I was very interested to see this contribution to the Disrupt SF Hackathon 2013, in which Yu Jiang Tham introduced ‘Strumbot’, an automated guitar strummer which he had, literally, created overnight. With this, a metal lever moves the pick across the strings according to strumming patterns controlled from a computer, leaving the performer free to concentrate on the chords and lyrics. Yu Jiang created the device to accompany his own singing because he felt “rhythmically-challenged” in the strumming department but I’m sure it would be possible to adapt it so that a 1-handed player could control the strum patterns with foot-switches. It looks as though this might be a solution for some guitarists.
Yu Jiang intends to work on refining this prototype and would welcome readers’ feedback on it. For many, of course, it’s the picking that’s the main thing and they would prefer to automate the chord-formation side of things but I have been asked for information about mechanical strumming, so for others this could be a distinct possibility. I understand that Yu Jiang is interested in looking into chord formation, as well, so do all contribute your comments.
Update 7/02/2014: Here is another adapted guitar with a pedal-operated strummer. With this Ian Pearce can play again after 47 years: