AF’s Weblog

October 28, 2011

The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

As guitarists, most of us sooner or later find ourselves in pursuit of tone. A talented guitarist can find a way to make anything sound good, but there should be no doubt that our equipment and the tone it provides can inspire and help fuel our creativity. In pursuit of tonal inspiration, we need to develop a vocabulary to help us find what we’re looking for in our sound.

The Audible Frequency Range

Most guitarists start out by learning the names of the musical notes corresponding to a particular string and fret number, but they are not initially aware that these notes also correspond to the fundamental frequency of the vibrating string.  For example, the sixth string played at the 5th fret (low A) in standard tuning has a fundamental frequency of 110 Hz.  Any doubling or halving of a frequency is an octave, so the next octave up from 110 Hz would be 220 Hz.  In order to develop a vocabulary for tone, we have to think in terms of frequencies as opposed to musical notes.

The audible frequency range for us human beings is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz).   For descriptive purposes, it’s common to divide this range into at least three parts:  lows, mids and highs.  The specific border frequencies where, for example, lows end and mids begin are not definite.  Look at a guitar speaker’s frequency response chart and you’ll see three commonly accepted ranges:  lows from 20 to 200 Hz, mids from 200 Hz to 2 kHz and highs from 2 kHz to 20 kHz.  With respect to these divisions, the fundamental guitar frequencies are all low to mid range; however, the sound we hear from each note we play also consists of harmonic frequencies in addition to the fundamental.  To get an idea of what the fundamental would sound like on its own, just play a note and turn the guitar’s tone control all the way down.  You’ve just “rolled-off the highs.”

If you play through an amp with treble, middle and bass controls, you can experiment with the extremes of each control setting to get a feel for how the relative level of each frequency range shapes the overall sound.  “Scoop the mids” by turning the middle control down.  “Roll-off the lows” and “thin-out” the tone by turning down the bass control.   Now, “Fatten-up” the tone by turning the bass control back up.

And now let’s talk about how to describe tone…

To read the full article see:  The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

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