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Learning the History Behind Your Strings

(NewsUSA) – It’s nearly every kid’s dream at some point in life — to someday become a music star just like the legends they watch and hear at concerts, on the radio and in music videos. But none of that is possible without a good understanding of the guitar.

Yes, understanding music theory and composition is vital, but just like any other profession in life, it’s also a good idea to be aware of the history surrounding the tools you use. What you may not realize about that Fender Strat you’re holding in your hands is that it is the descendant of a long line of science and trial and error from many generations of mechanical engineers and musicians.

The early beginnings of musical instruments that most resemble today’s guitar can be traced back to 4th-century Greece. Known as the “lute,” this instrument only had two strings — a far cry from today’s six-string Les Pauls and 12-string behemoths. Yet, it produced tones that people could arrange into melodies. Since then, the race to create the “perfect” guitar has been full throttle.

By 1000 A.D., forms of the guitar made their way to Europe. As more advancements were made throughout the 15th and 17th centuries, engineers began trying to increase the volume of guitars. They experimented with different shapes and sizes, sound holes and stringing techniques — such as the use of brass strings and equally tuned double strings. By the early 20th century, mechanical engineers developed wire-drawing technology, which allowed manufacturers to produce the steel strings that are used on most guitars today.

Even modern-day engineers, like Dr. Richard Schile, have tried to fine-tune the acoustic capabilities of the guitar by modifying the bracing. According to Schile, there is a fine line to creating a “perfect” guitar — especially when it comes to the acoustic variety.

“While … guitars, built with the application of engineering principles, are exceptional at producing clear, loud sound, they are somewhat unforgiving,” writes Schile in the article “Engineering a Better Guitar” in “Mechanical Engineering” magazine. “A performer must play these guitars with extreme discipline because the smallest mistakes can be heard.”

Guitar- and instrument-making represent only one area in which mechanical engineers are making contributions to better lives. Currently, engineers are also developing high-tech products particularly in the areas of energy, medical diagnostics and biotechnology. To learn more about how engineers are advancing technologies today, visit www.ASME.org. “Mechanical Engineering” is a publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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