Physics of Electric Guitars

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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 secti...

... middle of paper ... either linear mass density and/or tension in the string. It is desirable to play a guitar with nearly uniform tension from string to string, thus strings are of varying masses.


Brain, Marshall. How Electric Guitars Work. accessed 11-20-2004

Hokin, Sam. The Guitar. The Physics of Everyday Stuff. accessed 11-20-2004

Jonas, Seth. How Electric Guitar Pickups Work. accessed 11-20-2004

Khanal, U. Dynamics of Strings with Gaussian Density and Tension. Modern Physics Letters A. Vol 15. Iss 10. p675. 7p. via EBSCOhost 11-20-2004,ip,url,uid&db&an=6620320

Stewart, James. Calculus. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole, 2003.

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