Physics of Sound

The Hotchkiss School
Session 2: July 17 - 31
COST: $3,700

This combination physics course and hands-on guitar building course will teach students the physics of the guitar; vibrations and waves, resonance, electromagnetism, and electric circuits through experiment, and apply that knowledge to design and build a high quality electric guitar and battery-powered amplifier. No musical experience is required!

The physics we learn will be guided by these basic questions:

  • How can we make sound? Students will study how to create sound waves, how they propagate, and how they are perceived by the human ear.
  • How do we get different notes? Students will do experiments with waves on strings to find a relationship between string density, tension, string length and frequency.
  • How do we turn a vibrating string into an electrical signal? Here we will turn to Faraday’s Law of electromagnetic induction to design and build a device to electrify the guitar.
  • How can we make it louder? An understanding of resistors, capacitors, and transistors will allow us to build circuits that shape and amplify the guitar’s output signal.

As these questions are answered, students will design a guitar body shape and headstock shape, calculate fret positions and install frets in the fingerboard, design and build the guitar electronics, and design and build a small battery-powered amplifier, with lots and lots of woodworking in between.