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Physics Of Electric Guitars Essay

1330 words - 5 pages


More than any other instrument, the electric guitar has shaped and redefined music in the last century. Although popular culture did not pay much attention to it when it was first introduced in the 1930s, it has since become equated with the very essence of rock and roll music. On an international level, the electric guitar is by far "the most famous instrument to come out of the United States" (


Inventors have been playing with the idea of electrically powered musical instruments since the 1800s, but "the first attempts at an amplified instrument did not come until the development of electrical amplification by the radio industry in the 1920s."

One pioneer of the electric guitar, Lloyd Loar, worked as an engineer at the Gibson Guitar Company. In 1924, he developed and electric pick-up to amplify the viola and the string bass. This pick-up consisted of a magnet and coil that received vibrations through the string when it was plucked.

These early inventors strived to boost the natural sound of the guitar, but they found that the signal was too weak with the pick-up method they were employing at the time. The solution was a more direct approach, in which "the electromagnet registered string vibrations from the strings themselves." This proved successful and the electric guitar as we know it was born.

The first commercially available model, the Frying Pan, was spearheaded by George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker in 1932.

Physics Behind Electric Guitars:

Introductory Ideas:

Before delving into the core physics of electric guitars, some basic information must be understood. These ideas will be discussed more thoroughly later on in this section.

* Sound from an electric guitar is produced by electromagnetic pick-ups that sense vibrations in the strings electronically and route the electronic signal to an amp and speaker.

* The vibrations of the strings can be quantified and calculated according to basic laws in physics. These include certain relationships between velocity, wavelength, and frequency and equations that describe the motion of a string fixed at both ends.

How Pick-Ups Work:

Electric guitar pick-ups work by employing "principles of magnetic induction." The pick-ups are composed of small electromagnets (magnets that are wrapped with a coil of wire, thus allowing an electric current to flow through them). Because of their close proximity to the strings, these magnets induce a north and south pole on the strings. When the string is played, it begins to oscillate, or move in a wave-like fashion. This affects the field surrounding the pick-up and causes a change in the magnetic field. These changes, or fluctuations in the magnetic field are transmitted through the wires connecting the pick-up(s) to the output jack and are thus relayed to the amplifier where they are sent to the speaker and converted from electrical energy...

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