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The Anatomy and Physiology of a Solid Body Electric Guitar

Jordan Krinsky

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Table of Contents
Introduction .................................................................................................................................................. 2 Audience and Purpose ................................................................................................................................. 2 Description ................................................................................................................................................... 2 Anatomy ....................................................................................................................................................... 3 Physiology ..................................................................................................................................................... 4 Pickups ............................................................................................................................................. 4 Potentiometers and Capacitors ...................................................................................................... 5 Audio Output and Amplifiers .......................................................................................................... 5 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................................... 6 Sources.......................................................................................................................................................... 7

Introduction
From the moment the first Rickenbacker left the factory, it was clear that music would never be the same. The electric guitar is a very common instrument in the US and across the globe and has, but not a lot of people, musicians and fans alike actually know how they work. This guide will break down and identify first, the components of the solid body electric guitar, and then it will give an in depth description of how strumming the strings ultimately leads to sound.

Audience and Purpose


When it comes to technical guides and descriptions, it is a common misconception that one may need previous knowledge of the particular subject but this guide is not merely contained to experienced musicians or guitar technicians and luthiers. It was designed for anyone who has an interest in the solid body electric guitar as an instrument on a technical level or those who enjoy its sound and just want to learn little bit more.

Description
The solid body electric guitar is a musical instrument that takes advantage of the relationship between magnetism and electricity in order to produce a sound.
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Anatomy
Tuning Machines (Machine heads): This component lets the user control the tension in each string. This alters the way the strings vibrate when they are strummed thus changing the pitch. Nut: A grooved piece of material that halts the vibration of the strings past the neck Frets: Used to alter the way a string vibrates to create a specific pitch Fretboard: Holds the frets and acts a surface to place the fingers in order for the frets to engage with the strings. Pickups: This is the essential component to an electric guitar. It is what produces the sound that is heard through the amplifier. These are what transfer the vibrations in the strings to an electrical current and eventually a sound. There are numerous varieties of pickups and each creates a different type of sound. The most common are single coils, humbuckers (high gain or PAFs) and P90s (a particular type of single coil). This particular diagram is of a fender Stratocaster style guitar that contains three different single coil pickups that are commonly used for blues and rock style guitar. Pickup Selector: Most guitars contain more than on pickup. The pickup selector lets the musician choose which pickup to use. On a guitar like this the selector will have 5 different Figure 1: Anatomy of an electric guitar settings: one for each pickup and two that use two adjacent pickups at the same time. Each combination produces a different type of sound. Control Knobs: These offer control of volume and tone by adjusting the amount of resistance in the systems pentameters or pots. Output Jack: The output jack serves as a medium for the guitar to be connected to some sort of amplifier where the electrical current produced by the pickups is sent to produce sound.
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Physiology
There are numerous factors that play miniscule roles in the propagation of sound via an electric guitar, but the most integral part of the puzzle lies in the wiring and the quality of the electrical components that are used. The flow of current begins in the pickups, moves through the potentiometers and then through the output jack to an amplifier. Within each of these components lies a multitude of combinations that are available. Changing the type of pickups, pots and amplifier can greatly alter the sound that the guitar makes, and the ability to alter these components allows each guitarist to create their own sound. Although there is quite a bit of value in the ability to customize an instrument, Figure 2 shows the complexities of the wiring that is involved, and it is import to know the interactions between these parts in order to create an instrument suitable for performance.

Figure 2: Diagram of electrical components

Pickups
The birth of an electrical current begins with the interaction of the strings and the pickups. Essentially a pickup is composed of one or multiple permanent magnets and copper wire. The very unique part of the pickup is that it needs no external power. It harnesses the relationship between magnetism and electricity, but ultimately the amplifier needs to be powered in order
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to produce sound. Most pickups are designed to have a magnet for each string. These magnets are tightly wrapped in wire thousands of times. The pickups ability to produce a current is based off of some basic principles of electricity and magnetism. When the string is struck by a guitarist, the steel vibrates within the magnetic field of the pickup. This vibration induces a current in the copper wire which is sent through wiring toward the pots. The variations in sound that are produced by pickups are due to the spacing of the wire wraps, number of magnets and a variety of other small differences in pickups. The type of pickup that it is can be correlated with these different alterations along with some other innovative ways of thinking. Among the different types of common pickups, the humbuckers is a good example. It uses 2 single coil pickups wrapped in opposite directions in order to reduce electromagnetic interference (which produces a humming sound).

Potentiometers and Capacitors


After the current leaves the pickup, it moves through a series of wiring to the pots. Each of the pots are directly connected to their own respective control knobs. Pots are classified by the maximum amount of resistance that is available when it is set to the maximum level. The most general setup is two knobs: one for tone and one for volume, but some guitars have an individual tone and volume knob for each pickup. Figure 2 shows a setup with a Fender TBX tone control knob. This pot is essentially 2 pots stacked on top of one another and offers the tonal quality of a 250k pot and a 1000k pot. This just scratches the surface on the variety that is available when finding new pots to install into a guitar. Volume knobs are simply normal potentiometers, but tonal knobs work with a capacitor. The presence of the capacitor acts a special filter. This takes out certain tones that may be undesirable (or desirable) for the sound that the particular guitarist is looking for. Finding the correct sound is made much easier when the pots, capacitors and pickups work cohesively. While most musicians find it desirable to replace pickups, replacing pots and capacitors is much cheaper and even though it may be a little bit more difficult to do, it can produce the same sound at a much lower cost.

Audio Output, Amplifiers and Accessories


Once the current makes it through the inner workings of the electric guitar, the hardware has done its job. At this point a instrument cable is used to connect the guitar to an amplifier, recording equipment and/or variety of different accessories that can be used to further change the tone of the guitar. In order to actually produce sound, a power source must be present in the amplifier.

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Conclusion
It all begins with a strum of the strings. The change in the pickups magnetic field alters its flux and produces a current. This current is passed through potentiometers and capacitors and then through the output jack to an amplifier where sound can grace the ears of anyone who is good enough to listen. The electric guitar is a musical instrument of pure power that can be customized to become nearly as unique as the human being that runs their fingers up and down the fretboard and without the knowhow and the ability to identify the issues within the instrument, a guitarists true potential cannot be tapped.

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Sources
http://brentroad.com/message_topic.aspx?topic=487114&page=25 http://www.guitarlessonworld.com/lessons/guitar-anatomy.htm http://www.werewolfpat.com/guitar-potentiometers.html

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