guitar science

Articles about science applied to guitar construction and playing

XYZ Magnetic field scans of guitar pickup

Magnetic fields in the X,Y,Z planes above a single coil guitar pickup

I just finished making a magnetic field scanner and this is my first test of a guitar pickup. The pickup is a cheap single coil one - it does not have individual pole piece magnets like a Fender, instead it has steel pole pieces connected to a single ceramic bar magnet underneath the pickup. The first picture is a scan of the plane around 2mm above the pole pieces, I then flipped the pickup over and scanned it again. I did not correct for the background field or the misaligment of the X,Y and Z sensors.

Django's Hand

Django's Hand and 3D anthopometric model

The jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, although limited by burn injuries, developed a musical technique that created a new musical genre. David Williams and Tom Potokar, of Morriston Hospital Swansea, analysed archive photographs and constructed a three-dimensional computer model of his injuries.

Robert Johnson: finger points to Marfan syndrome?

Robert johnson playing acoustic guitar and smoking a tab

In the September 2006 issue of the British Medical Journal, G.P. David Connell speculates about the unnaturally long fingers of bluesman Robert Johnson . Based on pictures and contemporary accounts, Connell thinks that Johnson had Marfan Syndrome . Marfan Syndrome is a genetic connective tissue disorder: those affected are usually tall and slim, with long fingers and flexible joints.

Cryogenic Pickups

Cryogenic freezing

Some audiophiles believe that cryogenic freezing of their audio equipment somehow improves the sound.  New-age audio inventor and pseudo-scientist Peter Belt (of PWB Electronics) claimed that cryogenic freezing of CDs provides 'friendly', 'relaxing' energy patterns, making them sound better. However it is well known that cryogenic freezing of metal affects its crystalline structure and can improve its durability (as used in Dean Markley Blue Steel Strings and banjo tone rings).

Guitar robots at EMP

Trimpin EMP Guitar Robot

This is a trailer for Trimpin: The Sound of Invention, a documentary film about engineer, sound artist, and inventor, Trimpin. The film is currently showing on the festival circuit. One part shows how Trimpin rigged up a load of guitar robots to make the famous tower of guitars sculpture in the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

The film also shows Trimpin's other work over the last 25 years

Link: Trimpin the Sound of Invention Movie

D'Addario string factory

Close up of electric guitar string making machine in the D'Addario factory

This is one of those How-It's-Made factory tour films, which shows how guitar strings are made in the D'Addario factory. It also shows the quality control procedures used to test that the strings are fit for their purpose. The strings are stretched and twisted in a medieval torture chamber until they break. I never knew there was such a thing as a ball-end-sorter. Even though its mostly mechanised, a human worker still has to start the wire wrapping process on each string by hand. And the final coiling, before they are put in bags, is also done by hand

Servoelectric guitar

Servoelectric guitar front view

Milwaukee Servoelectric Guitar is an ingenious experimental instrument. Individual servos for each string control the string tension, with a clever compensator wheel arrangement. The servos are powered by low cost home made amplifiers. The tension / frequency sensing circuit is a novel design incorporating a potentiometer and springs. Solenoids to pick and damp the strings would fully automate this instrument.

Head Banging Safely


Head banging is a vigourous and often violent rhythmic movement of the head and upper body. It is associated with hard rock and various types of heavy metal, with recognisably different styles: like the classic up-down (movingly depicted in the  "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene in Wayne's World), the circular swing (think Slipnot or Jason Newstead), the full body (the up-down taken to extreme amplitudes), or the cheeky side-to-side.

Tube versus solid-state amplifiers


Although solid-state technology dominates modern electronics, vacuum tubes are important in guitar amplifiers representing millions of dollars in annual sales.While solid-state amplifiers create a more faithful reproduction of the signal from the guitar's pickups, players tend to prefer the tone of valve amplifers. The human perception of guitar tone is complex and not fully understood: guitar gear designers don't know exactly what engineering measurements are appropriate to evaluating the performance of their creations.

Automated guitars

automated guitar.jpg

These automated guitars are available from the Ragtime Automated Music company.The Ragtime company continues the tradition of piano-roll player pianos and fairground organs, but using modern technology.MIDI files are used to drive individual solenoids which act as string pluckers and fretters.

Virtual Acoustic Guitar with Physical Soundboard


A Physical Resonator For A Virtual Guitar is a project from Amit Zoran and Pattie Maes at the MIT Media Laboratory. It is an electro- acoustic guitar with a changeable soundboard. By releasing a catch the middle part of the guitar can be popped out. The strings are secured on a tailpiece, so the soundboard can be changed without taking them off. The guitar uses a floating violin style bridge and piezo transducers.

Set neck = better sustain. Myth?


There are three ways of attaching the neck to the body of an electric guitar: set necks where the neck is glued to the body with a tenon joint (most Gibson guitars), through necks where the neck & body are made from the same piece of wood and bolt-on necks (most Fender guitars). It is almost a given amongst guitar players, that through necks sustain better than set-necks and bolt-on necks have the worst sustain.

The MIDI Pick


You probably don't realise it but when you are playing you hold your pick (or plectrum) in a million different ways. The angle between the pick and the strings, the length of exposed pick and how hard you squeeze the pick all affect the sound you will get. How you hold your pick eventually becomes a sub-conscious thing: difficult to describe but crucial to the sound you get.

A good description of this comes from B.B. King , the master of expressive blues playing, who described his pick technique like this:

The cult of antique instruments


The violins of Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, have gained legendary status. Many change hands for millions of dollars, but are they valuable because they sound great or because of the legend that has built up around them? This subject is relevant to guitar players. Vintage guitars, amps and some brands have acquired legendary status and price tags, but are they really any better than gear that you could buy today?

Guitar therapy


Why do people play the guitar? Is it to express their inner feelings, to become famous and rich, to improve their attractiveness or to annoy the neighbours? I think the main reason people play the guitar is that it makes them feel good.

So it’s not surprising to hear guitars are often used in music therapy. A recent review by Robert E. Krout, found 64 published reports of guitar therapy. Music therapists used the guitar to help children with learning disabilities or medical problems, and to help adolescents, adults, prisoners and senior citizens.

Guitar string allergy


Are you experiencing a hand rash that is worse on your fretting hand than on your strumming hand? Are you also prone to other allergies, such as asthma or hay fever? If so there is a possibility that you have an allergy to your guitar strings.

Recently published case reports describe a musician’s dermatitis (skin rash) affecting the hand, which was the result of nickel contact from guitar strings. Here is the description of a typical case:

Guitar evolution

The modern guitar is the product of thousands of years of evolution. The size, shape and construction of guitars has changed though history, but is this evolution now over?

The big idea in evolution is that in nature there are variations, some of these variants are more likely to survive (natural selection) and have their attributes are passed on to future generations. The same applies in guitar making. Guitars that play and sound the best are more likely to be popular and have their features incorporated into new models.

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