School of Computer Science

Carolan Guitar

An Acoustic Guitar That Tells Its Own Story

Every guitar tells a story, from the tonewoods that form it, to the craft of its making, to the players that own it, to the places it visits and to the many songs that it sings.


Our very own Prof Steve Benford is leading the Carolan Guitar project, a challenge to create a unique guitar; one that has been created with the express purpose of capturing and telling its own life history. Steve and the Mixed Reality Lab have teamed up with a master craftsman to create a beautiful new interactive acoustic guitar that can digitally capture and chart its own life history.

The project uses unique technology to hide digital codes within the Celtic inspired decorative patterns adorning the instrument. Aestheticodes are used in a similar way to QR codes, they can be scanned using an app on a mobile phone or tablet to unlock or upload information via the internet. This unusual technology enables the guitar to build and share a ‘digital footprint’ throughout its lifetime.

The finished instrument was named Carolan after the Celtic composer Turlough O’Carolan, the last of the great blind Irish harpers and an itinerant musician who roamed Ireland at the turn of the 18th century. The guitar was unveiled for the first time on Saturday 18 October 2014 in the Guitar Spot on Chilwell Road in Beeston, Nottingham as part of the national Oxjam Music Festival.

Read more about the journey of the Carolan guitar here.



Like its namesake, Carolan is a roving bard; a performer that passes from place to place, learning tunes, songs and stories as it goes and sharing them with the people it encounters along the way.

Making this interactive guitar has been an incredibly difficult challenge, involving an unusual meeting of minds between a traditional craftsman and computer scientists.

This is just the beginning of the journey. We're going to learn so much when our guitar finds its way into the world to gather stories and songs from players and audiences.

Prof. Steve Benford   



Gypsy Jazz Virtuoso Remi Harris plays Coquette in the Computer Science Atrium.

Follow Carolan Guitar on Youtube!


Latest Carolan Guitar blogs:

26 November 2014 - Bluesmen

10 November 2014 - Coquette

06 November 2014 - Scanners

01 November 2014 - Oxjam

29 October 2014 - Shoreditch

School of Computer Science

University of Nottingham
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

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