Electric Guitars - How Do They Work?

Author: Max Kersten

The right electric guitar feels smooth in your hands and wraps around your body while you play. She can also sing to you in a way that only you can hear, no matter how much you share her unique sound with others. It's no wonder that the guitar has impacted the world of music so deeply over the last 60 years that it has permanently embedded itself into history. The guitar practically defines 'cool' all on its own, yet the whole concept starts with technology.

Surprisingly, the tech talk associated with the electric guitar isn't so far fetched or difficult to understand. So if you love your instrument so much that you're looking to hear how she works, listen up.

The first thing you should know is that there are two types of body styles: Hollow and Semi-Hollow.

    * Hollow body: This type of guitar is exactly what it sounds like. Essentially, the center is hollow, like an acoustic guitar. The hollow body allows the sound waves created by the guitar to bounce and ricochet inside it, affecting its sound. This is what causes that twang-like sound that you get from a hollow body electric guitar.
    * Semi-Hollow: These are obviously a lot more solid than the hollow-body and produce a more solid sound. The electric guitar is not meant to sound like an acoustic guitar on a wide scale. In fact, the semi-hollow keeps the sound from bouncing around inside the equipment to give you a more crisp clear sound.

Next are the sheer mechanics. Electric guitars pump their sound out by means of magnetic pickups. A pickup is a group of magnets with a coil wire wrapped near or around them. These would be the metallic pieces that subtly vibrate your guitar and you may or may not be able to see your pickups, depending on what guitar you own.

When your guitar is plugged in but not being used, the magnetic field associated with your pickup is also relatively still, except for the electricity running through it. As soon as you strum your girl, however, the wire around or touching that magnetic field picks up the changed field, which produces an electrical signal. The wire essentially carries that signal through the pickup and to your audio wire, which is "programmed" to recognize the signals and interpret them to your amp at the other end.

At the top of your guitar, on the neck, you'll find next, your tuning pegs. These pegs are holding your strings or wires in place and by winding them tighter, you can produce a higher pitch. When allowing them to hang more loosely, they will produce deeper sounds when strummed. This is, obviously, how a guitarist tunes their instrument, the same way a cello or violin is tuned.

The sections along the neck that are marked by bars or lines into evenly measured segments, are called frets. When a guitar is finely tuned and you press at the right fret for the right pitch, your strum is affected by your shortening the string. This is, of course, how you get notes. Learning to read sheet music, of course, will give any guitarist a tool to increase their skills and use their frets properly.

The controls that are usually located on the body of an electric guitar alter the tone's brightness by using a simple filter that lowers or raises the frequencies of the pickup.

All in all, the simple set up of an electric guitar, using magnets, wire, some steel and wood are what manufacture the amazing sounds that come from them. Quality, clarity and reliability, however, depend on brand, manufacturer and parts. So with your new found knowledge on the inner workings of the guitar, get out there and research which one makes you sleep well at night and want to wake up in the morning.

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