Acoustic Guitar Vs Electric Guitar... Compression Vs Transverse Sound Waves
Understanding how sound travels through an acoustic guitar Vs an electric guitar will help a lot in our understanding of setup, materials, and even how we play the guitar.
Sound... Air is a Liquid?
In order for sound to happen, we need an object to move at an audible frequency, and we need a medium for the sound to travel through. The vibrating object "pushes" on the medium, compresses the medium and one molecule pushes the next... the next... and so forth. We don't normally think of air as a liquid, but for this discussion, visualize it as water and imagine the wave passing through the water, decaying as it travels. This is called a compression wave...
Acoustic Guitars and Compression
A compression wave is how an acoustic percussion instrument such as a drum, a piano, or an acoustic guitar works.... Thats right, an acoustic guitar is a percussion instrument. We "strike" the string, the energy transfers to the sound board and this creates a compression wave in the "sound box" and transfers to our ears through the "medium"... the air, to our ears.
Electric Guitars and Transverse Waves
The goal of sound in the electric guitar is different. Instead of relying on the movement of air, we are trying to accurately reproduce the movement of the strings in the form of electricity.
When we strike the string on an electric guitar, we want the the energy of the string itself to be retained between the nut and the bridge for as long as possible. This "transverse wave" is not in the air... it is in the string itself. Of course, it does produce a small compression wave that we can hear. (unplugged electric guitar) The main goal is to produce the desired frequency within the magnetic field of the pickup. Learn where the signal goes and how pickups work HERE
Transverse Waves and YOU
Understanding that the goal is to accurately produce a transverse wave within the string. (the note we play) for as long as possible (sustain) and as a result have harmonics and other factors available (we will discuss nodes, antinodes, fundamentals, harmonics etc in a future post) This means we want to retain as much of the energy of the string as possible. The "tone" in your guitar comes from how you strike the string (your hands) and the interaction of the sum of the parts of the guitar as this energy dissipates. The angles, and materials of your nut and bridge and peghead are the first stop. This means that a proper setup is the most important "mod" you can do. After that. Pickup height
. This is the first step to great tone.
Watch the video for more explanation and some bonus footage about a pet peeve of mine....