Industrial Design Alumni’s Fretboard Attachment Empowers Guitarists With Peripheral Neuropathy
Jefferson industrial design students regularly engage in practical, hands-on learning by working together to craft solutions to real-world challenges. In another example of ingenuity, two recent program graduates, Isaac Savinese and Joshua Skinner, collaborated to design an assistive fretboard attachment aimed at amplifying strength and alleviating discomfort for guitarists with peripheral neuropathy.
“We were passionate about creating a wearable device to help people with injuries, nerve damage or neuropathy more easily complete daily tasks,” says Savinese, a 2022 alumnus and current design consultant.
However, the pair changed their trajectory after they read an interview with Eric Clapton. In the article, the world-renowned guitarist spoke candidly about the impact nerve damage had on his strength, musicianship and life’s passion.
Musician David Hause tests out Arc SG. Isaac Savinese and Joshua Skinner worked to make playing more painless, maintain sound quality and preserve musical expression.
“For many musicians, creating music is integral to their sense of self, and losing that ability can be a painful experience,” says Skinner, a Class of 2023 grad.
During their yearlong integrative capstone, taught by professors Mark Havens and Todd Kramer, Savinese and Skinner set out to create a device that would make it easier for guitar players with peripheral neuropathy to take back their craft.
Their device, Arc SG, is an innovative fretboard attachment designed for Epiphone SG guitars. The device addresses the challenges guitarists face with peripheral neuropathy, a condition characterized by impaired movement, wrist and finger pain, and loss of sensation.
Even though nerve entrapment syndromes and peripheral neuropathy are common in musicians, existing products inadequately address guitarists’ needs.
“Arc SG reconfigures the fretboard to maintain optimal hand positioning,” Savinese explains. “It elevates the playing surface and rotates it toward the fingers so the musician can maintain a natural hand curvature, reducing pain while playing.” With 132 silicone-capped keys corresponding to each note, the device maintains note accessibility without altering sound quality or tone.
The Journey of Discovery
Savinese and Skinner advanced their knowledge of peripheral neuropathy and ergonomics through extensive consultation and collaboration with two Jefferson occupational therapy doctoral students. They also researched different types of playing techniques and guitars, landing on designing an attachment for the popular Epiphone SG line of guitars.
“We met with professional and amateur guitarists with peripheral neuropathy to learn about their experience and their challenges with playing,” Savinese says. “It was enlightening because there are so many factors we needed to consider—not only making playing more painless but maintaining sound quality and preserving musical expression.”
Guitarist Harry Ruggerio practices with Arc SG. Isaac Savinese and Joshua Skinner didn’t want musicians to have to relearn how to play guitar to use the device.
Putting Theory to the Test
“Luckily, we had a bunch of guitar players in our studio who were more than happy to help us test out our device,” Skinner says. “We got constant feedback to improve it before we even brought a prototype to our test group.”
The two worked on creating a prototype for a section of the fretboard. “Our biggest priorities were ensuring the device was accessible and easy to pick up and learn. We didn’t want guitarists to have to relearn how to play guitar to use our device,” Savinese notes. “We also strove to maintain aesthetics and wanted the device to blend in and look natural against the guitar, something we found out was especially important to professional musicians.”
After assessing the prototype with their test group, the device accomplished all their objectives. “The ability to make music is such a source of enjoyment and fulfillment for musicians,” Skinner says. “Our goals were to create a way where that wasn’t lost, to empower guitarists to play despite their challenges, and to preserve their passion and musical expression. We believe our device has the potential to do just that.”
For many musicians, creating music is integral to their sense of self, and losing that ability can be a painful experience.
This past spring, Savinese and Skinner won the Core77 Design Awards’ Student Notable Health and Wellness Award for Arc SG. They have a bit more work to do before they can build a full-scale prototype, but until then, they’re making progress.
“The next step is creating a full-length device for the entire fretboard,” Savinese says. “We need to test it with professional guitarists and see if it holds up for multiple hours of playing.”
After that, the duo hopes to create a device that can be customized to each guitar model in the SG line.
“Receiving recognition in the Core77 Design Awards is a great honor,” Savinese says. “Knowing the project has gained some merit and caught the interest of the broader design community has motivated us to continue pushing the development of Arc with hopes of bringing it to market.”