Pioneering coded guitar announced as part of Inclusive Creativity programme


Drake Music have announced a partnership to build a revolutionary new type of guitar which can be played using just one finger, nicknamed the ‘Kellycaster’. The project is the brainchild of musician, performer and Disability Rights campaigner John Kelly, and will be developed as part of the Inclusive Creativity venture, a partnership between Ulster University, Walled City Music and Drake Music supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Photograph of John Kelly and Drake Music's Gawain Hewitt sitting at desks on a stage presenting the Kellycaster, a modified guitar that Gawain is holding to present to the audience.

John Kelly and Drake Music’s Gawain Hewitt introduce the Kellycaster at the Inclusive Creativity symposium. Image © 2015 Emile Holba.

Kelly conceived and created the idea for a bespoke type of guitar to meet his performance and access needs as a working Disabled Artist. He worked with coder Charles Matthews to create a prototype at a hackathon hosted by Drake Music in 2015.

A photograph of musician John Kelly and coder Charles Matthews working on an adapted guitar, Cahrles is tweeking something on the body of the guitar, which has a reduced size neck.

John Kelly and Charles Matthews work on the Kellycaster. Image © 2015 Emile Holba.

The Kellycaster prototype features a standard guitar body with an adapted neck enabling Kelly, and other musicians, to play chords using real guitar strings and a tailor-made switch interface.

By developing a system to play the chord patterns whilst strumming or plucking as you would on the strings, Kelly can play the redesigned instrument with full creative expression and dynamic as with any regular guitar.

Drake Music is the leading national organisation using music and technology to open up access to music-making for disabled people including working with schools, artistic development with professional musicians and developing new forms of musical technology.

They are working with a team to develop the prototype to concert-grade, creating a purpose-built instrument with a more robust interface between the strings and the technology.

The multi-disciplinary team working on the build includes John Kelly, Charles Matthews, Ali Barker, Jon Dickinson and Gawain Hewitt.

The Kellycaster will form part of the Inclusive Creativity programme, which included a symposium in Sweden in April. Inclusive Creativity is a concept devised by Professor Frank Lyons at Ulster University in collaboration with key partners such as Share Music Sweden, Drake Music Project and Stravaganza, which aims to level the playing field in participation, performance and composition for disabled musicians by developing new technologies and methodologies for their use.

Photograph of a specially modified guitar with a wires connected to it and a short neck.

The Kellycaster prototype

In 2015, three partner organisations Walled City Music, Drake Music and St. Magnus International Festival received funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to develop a participatory project using Inclusive Creativity as it driving principle. This project brings together musicians and composers to research and develop participant-led routes into collaborative music making using assistive music technology (AMT).

The new instrument will enable Kelly to expand his professional musical practice. He commented:

“Playing the prototype Kellycaster last year was the realisation that I could take my guitar playing to a whole new level. It was a real ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moment. I’m very excited about the development of the prototype, it will really create a dynamic new journey with my live performance.”

Matthew Greenall, Executive Director of Walled City Music added:

“We are delighted as part of the Inclusive Creativity programme to be supporting this important and innovative development.  Improving access to music making for disabled musicians and levelling the playing field for their participation is at the core of Inclusive Creativity, and the design of new instruments, such as the Kellycaster, is critical in pushing the boundaries of the possible”.