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How My New Amplifying Pick Works

Posted by yellowdog on Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Musicians of fretted stringed instruments know that picks set the strings in motion along with other necessary things such as establishing rhythms.  But picks do something else which you probably never thought about and which is necessary to understand how "Pick-Amp", (which I've named my pick), increases volume and improves sound quality.  (You can see a color scan of "Pick-Amp" plus front, rear and edge view drawings in the "Photos" section of this homepage.  Just click the "Photos" button over the picture on the left.)

We musicians usually say that the moving strings "vibrate" and that the frequency of their vibrations determines the pitch, or note, of the sound made by the instrument.  True, except that the vibrations are actually sound surface waves which move along the strings.  Because their energy exceeds the stiffness of the strings, the waves move the entire strings.  You can actually see the outside traces of the paths of some of them by looking from the side of the moving strings.  

The waves which fit best between the bridge and the nut are called "fundamentals" and their frequencies are called "fundamental frequencies".  Multiples of the fundamental frequency (2x, 3x, etc.) also fit well in the distance and are called "harmonics".   Harmonics are important to musical instruments because their strong presence is essential to achieve high quality ("beautiful") musical sound.  

When the waves reflect backward onto themselves at the nut (or fingered fret) and the bridge not all of their energy is reflected. A significant amount of this energy, in the form of surface waves, travels over the nut and the bridge and travels onto everything touching those things, even the musician.  If these surface waves from the strings travel onto everything they touch, then surely they flow onto the pick.

The fact that the string(s) surface waves flow onto the pick represents a huge opportunity.  If the waves can be amplified, including their harmonics which are so important to musical sound quality, the amplified waves could be sent to both sides of the pick so that they would be transferred back to the strings and improve the mix of waves on the strings.  This would improve both the volume and quality of the sound of the instrument when the instrument converted these inaudible waves into air pressure waves of audible sound.

Fortunately, amplification of surface waves is easy.  In fact, they amplify automatically when they meet other surface waves having the same or a similar frequency coming from different directions - even by their own reflections.  Physicists and engineers call this principle of nature, "constructive interference".

A significant potential problem in achieving good sound quality is that high frequency waves, like harmonics, can be easily distorted or even canceled when they meet similar waves that are "out of phase" in time, meaning that one of the waves has been delayed in time more than the other.  "Pick-Amp" solves this problem by minimizing distances traveled by the waves, minimizing available looping travel paths over which the waves can travel multiple times, and using only materials (steel and celluloid) over which surface waves travel very fast.  Luckily, the very small size of a guitar pick makes it a perfect place to not only amplify high frequency sound surface waves but also improve sound quality after the waves are converted to audible sound.

If you look at the drawings you will see that the bottom curved edges are the same as any other standard (style 351) guitar pick.  When this section of the pick touches the strings surface waves flow around these edges up the sides of the pick.  These waves on the edges can be thought of as the ends of waves traveling over the interior surface up toward the top of the pick.  The top edges of the pick are designed to reflect sound surface waves to the modified staple.  The waves on the pick's surface enter the staple easiest where the edges of the surface intersect the staple, or where an edge of the staple is in contact with the surface of the pick.  Two little noticed interior edges of the celluloid surface on the back of the pick, (the away side which first touches the string) are at the edges of the holes.  These edges touch the staple on both sides of the pick.  Once on the staple the waves at these two points travel toward each other and so amplify.  The waves, including those just amplified on the staple, also travel to the other (front) side of the pick where the edge at the end of the "hump" in the staple touches the celluloid.  The other end of the staple away from the "hump" is flat relative to the surface of the pick.  This is to minimize wave transfer to the celluloid from this end of the staple, which makes this end of the staple amplify in he manner of a cantilever, by reflections of waves arriving at its end backward onto oncoming waves.  This approach speeds wave amplification and minimizes looped paths which degrade sound quality.

It is emphasized that the goal of Pick-Amp is not to create sound directly but to to quickly cover both sides of the pick with amplified and quality improved sound surface waves, so that these will be picked up by the strings when the pick touches the strings.  Once on the strings these improved sound surface waves mix with waves already on the strings to improve the total mix of surface waves on the string, which the instrument converts to loud, high quality, (pleasing), sound.

A great thing about Pick-Amp is that, whatever the selling price will be, (it hasn't been determined yet), the value of the improved sound will be far in excess of the selling price of the pick which has a very low material cost.  The selling price is certain to come down as production efficiencies reduce the cost of production.

Another good thing about this pick is that anyone so inclined can make one, even considering its patent pending status.  I hope that you try making one because you will experience some of the same pleasure that I did when I made the first one.

Best wishes and happy "picking", 

Frank Geiger, Inventor



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