String (Displacement) Theory, and Some Real and Hypothetical FAQ’s

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When you pick a string, how much does it move? Chances are, much more than necessary.

Advancements in technology allow us to do more with less. Whether measuring things formerly reckoned “too small” to the billionth of a meter, or viewing more clearly a star whose light had been formerly considered “too faint”, we are constantly reminded that perhaps it might be more accurate to instead call our outdated instruments “too primitive”.

Guitar pickups, whether magnetic or piezo, are highly sensitive instruments. Many seem to despise this fact, but I prefer to make utmost use of this sensitivity! No touch is “too light” for a pickup. LESS is MORE. Much of the beauty of the electric guitar, and amplification generally, is that one can achieve a limitless range of output from an infinitesimal amount of input. This opens up a can of worms.

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One may find themselves asking, “How gently can I perturb this string and still get a good sound out of it?” The answer you come up with is what can be called your minimum picking force. When one lowers their minimum picking force, they can therefore also decrease their maximum picking force  while still maintaining the same dynamic range. Lowering the maximum picking force allows one to pick more lightly in general, and lower their action, helping both hands.

Now someone, feeling their sweet new lower action might be tempted to go lower, thinking to themselves “Do I really need such a huge dynamic range?”

But of course, we do, right? We want to be able to be as quiet as we want, and as loud as we want, at any given moment.

But still, it would be so nice to lower the action a bit! It looks as if you must choose between dynamics and low action. Alas, what a cruel fate for us guitarists, like parents forced to choose a favorite child. But wait! What about the minimum picking force? Are you really picking your lightest? Turn the volume up a little. Now, pick until it is as quiet as it was before. Repeat ad nauseum, and possibly ad infinitum.

There’s your new minimum, and hence a new maximum, and thus a lower action, and easier playing  for both hands. Taking this to it’s extreme, one may reach the conclusion that the control over these parameters is worth a more proper technical gander, see how easy it all could be, and then go on to realize they need a slightly curved and ideally frictionless fixture with which to regulate pick height. I’m pretty sure about this, y’all. I may not be the smartest or coolest, but I am surely too smart and too cool to be making websites based on falsities and fallacies.

I was tired of tendonitis and carpal tunnel and tension, and I was tired of getting tired. Now those issues are a thing of the past.

Look, I even drilled holes in my last guitar because I was so sure it was necessary, and hadn’t yet thought of suction cups.

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And when I knew it had to move, I did it again! And then, when I got a guitar that was three times as expensive, I thought of suction cups!

 

I submit to you that you are working much too hard for a result that would be much more easily achievable if you would allow the pickups and amp to diminish your workload to the utmost extent.

The whole point of electric amplification is to turn vibrations of a low amplitude into ones with much higher amplitude, yet many seem unaware of the extent to which this can be achieved. You can “play” with your breath if you turn it up enough. So turn it up, and turn your playing down. Some unspoken rule seems to have pervaded the guitar realm, mandating that one must use brute strength to achieve the desired “attack”, but I believe the most skillful attacks use the least violence.

Treat your guitar like a lady. Does she like to be spanked here and there? More than likely, yes. Is spanking all she wants? Far from it. So, try a little tenderness.

And always give her the front seat!
And always give her the front seat!

I have met a couple of adherents to this attack dogma, and no doubt shall encounter many more, and for those lost souls to whom I so dearly hope to be a guide, I have two words. String displacement. The harder one plucks a string, the more one will cause it to wobble back and forth. So, now I have two more words. MOVING TARGET.

In addition, hard picking means hard squeezing of the pick to keep it secure. So, instead of keeping it simple this implements senseless and immense dimensions of intensive tension whose apprehension and retention I’m sensin’ were not your intention and I found it so unmentionable as to be worth a mention.

If you disagree, but can’t rhyme better in your disagreement you automatically lose.

Lastly, PLEASE keep in mind that electromagnetic pickups DO NOT AMPLIFY SOUND.

They sense electromagnetic fluctuations between your strings and their magnets and turn it into an audible signal, which is then amplified and/or distorted and/or manipulated in some way. It should be ones main concern therefore, not what sort of sound your strings are making, but what they are doing to electrons in the immediate vicinity, what those electrons are telling your hardware, and whether the resulting translation is satisfactory. This knowledge and awareness is necessary for the essential distinction of acoustic and electric guitars, between which many principles are not interchangeable, so that you do not misapply those from the former to the latter. The acoustic guitar’s resonance chamber IS the amplifier. Therefore, much more forceful picking is necessary to yield even a gentle sound from an acoustic than an electric would require to deafen you. The picking of an electric guitar string needn’t even be audible to the human ear nor visible to the human eye to be made loud and clear.

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