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Curious about "piano like" tone. What causes it?

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by ladave, May 2, 2019.

  1. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Doctor of Teleocity

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    Big "UP" on Junior! ;)
     
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  2. kbold

    kbold Tele-Afflicted

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    I think the strings have a great impact on this.
    Some strings have it, others don't.
     
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  3. Piggy Stu

    Piggy Stu Friend of Leo's

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    Let us know when you get a solidbody hollowbody and semi hollowbody with them in

    Casino and 56 lp good start. SG junior was my third
     
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  4. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Friend of Leo's

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    Some people are saying that treble response does it, that's only part of it, because a really bright pickup, like a TV Classic or a Fender CS 69 doesn't sound quite as "piano like" as some pickups. The treble has to be cut off as a particular point in order to dull some of the pick attack. One important thing that makes a piano sound like a piano are the felt hammers that strike the strings, they're a lot softer than a plastic guitar pick. When you first pluck the strings, there is a spike in the harmonics, which means lots of treble is being produced. In order to fake the soft attack of a piano's felt hammers, the resonant peak has to be a bit lower to muffle the pick attack, or transient, slightly. On the other hand, if the resonant peak is too low, it will take away too much harmonic content, and it won't sound piano-like for that reason, so there is a operational range within which a pickup will sound "piano like".

    Another factor seems to be that pickups positioned close towards the center of the string, necks pickups, sound more piano like than the pickups that are closer to the bridge, and that must have to do with there being a stronger fundamental, and second harmonic, with a sharper drop off beyond, resulting in a timbre that is reminiscent of a piano. Some guitar designs feature neck pickups that are further towards the center than others.

    Notice that the piano has strong 1st and 2nd harmonics:

    upload_2019-5-2_18-51-24.png



    Notice how the neck pickup also emphasizes the 1st and 2nd:


    [​IMG]
     
  5. RoscoeElegante

    RoscoeElegante Friend of Leo's

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    That's really interesting, and my anecdotal "facts" can't much argue with science. Even so, many people do hear piano-like tones generated when the bridge pickup is used rather than the neck. So I'm wondering if what we're hearing as "piano" is the same for all of us. To me, "piano-like" is pretty hard, pretty sudden, pretty sharp, with a lot of clear bass that has relatively long sustain, and some harmonics blooming or becoming evident late into the note's decay. I guess others hear "piano-like" differently. Some of what we think of as "piano" itself must factor in this. I'm most familiar with uprights, and old ones at that, with a tack-hammery shrillness, compared to sweeter-sounding, newer but nicely broken in grand pianos. Maybe if I were more steeped in grand piano tones, the hardness of bridge pickup notes wouldn't sound as piano-ish to me.

    Anyway, what an interesting thread. I love this stuff! (Especially when I'm supposed to be grading papers.)
     
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  6. Random1643

    Random1643 Tele-Afflicted

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    A few thoughts:
    • Like some others I generally associate Piano-Like-Tone on guitar with great, unaffordable (to me) acoustic guitars. Bruce Petros, a luthier in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, USA, for example. builds guitars with big volume, fullness, balance, clarity, and a structured presence - if that makes sense. For a while I had a Martin 000 and Bruce @ 50 or so miles was the closest Martin Tech to my house. He'd work on my Martin and encourage me to play some of the his amazing instruments. Just wow. I for sure don't know enough about guitar design and construction to say what causes the tone.
    • I started out on keyboards and always felt that a keyboard - acoustic or electric - provided good support, a solid foundation for my voice.
    • Electric. Altho I'm probably in a rest-of-my-life project to get exactly the sound I want, the Bill Lawrence/Wilde L-90s I used to mod my Gretsch G5620-TCB* get at some of these same tonal qualities = fullness, balance, amazing clarity, presence. The L-90s are dual-rail Alnico 5 humbuckers. The bridge p/u is a late-70s BL L-90XL @ 8H. The 2.8H neck p/u was built on order in 2018 by Wilde Pickups and is surprisingly a perfect tonal match for the late-70s p/u. Certainly, there other factors beyond the pickups, but >to my ear< both bridge and neck pickups play a role.
    *This Lawrence/Gretsch mod was developed on another TDPRI thread with awesome suggestions from folks on this forum. I am very grateful.
     
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  7. Treadplatedual

    Treadplatedual Tele-Holic

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    Bottom is always in terms of pitch when I think about guitars. Up one fret, up one string, always higher pitch, helps me avoid said confusion :)
     
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  8. aerhed

    aerhed Friend of Leo's

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    I've seen those Petros guitars. They really are something huh?
     
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  9. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    The low E rather than the high E. There's several factors, one being rigidity (wound strings are less rigid), with another being the range of harmonic representation the frequency-limited guitar amp/speaker setup can bring. The high E is tuned to 329.63 Hz, so the 20th harmonic will be 6592.6 Hz, meaning that it is sometimes but infrequently reproduced well, and takes a lot of effort to get the string, bridge, pickup, cable, amp and speaker to bring it out. Conversely, the low E (82.41 Hz) will always have it's 20th harmonic reproduced (1648.2 Hz), and will pretty easily have content around the 50th harmonic reproduced (4120.5 Hz) by a good vintage Fender-style pickup and clean amp.

    It's easy to see how the amp will produce more of the low E's harmonic range, but it's also true that the string's more active into a considerably higher frequency range. I've confirmed this by making recordings through a two way speaker system (horn-loaded compression driver) with low inductance electronics, and using spectrum analyzers with a mastering EQ. The content in the 7 kHz+ range still corresponded to string harmonics rather than being dominated by pick noise or the noise floor in the sustain. The attack character, like a piano, has substantial non-harmonic/inharmonic "noise" in the transients from being plucked, but the same is true of any string instrument. The strike of the hammer is actually a pretty articulate rather than a subdued part of the attack character, and the key strike itself can be a big part of how you perceive attack.


    The sound of the piano definitely has a lot to do with the body of the note (fundamental and first 2-3 harmonics afterwards), but pianos also typically cover that 10 kHz+ range. Here's a small demonstration of what happens when you remove the higher harmonics from a piano tone. Please ignore the marketing :lol:

    https://www.analysis-plus.com/design-piano/

    When you rip out the higher harmonics in a piano tone, it becomes much closer to what you can do with a subtractive synthesizer, so it's arguably all that higher content that makes it identifiably a "real piano".
     
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  10. ladave

    ladave Tele-Holic

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    This brings to mind that I once had a D-28 Marquis which I remember as sounded more piano like than my current J-45. Obviously main differences being rosewood & ebony vs mahogany & rosewood...not sure if that means anything.
     
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  11. ladave

    ladave Tele-Holic

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    Wow, lots of great responses! Thanks everyone.

    Managed to make a decent nut last night, only took me 3 hours. Also manage to file some nice little slots in my headstock. I've decide if anybody wants their guitars reliced, just have me work on it.

    I'm now really starting to dig this strat. Still hearing piano tone and think I should try to figure out how to record an example.

    This guitar sounds especially awesome tuned down a half step!

    Will take some photos and update my build thread in case anybody is interested.
     
  12. Greggorios

    Greggorios Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Interesting thread, thanks. I've always assumed that it's the mid range frequencies in both the piano/guitar that are in the "Sweet Spot" of average human hearing. We've a great stable of technical guys here so I'll let the engineers get the science right. Here's a web site I read occaisionally that's got some interesting stuff.

    G

    http://www.zytrax.com/tech/audio/audio.html
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
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  13. Random1643

    Random1643 Tele-Afflicted

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    Not to get too far afield of the thread, but Petros & son IMO have created some truly amazing instruments. http://petrosguitars.com/the-guitar/ They are also visually beautiful; you feel like you're playing a work of art. I will never pay that kinda money for a guitar; he's in the $9,000-$12,000 range at this point. Totally worth it to those who have the resources and can see the dollar logic. Wealth and income aside my philosophy is that if I find so much satisfaction and joy playing my $500-$1,200 guitars, banjo, etc am I going to be 15 or 20 times more satisfied by spending lots more money? I don't think so. But glad for the chance to experience some remarkable guitars. The last time I took my Martin to Petros he had developed a wooden amp/speaker system as a side project that >to my ear< perfectly replicated the sounds of his guitars. He had achieved that "like the guitar only louder" goal. He had zero interest in making amps/speakers and was in talks to sell licensing, manufacturing rights so he could stay focused on designing & building acoustic guitars.
     
  14. Art VanDelay

    Art VanDelay Tele-Afflicted

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    I love ambiguous adverbs in music
     
  15. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    Great link! The chart is mostly for the fundamental frequencies of the note ranges, so it's good to keep that in mind rather than think of it as the "frequency response" of the instrument.


    The basic "voice" of the instrument is definitely in the balance between lower harmonics and the character of the highend in relation to those, but you can also see from the lower harmonic relations in different pickup positions that even strongly altering that basic balance doesn't alter our perception of it being an electric guitar.

    http://www.till.com/articles/PickupResponse/



    [​IMG]

    The acoustic character of general types of string instruments (piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, violins/cellos, etc) are all distinct enough in how you play them and how they amplify sound that you won't turn one into another, but the importance of the emphasis placed on various harmonics or frequency ranges often have a similar sort of significance. A great steel string acoustic guitar will get that "big open piano sound" on the lower strings, but by the time you're actually playing music on it, no one will mistake one for the other even if their harmonic balances are similar on isolated notes.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
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  16. AJ Love

    AJ Love Friend of Leo's

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    I tend to think it is produced by the musician more than the instrument. While allowing that a few guitars are duds, most guitars can have big huge beautiful "piano tone" when set up properly for the musician who has the intent to produce that sound... Just my two cents. Could be wrong
     
  17. SecretSquirrel

    SecretSquirrel Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    This too — roundwound strings (like piano strings).

    Also, I most noticed the "piano" sound on the low strings of an Eastwood baritone w/P90s I had... I loved to strike one, let it ring and just dig the big piano tone! (guitar was too heavy so I'm making a partscaster baritone that I hope will have pianoforte piano sound!)
     
  18. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

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    .

    Brand new strings, still in the stretching and going out of tune phase
    String material probably plays a big role

    picking closer to the bridge saddles on the low strings but not so close you are in the twang area.
    Maybe Strat middle pickup rather than bridge pickup
    Weaker pickups like 5kohm rather than 6+kohm on many Strats -- or set the low close to the pickguard.

    The higher notes in that SRV example come pretty easily on the more recent Indonesian Squier Strats I've gotten or tried, I think because of weaker bobbin kohms. For a super cheap option.

    .
     
  19. artzeal

    artzeal TDPRI Member

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    Not to forget string tension as part of the equation. I tend to regard a dominance of the fundamental and 2nd harmonic relationship in the bass as being what folks "identify" as piano tone. Few regard the plain strings as sounding piano like. If you tune a 52 gauge string to low E (higher tension), it will favor the fundamental and second harmonic more than a 42 gauge string E (lower tension) which favors more of the upper harmonics. With electric bass, where "piano bass" is something that's expected as part of the tonal vocabulary: picking closer to the bridge can accomplish this to some extent: but higher tension strings for a given scale length really emphasize the tendency. I suspect the ADSR envelope of a wound guitar string under a certain degree of tension bears a greater resemblance to the wound strings of a piano than occurs with plain strings.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2019
  20. Zepfan

    Zepfan Doctor of Teleocity Gold Supporter

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    My DeArmond Bluesbird is clear and articulate like a Piano. Gold Tone pickups. It's setup like a LP, but not every LP has"Piano tone".
     
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