Fun Fact Friday: Electric Guitars

Ever wonder what makes an electric guitar electric?

Acoustic (traditional) guitars are usually larger and thicker than electric guitars, but this isn’t for aesthetic reasons. The large body of the acoustic guitar works as a reverberation chamber, amplifying the vibration of the strings through the large sound hole on the front.

Electric guitars are often made of solid wood (though some have chambers and sound holes as well) because their sound is not dependent on the reverberation of the guitar’s body to be heard. That’s where the electric part comes in!

These guitars have one or more devices installed under the strings, called pickups. A pickup is an electromagnetic transducer. It picks up the vibration of the guitar’s steel strings, and converts it from physical energy to electrical energy.

Now that the vibrations have become an electrical signal, they are routed through the guitar’s volume and tone knobs to the output jack, on the bottom edge of the guitar. A cable is plugged in that carries the signal to a device called an amplifier (or a PA system). The signal is then passed through another set of volume and tone controls, and is then converted back into physical energy by the amplifier’s speaker, which itself vibrates, recreating the sound of the strings, with varying degrees of tonal color added by the characteristics of the pickups, as well as the settings of the tone controls.

The tonal color added by the amplification process is what gives the electric guitar’s sound its personality, which can be shaped in innumerable ways to fit the player’s taste. This is what makes the electric guitar a unique instrument, rather than simply being a louder version of the acoustic guitar.

Want to learn more about electric guitars? Check out Electric Guitars: Part One from How it’s Made, on Discovery Education Streaming.

You see even more about guitars here!

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