How Guitars Work

How Guitars Work

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How Guitars Work

To properly understand the principles of how a guitar works, it is essential to understand the functions of sound waves and electromagnets. They play a key role in the function of the guitar, both in the acoustic and the electric.

Sound Waves

For us to hear, we need ears with an important piece, the eardrum. We hear sound because when a sound is created, there is a change in air pressure. Because of this change in pressure, waves are produced, flying all over the place. On the guitar, when the string vibrates, the change in air pressure causes the air particles to move around. There are air particles all around us, so when the sound wave crashes into these particles, they all collide until they reach our eardrums. When the air particles crash into our eardrum, they will hit against all the other components of the ear and the sound will enter our brain.


Electromagnets need a source of energy (a battery, power outlet, etc.) In the electric guitar (because in the acoustic, electromagnets are inexistent) the power source comes from the amplifier, which gets its electrical current from a power outlet. Together, the electrical flow is made by the constant flow of electrons (e-). When the plug from the amp is attached to a source of energy, the electrons will flow to and through the wire. Basically, all an electromagnet does is collect electrons and sends them into a constant flow. What the electromagnets have to do with the guitar will be explained in detail at the Electric Guitar page.

The Differences Between Acoustic And Electric Guitars

Both electric guitars and acoustic guitars are great instruments that are the most commonly used in music. They have many similarities.

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Both have six strings, keys to tune the strings, frets and a long neck. But the big difference is in the name. An electric guitar uses electricity to function properly. The special variety of sounds it makes would be impossible if not for the electrical components in it. The acoustic though, is defined as being designed to carry sound or to aid in hearing. What this simply means is that it aids and enhances the sound of something in order for it to be heard more clearly, all this done without any means of electricity.

Electric guitars have a smaller body, but they are solid and thick. There is no empty space inside of them. Also, the shape of it does not matter, because there is no importance of the sound waves hitting inside it and then rebounding back out. Remember though, that if an electric guitar is not plugged into an amplifier, the sound the string makes when plucked will barely be heard. As you read further on the page of Electric Guitars, you will find out how the pick ups are used to transport the sound to the amplifier.

Acoustic guitars instead are actually quite large. The big hollow body serves a very important purpose. They do not need an amplifier because the hollow body’s mechanism serves as a natural amplifier. As you will read the page about Acoustic Guitars, you will discover why the hollow body is so important and why the guitar has the shape it has.

Electric Guitars

Electric guitars have been around since more or less 1920. They are very special instruments because they are now the most popular one. They are also special in the way that they are made.

Parts and their uses

The Electric guitar has several different parts from an acoustic guitar. These are the electrical components that make the whole difference.

- Magnetic pick ups placed under the strings
- wire coil wrapped up to 7000 times around the magnets
- the jack (cable used to connect guitar to amp)

1. Magnets are always placed under the strings. They are called pick ups, because the pick up the sound. This is simply because the sound the string makes when it vibrates is detected electronically. With this, we know that motion can be turned to electrical energy. This is exactly what the pick ups do. When they sense the string vibrating (motion), the turn it into the sound corresponding to that exact vibration (energy). When the magnet does this reaction, the next step begins.

2. Wire coil is wrapped up to 7000 times around these pick ups. Now, the energy that the pick ups have captured from the string is traveling through the wire coil and into the jack. We know very well that metal is a fantastic conductor of electricity. The electrons are now flowing off.

3. The jack is the last part of the route that the electrons have to make in order to reach the amplifier. The jack is a two end cable. At both ends, it has two erected pieces of metal to be inserted in the guitar and in the amplifier. The wire coil in the guitar makes contact with the jack, and electricity travels to the amplifier.

Extra Pieces

The electric guitar has many particular little electronic goodies on it. Here they are:

- Pick up selector
- Vibrato Arm
- Volume
- Tones

1. The pick up selector pretty much explains itself. By switching the pick up selector, you choose which pick up you want your guitar to put in function. Most guitars will have three pick up bars, but the numbers range from 1-5. Different pick ups have different sounds, and sometimes they will have different effects. This is far opposite from the electric guitar that all strings sound the same.
2. The vibrato arm works in a particular wave. What it does is it distorts the path that the electricity is taking to go to the amplifier. It makes the sound deviate its route a little, so the sound will be different. The note itself will change. It adds a cool effect on any string. Instead if playing the string normally, shake the vibrato arm and you will get a different note.
3. The volume basically is there to adjust the amount of electricity flowing into the metal coil. The les there are, the lower the volume will be.
4. The tones basically allow you to play around with the effect of the guitar. For instance, low tone will give you a low bass note, whereas high tone will give you a higher pitch sound. Remember, here the note always remains the same unlike the vibrato arm.

You now can see the many differences between the electric guitar and the acoustic guitar. But the electric guitar would be useless if not for a very important invention…The amplifier!
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