A Simple Way To Analyze Guitar Pickups

To the uninitiated an electric guitar seems fairly simple: you pluck a string and the electronics send the corresponding audio signal on the 6.3 mm jack output, all ready for for the amplifier to work its magic. Much of what makes a guitar like that sound good depends on the pickups, however. These are the devices which are placed between the guitar body and the strings. Depending on the guitar there can be one, two, or more of them, of varying types and configurations.

As a Gibson fan who upon getting introduced to a Fender Telecaster just had to replace its pickups with humbucking types, [Ken Willmott] found himself thrown into the wonderful world of pickup design and characterization. After two years of working through a number of designs and approaches, he eventually settled on a preamplifier design featuring a JFET opamp (LT1058) on a custom PCB which amplifies the pickup response from a test signal, acting as a front end signal conditioner.

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Building Your Own Guitar Pickup From Scrap

Pickups are a key part of an electric guitar’s sound. You can spend a king’s ransom on tracking down just the right Vintage American Original 1950s Whatevers (TM) to put in your Spudocaster, but it’s not the only way. [Keith Decent] decided to make a pickup from scratch, using only materials found lying around the workshop. (Youtube, embedded below).

To build a pickup, you’ll want some magnet wire. In this case, [Keith] harvests this from an old transformer. A pickup body is then constructed from an old wooden ruler and some machine screws. A drill is used to spin the pickup body while the wire is roughly wound on, and everything is then held together with lashings of hot glue.

It’s a grungy build with a very Mad Max vibe – with the perfect aesthetic to suit [Keith]’s junkbox guitar build. The sound is good, but difficult to rate accurately when used on a guitar with slightly imperfect intonation. We’d love to hear it installed on a well-tuned body to get a better comparison.

It goes to show you don’t need to spend money on new parts and tools to get a build started. Sometimes you can make something perfectly functional with stuff you have lying around at home. Video after the break.

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Talk Like A Game Boy, Sting Like A Beep

Have you ever listened to a song and wondered how they created the robotic-sounding vocals? There’s a huge variety of ways to do so. [scythe1005] decided to take their inspiration from rock history, creating a Game Boy powered talkbox (Japanese, Google Translate recommended for those that don’t speak the language).

Human speech is generated when vibrations from the vocal chords are shaped into intelligible sounds by the motion of the mouth, tongue, and other body parts known as “articulators”. A talkbox creates robotic speech sounds by using the articulators while replacing the vibrations from the vocal chords with alternative source.

A talkbox is a device most typically used with the electric guitar. The signal from the electric guitar is amplified and played through a speaker or transducer connected to a tube that is placed in the user’s mouth. The user then proceeds to mouth the desired words they wish to say, with the vibrations provided by the guitar’s signal instead of the vocal chords. A popular example of this is Peter Frampton’s use of the talkbox in Do You Feel Like We Do.

[scythe1005] used the same basic bones in their design, using a Game Boy to feed sound into a basic audio amplifier kit and a transducer connected to a tube. This gives a very 1980s synth sound to the vocals. It’s a simple build in concept but one we haven’t seen a whole lot of before. Using off-the-shelf modules, you could build something similar in a weekend. Also featured in the video is an ArduinoBoy — a useful way of controlling a Game Boy over MIDI. It’s used here to interface the keyboard to the handheld console. Video below the break.

As we’ve seen before, the Game Boy is an incredibly popular platform for music — chiptune artists regularly modify the device for better sound.

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Rocking An Acoustic Guitar By Making It Electric

Brothers [Armand] and [Victor] took their acoustic guitar to the next level, making their own pickups to turn it into an electric guitar. The result is that awesome electric guitar sound.

The pickups are homemade magnetic pickups. Each string has a steel bolt behind it with three ceramic magnets on each bolt. A coil is also wrapped around all the pickups. That coil is what’s connected to the wires going to the amplifier. When a string vibrates, it changes the magnetic field in the pickup which induces a current in the coil and that is then sent on to the amplifier to be altered as desired and turned back into sound. Of course that meant the guys had to replace their nylon strings for steel ones.

With just the volume amplified the sound isn’t very different but when the amplifier’s gain is turned up and the volume turned down the sound is undoubtedly electric. As you can hear in the video below, Johnny B. Goode, Paint it Black and Satisfaction take their acoustic guitar’s sound to a whole new level.

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Gitaar Van Schroot – The Scrap Metal Guitar

Sheet metal. Beer cans. Pieces of chain. Not items you’ll typically find on the BOM for a custom guitar. But nobody told [Maarten van Halderen] that, and so he threw them all together into a gitaar van schroot, or scrap guitar for the Dutch impaired (YouTube link).

The video shows the build process, starting with plasma cutting and welding sheet steel for the body. The neck is fabricated from rectangular steel tube, with nails serving as frets. Overall it looks like a Les Paul, except for the sink strainer basket mounted in the sound hole and the crushed beer and soda cans tacked to the body for decoration. The chains are a nice touch too. And this doesn’t appear to be [Maarten]’s first attempt at scrapyard lutherie  – toward the end of the video we see that the beer can axe joins a very steam-punk looking older brother. They’re both good-looking builds, and the video after the break proves they can sound pretty good too.

For a more classical take on the building of string instruments, check out this post on mandolins and violas. Or maybe you can just 3D print your next guitar?

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Wait, THAT’S An Electric Guitar?

Mechatronic Guitar

What you’re looking at above is a six-stringed mechatronic slide guitar, where each string and associated servos is assigned its own MIDI channel.

It’s a project [Jim Murphy] has been working on for a while now, and technically, it’s the second iteration — he’s calling it the Swivel 2. The original Swivel was more of a proof of concept, using bulky stepper motors and solenoids — in this one he’s upgraded to hobby style servos, using four per string. One to change the pitch, one to clamp the pitch shifter, and two to pick and dampen the strings.

He’s designed the PCB control boards himself utilizing an Arduino bootloader-equipped ATMEGA328, which takes in the MIDI signal from a computer and moves the servos accordingly — to produce the audio signals he’s been using Ableton Live to write the patterns.

The entire setup was designed in 3D CAD and is designed to be completely modular. He’s even made the guitar pickups himself using 3D printed spools, and hand wrapping the coils with copper enamel wire. Lend an ear after the break to hear it in action.

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3D Printed Guitar

We’re not sure how we missed this one, but it definitely deserves a look. Professor of Mechtronics [Olaf Diegel’s] 3D printer must go to 12, because he’s printed these incredible electric guitar bodies. You probably won’t be making your own on your filament printer, however, because [Diegel] uses SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) to create the body out of nylon, then he dyes the resulting piece in a two-step process. You can read more about the construction specifics on his website.

And, they’re more than just eye-candy: the guitars sound brilliantly metallic. There are more than enough pictures and videos to keep you occupied on the site, where you can sift through all eight designs to your heart’s content. You’ll want to keep reading for a couple of videos embedded after the break, which feature some demonstrations of the guitar and comparisons to traditional electric guitars, as well as a brief history of its construction and build process.

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