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New guitar pickup design offers natural 3D sound

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September 8, 2010

The 3Dxy electric guitar pickup system registers string vibration on two axes to offer a r...

The 3Dxy electric guitar pickup system registers string vibration on two axes to offer a rich, surround sound effect called natural stereo

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The incredible guitar virtuosity from the likes of Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson and Stanley Jordan all rely on their string-picking proficiency being registered by the instrument's pickups. These vibrations are then transformed into electrical signals and sent off to an amplifier for our listening pleasure. Using such a setup, string movement can only be read on one axis, the horizontal. The 3Dxy pickup system reads each string twice, on both the horizontal and the vertical and is said to result in a rich, surround sound effect called natural stereo.

The 3Dxy system has been developed by Spain's Just L Pauls. Although not a guitarist himself, he is a musician and plays both saxophone and flute. He told Gizmag that after studying electronic engineering at La Salle Bonanova in Barcelona, he began searching for a rich, natural tone and started experimenting with magnetic coils.

Four months ago, he came up with the idea of having a pickup read "the movement of the string not only up & down but also left and right. That gives two different signals, but complementary, because both coils read the same point of the string. The resulting signals, one to the left stereo channel and the other to the right, makes the surround sound or what we call natural stereo."

Diagram of the 3Dxy guitar pickup

Before taking a look at Pauls' 3Dxy system, a little bit about passive pickups as we've come to know them today. Although the design has changed significantly over the years, a pickup is basically a magnet with very thin wire wound around it many thousands of times. Magnetic poles sit underneath each string and as the string vibrates, the magnetic field is disturbed and an alternating current is induced through the wire coil. The resulting signal is sent through the volume and tone potentiometers and off to be considerably amplified via the instrument's output jack. Of course, if you're anything like me, a lot of distortion or other effects get thrown into the mix too.

A standard mono guitar pickup - with a magnet, pickup poles and coiled wire

A bit basic perhaps, but the important point to note here is that being positioned underneath the strings, the pickup only registers string vibration on one axis. A 3Dxy pickup, on the other hand, detects string vibration on two axes. Each string on a guitar using this system has two mini-coil pickup poles pointing at it. These poles are set at a 90 degree angle to each other down the left and right of the pickup so that string movement on both the horizontal and vertical axes is registered.

All of the left mini-coils in a series produce a left channel signal and all those on the right, well you can probably work out the rest. The two resulting ground wires are combined and a standard stereo plug configuration results – one ground, one left and one right.

Each string on a 3Dxy guitar has two mini-coil pickup poles pointing at it, these are set ...

The 3Dxy pickup is said to be of a similar shape and size to standard mono pickups, so there should be no need for messy internal body reshaping during installation. That said, in order to enjoy the "natural surround sound sensation" that the system is said to offer, it will be necessary to turn mono output into stereo... and you'd then need a stereo amplifier, of course.

Realizing that many guitarists don't use such an amplifier, Pauls tweaked the design to produce natural 3Dxy mono. This is achieved by combining the left and right stereo channels – the stereo surround sound effect is sacrificed but he says that the modification still delivers a more natural and rich tone than that offered by other, traditionally-wired passive mono pickups.

Other benefits of the 3Dxy system are reported to include a low 300 ohm impedance and a longer note decay. Each 3Dxy pickup is made to order and prices start at EUR120 (about US$152) for an electric bass and EUR180 (about US$229) for an electric guitar. Pickups for double bass and violin are currently being developed.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
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8 Comments

It would appear to me that the two signals would be out of phase with each other, and would cancel each other out when they combined. Also I'm sure it would be difficult to actually hear the difference between this pick-up and a regular one. Most players like some signal processing with their sound.

windykites1
9th September, 2010 @ 08:30 am PDT

Well, they may be shifted in phase rather. If you listen the guitar in stereo with no signal processing, I'm sure the difference is noticable compared with traditional pickup.

Actually, it offers more post-processing option, too.

I think it's interesting idea, even I it's certainly unnecesseary for many musician, could be useful for experimenting.

Facebook User
25th September, 2010 @ 11:26 am PDT

Dear windykites1,

Escuse me, but you are wrong: Signals have no phase problem, because both coils are reading the same point of the string. And the movement of "the same point of the string" is so coherent as iron and wood. In my website www.pauls3dsystems.com , you can see a osciloscope video with both signals, L and R, you can stop the video at any time, and see both signals. They are different, there are a lot of phase "games" but they are all coherent.

There are other osciloscope videos where you can see stereo amount with XY function.

That's why we call it NATURAL STEREO.

Enjoy DEMOS.

Just Lorenzo
2nd October, 2010 @ 01:47 am PDT

Listen to the demos. There is definitely a stereo effect. It sounds like the downstrokes are picked up stronger in one channel and the upstrokes in the other, which makes sense as the strings are vibrating more towards one direction and then the other. Definitely an original with a lot of potential!

One suggestion, though -- find a better guitar player for your demos. Someone who can really show what the pickups are capable of, instead of just fumbling around for a few chords.

John Roshell
7th March, 2011 @ 09:01 am PST

Is there a video or sound clip for this?

Facebook User
27th November, 2012 @ 06:42 pm PST

Our youtube channel :https://www.youtube.com/user/Pauls3DSystems

sorry for the guitar player, soon professional guitar players

And soon new site : www.3Dpickups.com

Just L. Pauls

Justifly
8th February, 2013 @ 03:28 am PST

Of course there is phase cancelling when run to a single source. If you want stereo, use a 2 pup guitar and run each pup to a separate channel. I have done this live and it's great and a much more dynamic effect than this. My Carvin guitar came wired for this with 2 output jacks.

b@man
12th February, 2014 @ 09:44 pm PST

right angles... orthoginal. just how cdma separates data. but really, stereo to mono monitor? or will "upstroke" be left and downstroke be...what what what. i once tried a guitar set up to one of those electronic programming computers MIDI...half my notes were not even regitering. i was doing what might not translate to this devise. i was finger picking with no finger picks. i was picking pinching and chiming with all six in rich interplay. whats a pickup gonna make of "pure tone" in that?

HALF THE JOY is mastery of the tool for emotional nuance in performance. the rest of this is best left to programers who compose.

widescreen color and stereo add sparkle but the basic storyline must still be there. anything less is. ..unspeakable.

Walt Stawicki
27th May, 2014 @ 11:23 am PDT
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