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Pluck Out & Pick New String Materials for Your Guitar *

Difficulty
Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites You will need a guitar, a guitar tuner, and a personal computer with sound processing software, or the ability to run and execute signal-processing programs.
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Average ($50 - $100)
Safety No issues
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.

Abstract

Walk into any music store and you'll find a dizzying array of string choices for your classical guitar, including rectified nylon, clear nylon, carbon fluoride, bronze wound, phosphor bronze wound, silver-plated copper wire, Polytetra-flouro-ethylene (PTFE), each in a range of tensions from low to high. There is no single best brand or best material. All have their advantages and disadvantages. A set of strings that sounds "sparkling" on one guitar might sound dull on another, primarily because each guitar has its own individual soundboard, made of a special tonewood, which interacts with the vibrations from the strings in a unique way.

In this music science fair project, you will investigate the best guitar string material for your guitar. You will first need to read about the different materials, and then select three different types of strings, all of the same tension, to test. You will then to read about harmonics and overtones and the difference between them. A plucked string has an almost harmonic spectra, meaning that when you looked at its frequency spectrum or sound spectrum, you will see a series of peaks at approximate multiples of the fundamental frequency. For example, if you pluck an A-string with a fundamental frequency around 440 Hz, then you will see a series of peaks at approximate multiples of 440 Hz; that is, at 440, 880, 1320, and 1760 Hz, etc.

In your science fair project, you will first need to decide which open string to test. You can choose any string you want, but the G-string, third from the bottom or fourth from the top, is a unique case. This string is notorious for being difficult to tune and get good intonation from on a guitar. Many researchers have found that the newer carbon materials have been an improvement for the G-string. This might be something you want to investigate. Whatever string you choose, you will first need to put a test string on your guitar in the proper placement for that string, tune it with a guitar tuner, and then make open-string recordings (pluck the string several times without putting any fingers down on the finger board). You can then process your sound recordings using any free or commercial piece of sound editing software that has a spectrum analyzer. The Bibliography provides open-source software, which has a "spectrogram mode" for visualizing frequencies, and a "plot spectrum" command for detailed frequency analysis.

As you pluck the open strings, note how each string sounds to you in your lab notebook: Is it pure? Rich? Warm? Crisp? Which sound did you like best on your guitar? Then go back and compare the spectra of the different strings to see which have the most or strongest overtones and which are the most pure.

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Pluck Out & Pick New String Materials for Your Guitar" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Music_p021.shtml?from=Blog>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 10). Pluck Out & Pick New String Materials for Your Guitar. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Music_p021.shtml?from=Blog

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Last edit date: 2014-10-10

Bibliography

This source describes the different types and properties of classical guitar strings:

This source describes the benefits of new materials in classical guitar strings:

This source gives a general overview of classical guitar strings:

This source discusses the difference between harmonics and overtones:

This source describes what a fundamental frequency and its harmonics are:

This source describes the physics of plucked strings:

This link provides free, "open-source" software with the capability for sound editing and frequency-spectrum analysis:

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

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