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Guitar Physics Essay

1798 words - 8 pages

As centuries crawl by, the concept of music has remained largely a part of social and economic interactions within human culture. Of all instruments that contribute, the guitar is one of the most complex and most widely used across all genres of music. There are records that suggest that the guitar has even been played since the time of the Babylonians (Findlay 3). With that said, the guitar is also one of the most elaborate instruments to build, with the most factors and variables involved in construction. The most important variable is the materials chosen to create the instrument. Contrary to popular belief, the quality of said materials to construct a guitar affects its sound immensely. ...view middle of the document...

Frequency dictates the pitch of the sound that is perceived; a high frequency will emit a high-pitched sound, and vice versa for a low frequency. For sound, the molecules surrounding the wave affect the velocity of the wavelength, which is how fast the wave is interacting with the particles around it. The materials of the instrument affect this aspect directly, and the velocity of the sound travelling through the instrument has enormous effect on its overall tone and playability. A guitar that has a fast response from the sound wave is more desirable for most musicians.
Within each sound wave, there exists a standing wave pattern or vibrational mode. These patterns are only created within the object or instrument at specific frequencies of vibration; such frequencies are known as harmonic frequencies. To understand harmonic frequencies, it may be thought of one fundamental sound being created alongside many less noticeable sounds, known as overtones. The individual mesh of stressed harmonics creates timbre, or individualized tone of a sound. For example, the banjo, known for a bright, ‘twang’ timbre has accented even-numbered overtones. A warm sounding viola has accented odd-numbered overtones (Hokin 4). Therefore, in order to have a guitar to have the desired timbre, one must enhance certain harmonics. The only manner to naturally enhance these harmonics is to formulate a strict list of materials for said instrument. That is almost entirely the goal of a luthier; to design an instrument with a desired sound in mind, and then use the correct materials in the correct manner to epitomize said tone.
The first step in building a guitar that has the ‘perfect sound’ is deciding what kind of guitar to build; the two most popular modern types are the hollow body acoustic and the solid body electric guitar. The two types are not very different; they both have a neck, fingerboard, body, a bridge, tuning pegs, and strings. The main differences lie within the body and amplification of the instruments. The body of an acoustic guitar is hollow, as stated before, and is primarily made of thin, springy woods so that the top, back and sides may reverberate. The strings cause the soundboard and sound box to vibrate, and as these have their own resonances at certain frequencies, they amplify some string harmonics more strongly than others, hence affecting the timbre produced by the instrument. Electric guitar bodies are different; they are usually solid and made from one or more layers of a hard wood. The necks of all guitars commonly are made from hard woods in order to remain rigid, but still have a metal truss rod inserted within the neck to hold the neck straight. The fret board, the part where fingers press the strings down, is usually a very dense, hard wood that allows the quickest response from any sound. Other than the strings, bridges and tuning pegs, these are the main parts that all types of guitars have.
Obviously, there are some differences...

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