Random Samples
Volume 303, Number 5657, Issue of 23 January 2004
©2004 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A Different String The good ol' six-string guitar may soon have some competition. Two mathematicians have designed a Y-shaped guitar--dubbed a tritar--with a literally unheard-of sound. The tritar was conceived by two mathematicians, Claude Gauthier and Samuel Gaudet of the University of Moncton, Canada. Gauthier, while working on a problem involving infinite sums called a p series, invented a series of "hyperimaginary" numbers lying on a Y-shaped number line. His colleague, Gaudet, wondered how waves would behave on a Y-shaped string. To find out, the two built a model tritar and took it to guitar builder George Rizsanyi in Nova Scotia, who made a playable version.

Figure 2

Gauthier (left) and Gaudet with tritar.


The tritar sounds sort of like a guitar, "but it's also got all these wonderful overtones and colors," says Rizsanyi. Plucking each three-ended string creates unpredictable overtones very unlike the usual ones, which are whole-number multiples of the fundamental frequency, the researchers report in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sound and Vibration.

Gaudet and Gauthier are taking the creation to a guitar trade fair this week in hopes of generating some commercial interest. And Rizsanyi, who has built guitars for such notables as Sting and Keith Richards, says he might have one of his famous customers take a pluck at it. The tritar may have more success as a musical oddity than as a mathematical tool--the instrument has offered no new insights into p series.