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Electric guitar audio science?

Zerimas

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#1
I don't know if this is really the right place, but it is probably the least hostile place to ask about this. Have there ever been empirical studies done of how (or if) various factors (materials, construction, et cetera) affect the output of the signal that is sent through the magnetic pickup?

One electric guitar doesn't sound exactly like another (when you play them unplugged that is). When you plug them in different pickups don't sound the same depending on configuration and construction (single-coil, P-90, humbucker, et cetera). Even when comparing "like-with-like" two humbuckers don't sound the same because they can use different types of magnets and because of variations in the windings (which impact FR, output, and presumably a bunch of electrical properties).

However, do the materials of an electric guitar or its construction actually make any sort of difference (when you amplify it). I think I once saw something that looked a "paper" on the subject, but I can't find it. The argument that wood does make a difference would I guess stem from the fact that the materials are going to dampen some frequencies/harmonics and resonate with others. The whole system forms a loop which affects the way the strings vibrate.

I mean you could probably test this fairly easily. I've just never seen anyone do it. All you'd have to do is have a bolt-on neck guitar. You put the guts in a body made of one type of wood plug it into something and measure the output. You then take all the parts (electronics, hardware, pickups et cetera) and put on an identical body that is made of different wood. Plug it in (make sure you kept all the amp settings the same, and set the pickups to the same height, et cetera); record the results and compare.

I don't think it would be too difficult (at least not compared to the stuff that is commonly done around here), but it would be expensive and time consuming. You'd have be very careful about making sure the setup and adjustments are the same in both test cases. I feel like guitarists are particularly sensitive when it comes to this sort of thing. Of course I have my own opinions and observations. However, I am pretty sure they don't have a great deal validity.
 

Zerimas

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#2
Wait. I am not thinking clearly. I am making this too complicated. All that is really needed is two planks of wood, a pickup and whatever is necessary to run a string over it. I am making this more difficult than it needs to be.
 

RayDunzl

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#3

Zerimas

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#4
Seen this?

The Guitar Pickup Tone Database

http://zerocapcable.com/?page_id=400
I was unaware of this. I've been kinda playing guitar for long time, but not recently.

It does seem useful, but it doesn't answer my question with regards to whether construction of the guitar makes a difference. It is very useful though as it gives the general idea of what pickup sounds like (much more useful than trying to find clips and the like).
 

RayDunzl

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#5
it doesn't answer my question with regards to whether construction of the guitar makes a difference.
At some level, everything makes a difference.

The string vibrates, feeding energy into the neck and body, with which the neck and body will resonate differently with some frequencies, minutely affecting the relationship of the string to the pickup, modifying the output.

You might get lots of data.

Sorting it out could be a nightmare.

Bass Guitar single note electrical output:

1564688964280.png


I can change that with where and how I pick the string, probably changes if I press the body tightly against mine, how the neck is held, the tone pots, the volume knob, etc.
 

Zerimas

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#6
At some level, everything makes a difference.

The string vibrates, feeding energy into the neck and body, with which the neck and body will resonate differently with some frequencies, minutely affecting the relationship of the string to the pickup, modifying the output.

You might get lots of data.

Sorting it out could be a nightmare.

Bass Guitar single note electrical output:

View attachment 30491

I can change that with where and how I pick the string, probably changes if I press the body tightly against mine, how the neck is held, the tone pots, the volume knob, etc.
Oh man. Yeah, I've noticed that the choice guitar pick does seem to make an audible difference (I collect fancy guitar picks).
 

Wombat

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#7
String materials and their construction make quite a difference.
 
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LTig

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#8
I don't know if this is really the right place, but it is probably the least hostile place to ask about this. Have there ever been empirical studies done of how (or if) various factors (materials, construction, et cetera) affect the output of the signal that is sent through the magnetic pickup?
For people who can read German language: there is a PDF with 1215 pages:eek: about the physics of the electric guitar. What I have read so far it seems the material (wood) has a very small influence on the sound.
 
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#9
It would be hard to really do properly controlled experiments with guitars. First of all you would have to make a picking machine to ensure the guitar is picked the same each time.

Also, how do you make sure the strings are the same for each trial? If you reuse the same set of strings, they can change their sound due to aging. If you use different sets of strings, then there could be differences due to variations in the strings. In order to do it right, you'd probably have to do a bunch of trials with different sets of strings so that any variations will average themselves out.
 

Guermantes

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#10
Wait. I am not thinking clearly. I am making this too complicated. All that is really needed is two planks of wood, a pickup and whatever is necessary to run a string over it. I am making this more difficult than it needs to be.
 

Guermantes

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#11
I would consider it more holistically: the player-guitar-amplifier as a total "machine" for making music (in a Deleuzian sense).

The player-guitar interface is where elements such as technique, body construction (of player and guitar) and "feel" predominate. In the guitar-amplifer interface, the electrics are probably dominant, though as noted the physics of the guitar contribute to sustain and string sound. Then there is a feedback loop from output (speaker) to input (ears of the guitarist) that makes the player adjust aspects of technique and the electrics to manipulate the overall sound.

I suspect there is a lot of technical information that luthiers can provide but much of that would be artisanal rather than scientific.
 

L5730

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#12
Ignoring the pickup and electronics for a minute, because they can be kept in pretty close consistency, lets look at the wood.
Take a solid body electric guitar of choice, Stratocaster, Les Paul or whatever model you like. You can pick them up in a shop, let all the strings ring open and some sound like a dead lump, yet others sing and sustain for ages. Once any misalignments are handled and possibly dodgy hardware is ruled out (pot metal bridge saddles?) what is left? The wood.

All too often though, I think the fit and build is just soo lousy that most variations come from human error in construction. Necks not bolted on properly, misaligned nuts, bridges not assembled correctly, bridges not put in the correct position, action height, pickup height interacting with the action on the string...the list of things that I've seen done wrong is endless. You look at, say, 20 Made in USA Fender Strats and there might be 5 that are fine, another 5 need some setup tweaks and maybe another 5 are passable with more tweaks. 5 will likely be seconds that need completely overhauling or scrapping. They sound like dogs and play worse!

Didn't Ibanez come out with a "Luthite" material at some time. I think Parker guitars had some made out of something synthetic. Remember those acrylic guitars that came about around the turn of the millennium? Clear acrylic, most brands had one.

You seen that Swiss guitar with the metal frame? Change out pickups in seconds with magnetic connectors.

One thing I'll say is that if we have enough of an issue with sighted bias on this forum, just think how much bias there is when someone physically interacts with the instrument. Any tiny little niggle thing is going to make them play differently, and it'll sound some amount of different.
 
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#13
Wait. I am not thinking clearly. I am making this too complicated. All that is really needed is two planks of wood, a pickup and whatever is necessary to run a string over it. I am making this more difficult than it needs to be.
My upright basses are basically that:
1565784616950.jpeg


The mods I did to the stock basses:
http://www.ajawamnet.com/ajawamnet/kyddbassmods.html

I will say that to me they sound a bit different... but it could be variables like strings, pickups (even when in the same location - the one mod I did allows me to slide them like an old Ripper).

I worked with Lane Poor - the guy that designed pickups used by a lot of pro's (Flea had them on one of his basses)... he had designed a fixture using a solenoid to strike the fixture's strings at almost exactly the same force. Note the term almost...

One thing I was taught by a guy from Eastman was using various string motions - he told me that string players in Europe were given a rope tied to a tree to show the various modes that a string can vibrate. One was circular, he mentioned that if you watch most jazz guys, for legato they'll push the string sort of diagonally - making it vibrate in a circular motion.

Here's a vid of a band that the band leader uses a Kydd - He uses it with the stock setup of a Fishmann underbridge piezo -- note the text of the one review:

"If there was a Weird Band Olympics, Japan would rack up medals like some monster combination of Chinese swimmers, Norwegian skiers and U.S. men’s basketball players. Every time we think we’ve found the musical pinnacle of Japanese weirdness, somebody points us to another band that makes the other ones look like Air Supply. "

https://weirdestbandintheworld.com/...of-the-week-autopsy-report-of-drowned-shrimp/


Note that Steinberger has a narrow body and no headstock. Lane mentioned that the headstock is a major cause of resonance and consequent deadspots on the neck. You can sometimes see this by finding the deadspot on your bass (usually on the G string near the D#) and adding mass to the heasdstock...
http://www.steinberger.com/
 
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Zerimas

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#14
My upright basses are basically that:
View attachment 31313

The mods I did to the stock basses:
http://www.ajawamnet.com/ajawamnet/kyddbassmods.html

I will say that to me they sound a bit different... but it could be variables like strings, pickups (even when in the same location - the one mod I did allows me to slide them like an old Ripper).

I worked with Lane Poor - the guy that designed pickups used by a lot of pro's (Flea had them on one of his basses)... he had designed a fixture using a solenoid to strike the fixture's strings at almost exactly the same force. Note the term almost...

One thing I was taught by a guy from Eastman was using various string motions - he told me that string players in Europe were given a rope tied to a tree to show the various modes that a string can vibrate. One was circular, he mentioned that if you watch most jazz guys, for legato they'll push the string sort of diagonally - making it vibrate in a circular motion.

Here's a vid of a band that the band leader uses a Kydd - He uses it with the stock setup of a Fishmann underbridge piezo -- note the text of the one review:

"If there was a Weird Band Olympics, Japan would rack up medals like some monster combination of Chinese swimmers, Norwegian skiers and U.S. men’s basketball players. Every time we think we’ve found the musical pinnacle of Japanese weirdness, somebody points us to another band that makes the other ones look like Air Supply. "

https://weirdestbandintheworld.com/...of-the-week-autopsy-report-of-drowned-shrimp/


Note that Steinberger has a narrow body and no headstock. Lane mentioned that the headstock is a major cause of resonance and consequent deadspots on the neck. You can sometimes see this by finding the deadspot on your bass (usually on the G string near the D#) and adding mass to the heasdstock...
http://www.steinberger.com/

How exactly do these headless guitar systems work? I haven't been able to find a clear picture of the operating mechanism behind them (maybe I haven't looked hard enough). I am guessing that the string goes through the bridge and then wraps around it like a regular tuning-peg? I haven't actually been able to find a good picture of the mechanism and I am not a smart guy. I am guessing there is more than implementation.

I've been pondering the question of what would make the "ideal" (for me at least) guitar tremolo. The Steinberger Transtrem seems pretty interesting, but I think getting my hands on one would be pretty difficult. I have all kinds of ideas on guitar tremolos (well, vibratos really, but "tremolo" is what people call them—blame Leo Fender for thinking the word sounded "cool") but not the ability to implement them. Yeah, I am basically the "ideas guy" that everyone hates. Haha.
 

L5730

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#15
A Steinberger headless guitar a friend's Father has used double ball-end strings.
The trem- (vibrato) had a little locking lever that you could use to stop it going all over the place during string changes. I can't recall exactly, but I think it was a bit like a locking bridge (Floyd Rose style) in that there was a twisty knob for each string which adjusted tuning.
Was quite cool to see as a youngster. It even had a little bar that flipped down so you could rest it on your leg to play. Nifty.
 

BigVU's

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#16
Well this is cool - couple of nails, some wire and a pickup - nice! I think the cows wanted to hear a bit more too!

What I find interesting, and btw think the wood does make a difference in how its weighted, shaped and interacts with the player. Mostly its all of the above which makes guitars freaking awesome!

Oh back to what I find interesting. I love distortion, big fat sound and distortion, controlled and purposeful of course. And when you get that sound, that distortion and mix it and record it and then play it back, this is where I think the audiophile and the pursuit of transparency comes into play for me.

If it can play back the way it sounded to me out of the marshall amp then its magic. Now what I like is subjective. So this ASR forum illuminating what is actually happening in search of the most transparent sound is valuable insight to me. Though I am left to a budget to decide what is acceptable playback and honestly haven't heard enough processors or amps to say for sure I know. What I do know is I don't mind some distortion in the right places when it blends with the recorded distortion... so I think I like certain types of dirty dacs and of course big VU's!

Nothing beats playing and hearing the sound in real time and then further is hearing it played back as close to the way you felt it sounded live.
 

Zerimas

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#18
Ignoring the pickup and electronics for a minute, because they can be kept in pretty close consistency, lets look at the wood.
Take a solid body electric guitar of choice, Stratocaster, Les Paul or whatever model you like. You can pick them up in a shop, let all the strings ring open and some sound like a dead lump, yet others sing and sustain for ages. Once any misalignments are handled and possibly dodgy hardware is ruled out (pot metal bridge saddles?) what is left? The wood.

All too often though, I think the fit and build is just soo lousy that most variations come from human error in construction. Necks not bolted on properly, misaligned nuts, bridges not assembled correctly, bridges not put in the correct position, action height, pickup height interacting with the action on the string...the list of things that I've seen done wrong is endless. You look at, say, 20 Made in USA Fender Strats and there might be 5 that are fine, another 5 need some setup tweaks and maybe another 5 are passable with more tweaks. 5 will likely be seconds that need completely overhauling or scrapping. They sound like dogs and play worse!

Didn't Ibanez come out with a "Luthite" material at some time. I think Parker guitars had some made out of something synthetic. Remember those acrylic guitars that came about around the turn of the millennium? Clear acrylic, most brands had one.

You seen that Swiss guitar with the metal frame? Change out pickups in seconds with magnetic connectors.

One thing I'll say is that if we have enough of an issue with sighted bias on this forum, just think how much bias there is when someone physically interacts with the instrument. Any tiny little niggle thing is going to make them play differently, and it'll sound some amount of different.
I actually tried to explain to someone on reddit how sighted bias could potentially be a factor in why they feel that a more expensive guitar "feels" and "sounds" better than a similar cheaper guitar (i.e. Fender vs. Squire). I reality there are so many factors that could account for the difference. One guitar actually being "better" (which is a somewhat subjective evaluation) than the other is one of many that could result in a perceivable difference.

But yes, setup makes a huge, huge difference. I haven't bought any guitars recently, but I find that trying them out in the store is a largely a waste of time. I went into a big music on an errand (I was after some Deoxit) but while I was there I tried out a few guitars. Yeah, I do think the $1500 American strat did sound a little better unplugged than the $800 Mexican one. But the setup was so terrible it was impossible to make any sort decent evaluation of the guitar at all. The relief was probably over 1.5mm (the optimal amount is around .2mm–.3mm) and the action was incredibly high. I mean it didn't buzz or anything, but that is to be expected when the strings are actually nowhere near the rest of the guitar.

The setups on guitars at a store are so awful that it is basically impossible to make a reasonable evaluation of them. Unless you bring a bunch tools and stuff with you some flaws only become apparent when the guitar is actually setup in a playable condition (uneven frets, whatever). I do all my own setups (I have a bunch floating tremolo equipped guitars of various makes) so I am aware of the difficulty of setting them up. But still what they have on display at the store doesn't exactly have me reaching for my wallet. I can see not wanting to the labor on a $99 Squire, but when the guitars are $1000 or more you'd think someone would take the effort to make them a little more saleable.
 

Zerimas

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#19
Oh back to what I find interesting. I love distortion, big fat sound and distortion, controlled and purposeful of course. And when you get that sound, that distortion and mix it and record it and then play it back, this is where I think the audiophile and the pursuit of transparency comes into play for me.
I have a copy of "Far Beyond the Sun" on vinyl (yeah, I know). Anyways, when I put that bad boy on it sounds there is tiny Yngwie Malmsteen inside my speakers rocking out. I am pretty sure it is due to the way they recorded (however that may be). I've got Trilogy on CD and obviously it is on better format and it sounds "OK", but however it was produced it just doesn't have that same sound. It sounds like a decent recording, but it doesn't sound like Malmsteen and company are having party in inside the "walnut" veneered, plywood boxes in my living room.

I also really like the production on Awake by Dream Theater (and also the album). I tried listen Black Clouds and Silver Linings and the mix was definitely not to my taste. I hated it, and the album was super boring.

I feel like there is something to be said with regards to the aesthetics of production and its suitability to the music. I have a copy of Dreamweaver by Sabbat. I really like the album, but it was basically made by a bunch of 18-year-old kids in 1989. I would describe the production as "not very good" from a technical standpoint. For some reason I quite like it and it seems to enhance the atmosphere of the music. I mean this is totally a subjective evaluation, but whatever. It isn't like I am claiming that making your recording sound like it was done by amateurs, with cheap equipment, in 1989 is the "superior" means of producing a recording and that everything else is bunk.

I've always noticed that audiophiles who like tube amps always play music that doesn't have a lot modulation like metal does. To me it seems like the "ideal" recording, according to audiophiles, is light jazz with female vocals. I have a feeling that the endearing, yet clumsily recorded Dreamweaver would turn in absolute mush if played back on one of these fancy, audiophile "tube" systems. I imagine that would be the case for a lot of metal records. I kinda wish I had some sort of tube amp just so I could hear the results for myself. Euphonic they may be, but I don't think they'd do very well with a lot of the stuff I listen to. I have no actual basis for this judgement though.
 

Blake Klondike

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#20
Couple of thoughts re: the guitar equiv of audio jewelry: I am a guitar teacher and professional musician. I have been telling my students for years that Mexican-built Fenders, vs. US-made models are the way to go. The parts are slightly better on the USA models, but they really are only slightly better. And a used Mexican Stratocaster, for instance, goes for about $300, whereas a new USA model goes for $1500. The US models are a little more solid, but not to the tune of an additional $1200. I had a friend who worked for Fender in the late-90s and he said the only real difference between Mexican Fenders and US Fenders is the country of origin. He said the guys in the Mexican plant were doing equal or superior work. If the Mexican models are set up correctly, they are super guitars.

Other responses have mentioned Squier-- 80s Japanese Squiers bring as much dough as later US Fender models, because the guitars at the Japanese factories were being built by hand at that point.

As for Gibsons, the same applies: A different colleague who worked for Gibson told me that employees buy high-end Epiphones, rather than stock US Gibsons because the QC at the Epiphone plant is much higher.

I often notice a significant difference in the way hand-made boutique electrics (Spalt, Lipe, Collings, etc.) feel and respond, but not so much in the way they sound.

There are dozens of other Fender/Gibson examples, for sure. It is easy to be dazzled by the status that comes from the name on the headstock of a guitar, but you definitely don't always get what you pay for. And you certainly don't have to spend $1500+ to get a great guitar these days.
 
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