to partner with a manufacturer and produce the guitar at scale, and to create more musical innovations. Future versions will enable the wheel to spin backwards, or to slow down for a portion of the rotation for a “swing” effect. “I’m interested in creating new sounds,” Dickens says. “I want to push the guitar forward into new spaces and see what we can do with it.”
Amit Katwala is WIRED’s culture editor. He tweets from @amitkatwala
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