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PLoS One. 2014 Jul 23;9(7):e102088. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102088. eCollection 2014.

String theory--the physics of string-bending and other electric guitar techniques.

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School of Physical Sciences, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland; University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.


Electric guitar playing is ubiquitous in practically all modern music genres. In the hands of an experienced player, electric guitars can sound as expressive and distinct as a human voice. Unlike other more quantised instruments where pitch is a discrete function, guitarists can incorporate micro-tonality and, as a result, vibrato and sting-bending are idiosyncratic hallmarks of a player. Similarly, a wide variety of techniques unique to the electric guitar have emerged. While the mechano-acoustics of stringed instruments and vibrating strings are well studied, there has been comparatively little work dedicated to the underlying physics of unique electric guitar techniques and strings, nor the mechanical factors influencing vibrato, string-bending, fretting force and whammy-bar dynamics. In this work, models for these processes are derived and the implications for guitar and string design discussed. The string-bending model is experimentally validated using a variety of strings and vibrato dynamics are simulated. The implications of these findings on the configuration and design of guitars is also discussed.

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