Prepared guitar

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A prepared guitar Myprepguitar.jpg
A prepared guitar

A prepared guitar is a guitar that has had its timbre altered by placing various objects on or between the instrument's strings, including other extended techniques. This practice is sometimes called tabletop guitar, because many prepared guitarists do not hold the instrument in the usual manner, but instead place the guitar on a table to manipulate it.


The idea of altering an instrument's timbre through the use of external objects has been applied to other instruments as well, most notably John Cage's prepared piano, which preceded the prepared guitar.


With prepared guitars, however, one of the key goals in preparing the instrument is changing its timbre – the fundamental tone composition of the sound. This is typically achieved by placing objects on or under the strings. The objects can have a tone of their own, like for instance a pen spring, but can also cause strange string resonance effects or behave like a seesaw and create echoing or buzzing effects after being struck and swinging like a balance. Many of the sounds sound more or less like clocks, bells or Non Western musical instruments or even non string percussion instruments.

Bjørn Fongaard

The history of Norwegian composer and guitar player Bjørn Fongaard (1919–1980) probably marks the first steps into prepared guitar. He started off by constructing a quarter tone guitar with adaption of the fretboard, but very early left this in favour of a diverse set of prepared guitar techniques. His first pieces in this genre came in the mid 1960s.

Keith Rowe

The method of actually preparing the guitar was developed in the late 1960s by Keith Rowe, in imitation of Jackson Pollock's painting method and John Cage's prepared piano. Rowe developed various prepared guitar techniques: placing the guitar flat on a table and manipulating the strings, body and pickups in unorthodox ways to produce sounds described as dark, brooding, compelling, expansive and alien. He has been known to employ objects such as a library card, rubber eraser, springs, hand-held electric fans, alligator clips, and common office supplies in playing the guitar.

Fred Frith

Another pioneer was Fred Frith who in 1974 released a solo album called Guitar Solos . The album comprises eight tracks of unaccompanied and improvised music played on prepared guitars by Frith. The album was recorded using a modified 1936 Gibson K-11. Frith added an extra pickup over the strings at the nut, enabling him to amplify sound from both sides of the fretted note. He then split the fretboard in two with a capo, effectively giving him two guitars, each amplified separately, that he could play independently with each hand. To split the sounds further he attached alligator clips at various positions on the strings. The net result was a guitar with multiple sound sources that could be channeled to a mixer and distributed across the stereo soundscape.

Other prepared guitarists

In the 1980s Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth and other experimental art rockers also utilized prepared guitars. Koka Nikoladze developed a preparation technique, which afterwards was named "Nikoladze" Preparation. In this case an acoustic guitar was prepared with a certain type of a light bulb and produced synthetic - alike sound. The beautiful demonstration of upper mentioned technique is the composition "Starshine ~" for violin, prepared guitar and percussion.

Other contemporary prepared guitar composers/performers include:

Custom made instruments

A Home Swinger, 3rd bridge zither Home swinger.jpg
A Home Swinger, 3rd bridge zither

Beginning in the 1970s, guitarist and luthier Hans Reichel made some unusual guitars with third bridge-like qualities.

Yuri Landman derived a just intoned musical scale from an initially considered atonal prepared guitar playing technique based on adding a 3rd bridge under the strings. He constructed an instrument called the Moodswinger with this scale. When this bridge is positioned in the noded positions of the harmonic series the volume of the instrument increases and the overtone becomes clear and has a consonant relation to the complementary opposed string part creating a harmonic multiphonic tone. [2]

See also

Prepared guitar luthiers

Notable prepared guitar players


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An nth characteristic mode, for n > 1, will have nodes that are not vibrating. For example, the 3rd characteristic mode will have nodes at L and L, where L is the length of the string. In fact, each nth characteristic mode, for n not a multiple of 3, will not have nodes at these points. These other characteristic modes will be vibrating at the positions L and L. If the player gently touches one of these positions, then these other characteristic modes will be suppressed. The tonal harmonics from these other characteristic modes will then also be suppressed. Consequently, the tonal harmonics from the nth characteristic modes, where n is a multiple of 3, will be made relatively more prominent.


An overtone is any frequency greater than the fundamental frequency of a sound. Using the model of Fourier analysis, the fundamental and the overtones together are called partials. Harmonics, or more precisely, harmonic partials, are partials whose frequencies are numerical integer multiples of the fundamental. These overlapping terms are variously used when discussing the acoustic behavior of musical instruments. The model of Fourier analysis provides for the inclusion of inharmonic partials, which are partials whose frequencies are not whole-number ratios of the fundamental.

String instrument Class of musical instruments with vibrating strings

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Mute (music) Device attached to musical instrument to change its sound

A mute is a device attached to a musical instrument which changes the instrument's tone quality (timbre) or lowers its volume. Mutes are commonly used on string and brass instruments, especially the trumpet and trombone, and are occasionally used on woodwinds. Their effect is mostly intended for artistic use, but they can also allow players to practice discreetly. Muting can also be done by hand, as in the case of palm muting a guitar or grasping a triangle to dampen its sound.

The fingerboard is an important component of most stringed instruments. It is a thin, long strip of material, usually wood, that is laminated to the front of the neck of an instrument. The strings run over the fingerboard, between the nut and bridge. To play the instrument, a musician presses strings down to the fingerboard to change the vibrating length, changing the pitch. This is called stopping the strings. Depending on the instrument and the style of music, the musician may pluck, strum or bow one or more strings with the hand that is not fretting the notes. On some instruments, notes can be sounded by the fretting hand alone, such as with hammer ons, an electric guitar technique.

Extended technique

In music, extended technique is unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional methods of singing or of playing musical instruments employed to obtain unusual sounds or timbres.


The cimbalom is a type of chordophone composed of a large, trapezoidal box with metal strings stretched across its top. It is a musical instrument commonly found in the group of Central-Eastern European nations and cultures, namely contemporary Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and in the traditional instrumental music of East European Jews throughout most of that territory. It is also popular in Greece and in Romani music. The cimbalom is (typically) played by striking two beaters against the strings. The steel treble strings are arranged in groups of 4 and are tuned in unison. The bass strings which are over-spun with copper, are arranged in groups of 3 and are also tuned in unison. The Hornbostel–Sachs musical instrument classification system registers the cimbalom with the number 314.122-4,5. Moreover, the instrument name “cimbalom” also denotes earlier, smaller versions of the cimbalom, and folk cimbaloms, of different tone groupings, string arrangements, and box types.

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The long-string instrument is a musical instrument in which the string is of such a length that the fundamental transverse wave is below what a person can hear as a tone (±20 Hz). If the tension and the length result in sounds with such a frequency, the tone becomes a beating frequency that ranges from a short reverb to longer echo sounds. Besides the beating frequency, the string also gives higher pitched natural overtones. Since the length is that long, this has an effect on the attack tone. The attack tone shoots through the string in a longitudinal wave and generates the typical science-fiction laser-gun sound as heard in Star Wars. The sound is also similar to that occurring in upper electricity cables for trains.

Experimental musical instrument

An experimental musical instrument is a musical instrument that modifies or extends an existing instrument or class of instruments, or defines or creates a new class of instrument. Some are created through simple modifications, such as cracked drum cymbals or metal objects inserted between piano strings in a prepared piano. Some experimental instruments are created from household items like a homemade mute for brass instruments such as bathtub plugs. Other experimental instruments are created from electronic spare parts, or by mixing acoustic instruments with electric components.

<i>Guitar Solos</i> 1974 studio album by Fred Frith

Guitar Solos is the debut solo album of English guitarist, composer, and improviser Fred Frith. It was recorded while Frith was still a member of the English experimental rock group Henry Cow and was released in the United Kingdom on LP record by Caroline Records in October 1974. The album comprises eight tracks of unaccompanied and improvised music played on prepared guitars by Frith without any overdubbing.

Yuri Landman

Yuri Landman is a Dutch inventor of musical instruments and musician who has made several experimental electric string instruments for a number of artists including Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Liars, Jad Fair of Half Japanese, Liam Finn, and Laura-Mary Carter. Besides his musical activities he is also a graphic novel artist.


The Moodswinger is a twelve-string electric zither with an additional third bridge designed by Yuri Landman. The rod which functions as the third bridge divides the strings into two sections to cause an overtone multiphonic sound. One of the copies of the instrument is part of the collection of the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

String resonance occurs on string instruments. Strings or parts of strings may resonate at their fundamental or overtone frequencies when other strings are sounded. For example, an A string at 440 Hz will cause an E string at 330 Hz to resonate, because they share an overtone of 1320 Hz.

Bradford Reed

Bradford Reed is an American multi-instrumentalist, experimental luthier, and member of the avant-garde band King Missile III. In the 1980s he invented the pencilina, a custom made string instrument.

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3rd bridge

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A third bridge can be devised by inserting a rigid preparation object between the strings and the body or neck of the instrument, effectively diving the string into distinct vibrating segments.

Springtime (guitar) experimental electric guitar created by Yuri Landman

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Experimental luthier

Experimental luthiers are luthiers who take part in alternative stringed instrument manufacturing or create original string instruments altogether.