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A separate speaker for every string of your guitar? A PA for every drum?

An RP visitor suggests that each string of an electric guitar could be amplified separately. David Mellor says YES!!

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Comment from an Audio Masterclass visitor: "How bout separate speakers for every string that's played on stage, around the room. Sure love lugging all THAT gear around."

Cheers, DC

David Mellor responds...

This comment is in reply to a feature on on PA where I considered a return to Quadraphonics in live sound where there is a loudspeaker stack in all four corners of the auditorium.

My response to the idea of a separate speaker for each string of the guitar?

I love it!!

Really, this is what sound engineering is all about (or at least used to be) - it's about trying new ideas, coming up with novel sounds that will amaze listeners. And when listeners get bored with a certain sound, move on and try something new.

But sadly, sound engineering - and music - have become very unadventurous in recent years. Sound engineers now seek efficiency. They want compact, lightweight systems that are easy to handle and set up. They don't want enormous loudspeakers that sound great, they want tiddly little ones that sound terrible but you can lift with one hand.

So to many of today's sound engineers, the idea of going to all the trouble of setting up a system that could amplify separately each string of a guitar would be a total no-fly zone.

But suppose there is someone out there who is adventurous enough to try it. How would it be done?

Well for starters, the guitar would have to be equipped with a pick-up that could detect each string individually. Conventional pickups have six magnetic pole pieces, but the coil is common to all. Six individual coils would be required. Oddly enough, MIDI guitar pick-ups have this feature since they need to isolate and detect the note played on each individual string. Perhaps one could be hacked and signals fed to a six-pole (plus screen) connector mounted on the guitar. There are such things as 6-pole XLR's that might be suitable.

The rest is easy... six amplifiers and six cabinets. Or six amplifiers, six cabinets and a six channel PA system.

The result would be at the very least interesting. And there could be further development in selecting exactly the right amp and cab for each string.

And the final touch is that whatever it sounds like, it would be a sound that would be totally unreproduceable in a recording, unless a similar system was set up.

So instead of the oh-so-boring idea of a PA system being just a big stereo, it could be an amazing experience that is unique for each event, and a sound that the audience could hear nowhere else. And that's with just one of the guitars amplified in this way. How about the drums too?

Or shall we just stay efficient but boring?

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By David Mellor Wednesday September 14, 2005
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