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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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
A harmonic is a wave with a frequency that is a positive integer multiple of the fundamental frequency, the frequency of the original periodic signal, such as a sinusoidal wave. The original signal is also called the 1st harmonic, the other harmonics are known as higher harmonics. As all harmonics are periodic at the fundamental frequency, the sum of harmonics is also periodic at that frequency. The set of harmonics forms a harmonic series.
An overtone is any harmonic with frequency greater than the fundamental frequency of a sound. In other words, overtones are all pitches higher than the lowest pitch within an individual sound; the fundamental is the lowest pitch. While the fundamental is usually heard most prominently, overtones are actually present in any pitch except a true sine wave. The relative volume or amplitude of various overtone partials is one of the key identifying features of timbre, or the individual characteristic of a sound.
String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.
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.
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.
An electric violin is a violin equipped with an electronic output of its sound. The term most properly refers to an instrument intentionally made to be electrified with built-in pickups, usually with a solid body. It can also refer to a violin fitted with an electric pickup of some type, although "amplified violin" or "electro-acoustic violin" are more accurate in that case.
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.
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.
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.
Violin acoustics is an area of study within musical acoustics concerned with how the sound of a violin is created as the result of interactions between its many parts. These acoustic qualities are similar to those of other members of the violin family, such as the viola.
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.
Playing a string harmonic is a string instrument technique that uses the nodes of natural harmonics of a musical string to isolate overtones. Playing string harmonics produces high pitched tones, often compared in timbre to a whistle or flute. Overtones can be isolated "by lightly touching the string with the finger instead of pressing it down" against the fingerboard.
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.
Sympathetic resonance or sympathetic vibration is a harmonic phenomenon wherein a passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness. The classic example is demonstrated with two similarly-tuned tuning forks. When one fork is struck and held near the other, vibrations are induced in the unstruck fork, even though there is no physical contact between them. In similar fashion, strings will respond to the vibrations of a tuning fork when sufficient harmonic relations exist between them. The effect is most noticeable when the two bodies are tuned in unison or an octave apart, as there is the greatest similarity in vibrational frequency. Sympathetic resonance is an example of injection locking occurring between coupled oscillators, in this case coupled through vibrating air. In musical instruments, sympathetic resonance can produce both desirable and undesirable effects.
String instruments are capable of producing a variety of extended technique sounds. These alternative playing techniques have been used extensively since the 20th century. Particularly famous examples of string instrument extended technique can be found in the music of Krzysztof Penderecki, Witold Lutosławski, George Crumb, and Helmut Lachenmann.
The 3rd bridge is an extended playing technique used on the electric guitar and other string instruments that allows a musician to produce distinctive timbres and overtones that are unavailable on a conventional string instrument with two bridges. The timbre created with this technique is close to that of gamelan instruments like the bonang and similar Indonesian types of pitched gongs.
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.
The Springtime is an experimental electric guitar with seven strings and three outputs. The instrument was created in 2008 by Dutch luthier Yuri Landman for guitar player Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes.
Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:
Experimental luthiers are luthiers who take part in alternative stringed instrument manufacturing or create original string instruments altogether.
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