Behind The Music: A Gulkin Gazette My Blog Guest Exclusive
Profound Insights on the Science of Sound from Stephanie at My Blog Guest
From the delicate jangle of indie pop to the screaming sound of a heavy metal solo, what is it that turns the simple striking of strings into an amplifies sound like no other? While there are a lot of different things that make up the sound of a guitar, it is the instrument’s pickups that make that all important link between the strings and the electronics.
So how do guitar pickups work?
The basic principle behind electric and acoustic guitar pickups is the science of magnetism. Pickups are magnets that ‘pick up’ the vibration of the guitar strings and convert them into an electical signal that is fed through the guitar’s tone and volume controls. This signal is directed through to the audio output to a processor, effects pedals or directly to an amplifier.
A pickup is built around an actual magnet, which are now mostly made from ceramic or alnico. Each of these magnets have their own benefits; ceramic can give a greater punch to a guitar’s sound, which is ideal for hard rock and metal music. Alnico seems to offer a more delicate tone, making it ideal for jazz guitars and as acoustic guitar pickups. Alnico isn’t actually an element in its own right and the name is an acronym of aluminium, nickel and cobalt.
The Physics of Sound
The magnetic core is then wrapped in very thin copper wire. The wire is enamelled, giving it the magnetic properties it needs. The wire is wound around the magnet thousands of times. This means that when the guitar is played, the vibration affects the coil’s magnetic flux, and the coil of wire creates an alternating current. From here, the signal travel’s to the guitar’s output.
Some guitar pickups have their own preamplifiers. Preamplifiers, or preamps, provides sound processing, acting as a middleman for the raw signal of an instrument. In guitars, especially in acoustic guitar preamps, a preamp will require a battery to help process the sound. These are particularly handy to manage the frequencies and tones of the guitar, reducing interference from external signals and other noise.
There are different styles of pick up too, the basic of which are single coil pick ups and humbuckers. You’ll find variations on these styles, such as lipstick pickups and soap bars pickups, but these are the two main versions found in the majority of guitars. These different pickups were developed as the older single coils could also pick up lots of electromagnetic interference.
This was combated by adding a second single coil and putting the two together. Modern single coil pickups don’t suffer the same problems with interference. There’s a notable difference in tone between humbuckers and single coils, the former able to offer a ‘beefier’ sound.
Rock On, My Lady!
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