Pickup artistNorman C. Pickering

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A natural musician, Pickering didn’t study music because his father thought that was for “sissies.” So he studied engineering — including the acoustics of bowed instruments. Considering the vibration of instruments plus his engineering expertise led Pickering to come up ways to reduce vibration in passenger aircraft; his vibration control systems were adopted by Boeing. Pickering applied the same expertise to create an ultrasound instrument for ophthalmologists to diagnose illnesses in the eye. And as a musician he was dissatisfied with early record players, and set out to improve them. The heavy pickups with their steel stylus (“needle”) used to play records wore out the stylus and the disks quickly. His innovation was a smaller, lightweight pickup with a diamond or sapphire stylus. He invented the “Pickering pickup” just as records started to be made from vinyl, rather than shellac, and the combination made for much higher-fidelity playbacks. And, with its much lighter weight, records lasted much, much longer. The difference in sound quality was a revolution — “it was magnificent,” Pickering himself said. He also designed a new French horn that’s still sold today. In 1948, he was a co-founder of the Audio Engineering Society, which still exists as the only professional society devoted exclusively to audio technology. “I only do what I love to do,” he said in the 1980s. Pickering died November 18, from cancer, at 99.

From This is True for 22 November 2015