Optical Pickup Technology for Guitars

A standard electric guitar pickup is electromagnetic in nature, converting the vibration of a guitar’s metal strings into an electric current by using magnets. Of course, there are variations to this process – I mentioned in a previous post that I played a gig using Roland’s GR-33 guitar synth, which converts the vibrations of the strings into MIDI data. Such data can then be interpreted/manipulated by other hardware, such as the synth itself or a computer.

Another method of converting string vibration into a usable signal is the optical pickup. Although Ron Hoag has been working on this technology since 1968, he has now decided to put the intellectual property rights to this research on the market. Hoag’s pickup has several advantages over standard coil devices. As it incorporates LEDs to detect the vibration of the string, it can be used on nylon as well as metal strings. Also, standard electromagnetic pickups actually interfere slightly with the vibration of the string, due to their magnetism. The practical upshot of this is that sustain is reduced – a problem that does not arise with optical sensors. As an additional bonus, the optical pickup can create a 30 Volt output signal – significantly louder than a conventional guitar. This one goes way past eleven.

K-Max pickup


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