Date of Award


First Advisor

Michael Bergman

Second Advisor

John Myers


The strings of an electric guitar have a large impact on both how the instrument sounds and how it plays, and various sizes, windings, coatings, and core materials are available 1. The effect of these properties on timbre is difficult to predict due to the complex behavior of the magnetic pickups 2, so our understanding is largely limited to subjective perceptions; this thesis describes an experiment to quantitatively compare some of the timbral characteristics of common string materials, specifically those relating to their harmonic spectra. Brief introductions to the history and physics of the electric guitar are also given here. Steel, nickel-plated steel, pure nickel, and cobalt string sets made by Ernie Ball were tested, as well as a nickel-plated steel set made by Elixir with their protective Optiwound coating. These were strung on a simplified guitar apparatus with the pickup output directly recorded by an oscilloscope. The spectra suggest that coated strings have the low-frequency focused sound which subjective descriptions usually imply 3 4, but other distinctions between materials remain unclear and require further study. This study does not investigate formants or the change in the spectral envelope with time, and so further investigation in those areas seems most promising.

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