John Powell


Tuning Your Guitar to the Sound of the Rumble Strip

A few days ago I was driving along the freeway admiring the sunset, and my front wheel ran along the rumble strip for a second or two.  Those of you who drive more carefully than I do might never have done this – but the strip consists of a series of little bumps along the edge of the road that make a noise when you run along them.  But it’s not just any old noise – you actually create a musical note.


Any noise which repeats at between 20 and 20,000 times a second is a musical note and, if the bumps are 6 inches apart, and your car is zipping along at 50mph, you will hit 147 bumps per second.  This means that your whole car will be vibrating at the same note as the D string on a guitar. But, before all you guitarists start rushing to your cars to try this handy tuning method, let me add a note of caution – I don’t know the actual spacing of rumble strip bumps in the USA – I tried to find out by doing an internet search – but I got distracted by something much more interesting…

‘Rumble strip’ on Wikipedia lead me on to the subject musical roads or ashphaltophones as they are known to the cognoscenti.  These musical roads are popular in Japan and consist of grooves or bumps set over a few hundred yards of the road.  The grooves or bumps make your car sing a series of notes as you run over them.  Apparently there used to be a musical road in Lancaster, California, which played the Lone Ranger theme when you ran over it.  Local residents eventually got fed up with the noise created by thrill-seeking music lovers driving off into the sunset with cries of ‘Hi Yo Silver’, and had the grooves filled in.  Then the music lovers rebelled and asked for the musical ride to be reinstated.  The town worthies of Lancaster indulged this whim by having the grooves cut in the road a few miles away from the nearest residential area – but someone must have been using a calculator on ‘lo-bat’ because the tune came out wrong.  I don’t want to be on the receiving end of countless US lawsuits - so please don’t go out cutting grooves in your local roads – or tuning your guitars whilst hurtling along the freeway.  And stop gazing at that sunset – it’ll ruin your tyres.

By John Powell