Guitar Zero

Unsustainable guitars

Join Professor Steve Benford for a unique musical journey through the unsustainable world of guitars. Do we really need to make guitars from rare woods? Why should they carry passports? Why are there now 55 times more guitars per person than in 1962?  Why does a secondhand guitar cost £4.5M? What is gear acquisition syndrome? And why do guitarists pay to have their brand new instruments trashed in the factory?

Reimagining guitars

Steve explores whether digital technologies could make guitars more sustainable. Might carbon fibre and onboard effects replace tone woods? Might guitars that carry their digital histories with them become more recyclable and sharable than today’s fake vintage instruments? Or would the carbon footprint of the Internet eclipse any benefit? And what can this tell us about how we market and consume other meaningful products?

The Carolan guitar

The show is performed on a unique instrument. The Carolan guitar has been digitally augmented to tell its life story. Scanning its beautiful decorative inlay with a phone reveals stories of its making, the places it has visited, and the musicians it has encountered along the way. Steve plays Carolan on stage and interacts with it to conjure up stories from its life that speak to sustainable manufacture and consumption.

About Steve

Steve is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. He had been awarded best paper awards, the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Interactive Art, and four BAFTA nominations. Steve is also a guitarist, regularly performing concerts of traditional music arranged for solo guitar.


The show involves music video and discussion with the audience. It can run from 20 to 50 minutes and be tailored to science, arts or music audiences. It requires a performance space, projector and sound system.

Previous shows

Performing Carolan at the Second Time Around Folk Club

Performing Carolan at the Pint of Science festival