So how can a pickup...

Messages
200
... which is essentially transmitting electrical current based on movement of wires and magnets (relative to each other) "tell" if the wood body that it's attached to is solid, semi or hollow?

Pardon my ignorance... I'd really appreciate some thoughts here, especially as I consider my next gear purchase.

Here's what got me thinking:

 

eigentone

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
9,944
The pickup doesn't "tell". It doesn't need to.

The string simply vibrates/sustains differently when attached to different woods/designs/scales.

Of course, those differences may be lost under loads of fuzz and all guitars just might sound the same through that fuzz.

Have fun :)
 

topperdoggle

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
583
This will turn into a massive flame war, but you're absolutely right in what you're getting at. There's no reason why a large majority of guitarists who are convinced that wood greatly affects sound in a solid-body electric guitar, can't be wrong.

Go with your *ears*, not your *eyes*. NB This may take some practice, given the conditioning that most of us have received since we were young, and which is still being perpetuated by guitar companies' marketing departments and at music stores all over the world over the weekend when the salesman tells little Johnny's parents that he "must have the Gibson because it's better quality wood and sounds better".

My view. a guitar has to be comfortable to wear and play, with good ergonomics - more so for modern stuff, I don't mind fighting the neck a little bit, in the "right way", in a blues-rock context. The pickups have to sound open and flexible. Everything else is aesthetics.

PS I have some heavy guitars, so I'm a hypocrite, and my back pays the price... ;)
 

Mikhael

Member
Messages
3,903
Yeah, this is definitely beating a dead horse. Even though I KNOW that the body/neck makes a contribution to the sound (I've experimented with this specific issue; put a Strat pickup into a Les Paul, and it just sounded like a weak LP), others are absolutely convinced that the filtering of a string's vibration by what it's connected to doesn't affect the sound. Stick your ear on the body of a guitar while plucking it, and you'll definitely hear the note going through the body.

Essentially, the pickup doesn't "know"; it just amplifies what's there. The string gets filtered by what it's connected to. The wood vibrates sympathetically with the string, and where it resonates will change the overtones of the note played. That's what the pickup hears; the effect of the structure on the string's vibrations.

Some have built a guitar from concrete, just to maximize sustain, which it will; it's not filtering anything out. But the tone is overly bright, and not that pleasing, and most guitarists would not like the sound.
 

topperdoggle

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
583
Yeah, this is definitely beating a dead horse. Even though I KNOW that the body/neck makes a contribution to the sound (I've experimented with this specific issue; put a Strat pickup into a Les Paul, and it just sounded like a weak LP), others are absolutely convinced that the filtering of a string's vibration by what it's connected to doesn't affect the sound. Stick your ear on the body of a guitar while plucking it, and you'll definitely hear the note going through the body.

Essentially, the pickup doesn't "know"; it just amplifies what's there. The string gets filtered by what it's connected to. The wood vibrates sympathetically with the string, and where it resonates will change the overtones of the note played. That's what the pickup hears; the effect of the structure on the string's vibrations.

Some have built a guitar from concrete, just to maximize sustain, which it will; it's not filtering anything out. But the tone is overly bright, and not that pleasing, and most guitarists would not like the sound.

You might think you "know", but it's subjective at best. It wasn't a double-blind experiment, you *knew* you were still playing a Strat, so your confirmation bias kicked in. That's leaving out other variables like pickup height, string type and age, and differences in playing nuances due to the different feel of the guitar.

As for hearing the note going through the body, that's orthogonal to the point at hand - we're talking about amplified instruments i.e. a realistic use case - most people don't play their guitars with their ear on the wood. So the wood does vibrate sympathetically - the question is - does it make any tangible (observable) difference to the sound? What about in a mix or a room with a band playing? We don't hear music through a waveform analyzer.

I haven't yet met the person who can hear a guitar track and reliably point out what wood the guitar was made from. Humbuckers vs single-coils, every day of the week.
 
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kiki_90291

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,086
It's physics - the pickup is "detecting" the vibration of the string, which is in turn affected by the system that is suspending the string and allowing it to vibrate. so if the structure is very resonant (like a hollow body), it will have a more significant impact on the sound than if the structure is not very resonant (like a solid body). The resonance affects the harmonic content of the string (i.e., the balance of the various fundamentals at which the string vibrates), giving you the timbre of the instrument. This is why a cedar top acoustic sounds different from a spruce top acoustic. In a solid body guitar, this effect is going to be much smaller than other aspects of the guitar design (type of pickups, placement of pickups, type of bridge). Type of pickup and placement are probably the biggest contributors to the sound of a solid body guitar.
 

Papanate

Member
Messages
19,820
... which is essentially transmitting electrical current based on movement of wires and
magnets (relative to each other) "tell" if the wood body that it's attached to is solid, semi or hollow?

You are asking a question from a naive and un thought out perspective. IOWs you might
as well ask how a Microphone 'knows' what is in front of it when recording.

The pickups are essentially a very crude microphone (without a diaphragm).
If you understand the physics - understand what is happening when choosing
to transmit sounds in this manner - the science is good. The density and shape of
wood affects the sound of a guitar by the degrees of vibrations and very minor
reflections. It's not a particularly large variance - but enough to hear for most
people.

At the same time - the nuance of tone differentiation between guitars is not dramatic
nor as radical as some people want to believe. Stratocasters and Telecasters are pretty
similar - but not that close -that is until you put similar bridges on both - then the differences
are less noticeable. Same with the Les Paul experiment noted above - a single coil pickup
will have a weak LP sound - until you match the bridges. A Floyd Rose Stratocaster with
a Humbucker pickup does sound very similar to a Floyd Rose equipped Les Paul - with
the Stratocaster often sound a bit brighter than the Les Paul. However that can be attributed
how the neck is set and how the strings go through the body as well as the angle and ratio
of the strings to the top of the body.

I know from personal experience that bridges are often the major determinate in tone. I have
a Les Paul that I have a Nashville Bridge installed ( a wider tune-a-matic ). When I put a standard
tune-a-matic the tone is different - not as rich. It's noticeable - but I couldn't tell you the physics
of the change - I have no idea - except that I can definitely hear it. I've had friends play and
record with both bridges - and I can ID which one is on the guitar in a blind test.
 

Bob T.

Member
Messages
3,168
... I haven't yet met the person who can hear a guitar track and reliably point out what wood it was made from...

eric-johnson-960.jpg


:sarcasm
 

deytookerjaabs

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,554
Yep, a pickup is a transducer ya dingus, one that in a non-linear fashion reproduces partials beyond human hearing.

In short...it's really freakin' good a reacting to the slightest shifts in string behavior and timbre on an instrument.
 
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Guitarworks

Member
Messages
12,540
... which is essentially transmitting electrical current based on movement of wires and magnets (relative to each other) "tell" if the wood body that it's attached to is solid, semi or hollow?

It can't.

A pickup is not going to change any electromagnetic characteristic of itself based on the guitar's materials or construction. It doesn't "know" the species of wood the guitar is made of. It doesn't know when it's sitting inside a mahogany solidbody or an ash solidbody or an alder solidbody, or know what wood the fretboard is made of, and then "choose" to react differently. A pickup only knows what its magnetic flux is, and that it has to send 2 or 3 millivolts into the pots and caps, which also shape the sound you hear. The pickup doesn't know if a guitar is solid or semihollow. It will, however, detect changes in energy transference (how a string vibrates), which is affected by the construction type and neck joint type. Make sense?
 
M

Member 1963

The pickup doesn't "tell". It doesn't need to.

The string simply vibrates/sustains differently when attached to different woods/designs/scales.

Of course, those differences may be lost under loads of fuzz and all guitars just might sound the same through that fuzz.

Have fun :)
+1
 

topperdoggle

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
583
The pickup doesn't "tell". It doesn't need to.

The string simply vibrates/sustains differently when attached to different woods/designs/scales.

Of course, those differences may be lost under loads of fuzz and all guitars just might sound the same through that fuzz.

Have fun :)

Or, indeed, you might not need a lot, or any fuzz to tell the difference. It's amazing that some people think wood, bridge, etc, are so influential, but there isn't *one* scientifically relevant double-blind test proving it. It should be easy to tell the difference, with all the "scientific" explanations around here.
 

deytookerjaabs

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,554
Or, indeed, you might not need a lot, or any fuzz to tell the difference. It's amazing that some people think wood, bridge, etc, are so influential, but there isn't *one* scientifically relevant double-blind test proving it. It should be easy to tell the difference, with all the "scientific" explanations around here.


Thankfully, real scientists aren't busy pandering to morons on youtube, there's a ****load of free text out there on electromagnetic acoustic transducers and string theory/behavior if you're ever inclined to do some research. They exist in the real universe too, as far as we can tell.

Whether someone else can or can't hear the difference between a nylon or brass saddle isn't relevant here, fortunately science doesn't work on whether Cletus or Trevor can tell the difference.
 

swiveltung

Member
Messages
14,483
The pickup transmits the sound made by the string. The string sounds different if on a hollowbody or , as an extreme, plastic solid body etc... Think of it this way, would a banjo string sound different than a bass string thru a pickup?
 

topperdoggle

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
583
Thankfully, real scientists aren't busy pandering to morons on youtube, there's a ****load of free text out there on electromagnetic acoustic transducers and string theory/behavior if you're ever inclined to do some research. They exist in the real universe too, as far as we can tell.

Whether someone else can or can't hear the difference between a nylon or brass saddle isn't relevant here, fortunately science doesn't work on whether Cletus or Trevor can tell the difference.
My quotes were purposeful. Because actually, in this case, if the effect is so neglible that it can't be heard in a scientific double-blind test, then who cares? I mean, according to science everything has an influence on everything else. It's like saying that the fabric of one's clothing has some effect on tone. Technically, it does in some way affect the vibration? Can you hear it? Doubt it. Can you measure it? Probably not. What's the one true way to know? A simple double-blind experiment. Ain't *one* showing that different woods can reliably be told apart.
 

RayBarbeeMusic

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,346
IOWs you might
as well ask how a Microphone 'knows' what is in front of it when recording.

Yeah I mean, it's not attached to the singer's vocal cords in any way, nor even their body, therefore, anyone who says that singers don't all sound the same is just imagining it.
 




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