Monday, 28 February 2011

#1.2: The Life of Strings

It's now been a week since the first post and about 11 hours of playing. Let's start with an investigation into last week's unexpectedly bright E strings, and then look at the sustain and brightness values for this week.

Was the brightness of E strings last week natural, or was something weird happening during the recording? Take a look at the plots below: these graphs show the brightness when the string is plucked in different locations: over the bridge pickup, the neck pickup, and halfway between the two pickups. The small dots represent different plucks and the bar is the average.

The first thing we notice is that location makes a huge (and quite audible) difference to brightness. The closer to the bridge, the brighter the tone. So, we’re going to need to pluck the strings in the exact same place each week to keep things consistent.

Using a finger instead of a pick, we may be able to reduce the effect of plucking location on brightness. The graphs below show brightness when a finger (the fleshy bit) is used instead of a pick.

Now there's much more consistency between positions! This is good, as it'll make our week-to-week comparisons more accurate—they won't be thrown off by small differences in where the strings are plucked.

Because of what we saw above, our methods this week have been revised: 1) strings will be plucked roughly halfway between pickups, and 2) we’ll use a finger instead of a pick (the fleshy part, not the nail). Here are this week's results:

Sustain values are similar to last week's: thicker strings ring longer. We won't do a proper week-to-week comparison just yet, as any differences we'd see would likely be due to the new methods, not string aging.

Now let's look at the brightness. Switching from a pick to a finger is likely the biggest contributor to the changes this week. We can see from these plots, and from those above, that picks give brighter tone than fingers. The E string brightness isn't as wild as last week, so our investigation paid off!

What's on tap for next week? First, we'll have two weeks of sustain and brightness values recorded with a finger—that'll let us start comparing results over time. Also, inspired by the pick vs. finger comparison above, we'll aim to answer the question: "besides the volume, how does hard and soft playing sound different?"

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