Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


In this class, students learn about physics principles by examining the physics responsible for producing music with electronic stringed instruments, while building, testing, and playing their own electric guitar. Students will design their own guitar bodies, construct their own pick-ups, assemble their own guitars, tune them using a chromatic tuner, and use them to play a simple song.

While the instructions here give enough detail that an independent learner could construct their own guitar, please note that this activity should only be attempted with proper adult supervision, whether at home or at school.

Class Objectives

  1. At the end of the class, students should be able to describe how to and be able to:
    1. Design a body, including specifications
    2. Make a pickup, and how to test it
    3. Construct a tailpiece, including specifications
    4. Attach tuners to the neck of the guitar
    5. Strip wire and attach it to both the potentiometer and the ¼ inches jack
    6. Fasten the volume knob control
    7. Test the potentiometer and graph Resistance vs. Angle
    8. Glue on neck, tailpiece, pickup and nut blanks
    9. Sand wood pieces effectively
    10. Wire the electronics—including all testing (using digital multimeter)
    11. Slot the nut blanks (strategies for cutting, and eliminating buzzing)
    12. Attach the strings and tune them
    13. Test the entire system—(troubleshooting guide)
    14. Tune the guitar with chromatic tuner
    15. Mark off the IV and V positions, and cut a slide.
    16. Create beat frequencies.
    17. Play a simple 1–IV–V song (include one in your report)
  2. In addition, students should be able to explain in detail how all the components of an electric guitar work, including:
    1. How a pickup works, (magnetic induction). How to determine the number of coils in your pickup using resistance/meter.
    2. How the electronic are designed and why they work (Ohm's law, resistance, etc.)
    3. Why we use audio taper potentiometers (decibels, linear volume).
    4. The relationship between volume knob angle and resistance, and coils and volume. Include derivations for both.
    5. How the tuners work (simple machines, gear and radius ratios)
    6. How a ¼ inches jack works (include a good diagram to show connection)
    7. How forces and torques are distributed around the guitar
    8. Exact methods for calculating tension in the strings, and shearing on the glue. Include how the birch plywood board can improve tonality.
    9. How vibrating strings produce sound (tuning, tension, thickness, length, loudness)
    10. How sound is amplified and heard (how a speaker works, propagation, the human ear)
    11. How strings produce sounds: Definitions for open chord, beat frequencies, harmonics, overtones, wavelength, standing wave, nodes, interference
    12. How to follow I–IV–V song sheets
    13. Overall summary of how guitar works—the big picture
  3. Include a detailed list of all tools used, how each works, and when it was needed. Also include helpful hints for using the tools safely and effectively.


There are no grades for this course.

The Program

This course was offered through the High School Studies Program (HSSP), a project of the MIT Educational Studies Program. HSSP offers non-credit, enrichment courses to 7th–12th grade students on Sundays  at MIT. This program is designed to give these students a chance to take courses in a wide variety of topics. Courses cover both academic and non-academic subjects. The classes are designed to be fun and interesting for students and to offer them an opportunity to learn about something in which they're interested.