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Physicist Ben Tippett Weighs in on Marty McFly’s Guitar Explosion and the Physics of Famous Guitar Powers

I guess physics just worked differently in the 80s, guys.


Movies aren’t exactly known for caring a whole lot about how physics work, and some of the finest examples of this fact have come in the form of scenes where the power of rock coming from an electric guitar causes all kinds of crazy effects. So, CBC Music asked physicist Ben Tippett to shed some light on the real physics behind those power chords.

Of course, here at Geekosystem, we have very specific interests, and they had us at the scene in Back to the Future where Marty blows himself all the way across a room with the power of love rock. If you couldn’t guess for yourself, Tippett sadly had to explain that the scene is… a bit unrealistic.



According to Tippett, even if the soundwaves from the speaker did somehow generate enough pressure to throw Marty backwards, they would then suck him back in as the air pressure in the room equalized itself. So, the force wouldn’t move him across the room, but hey, the Heuy Lewis and the News in that movie was moving enough.

Also, a sound wave that strong would absolutely deafen Marty, so I’m probably going to go home, rewatch Back to the Future, and come up with some crazy evidence to support my new theory that Marty’s deafness for the entire movie is an integral plot point. Why else do you think he didn’t hear the car coming in time to get out of the way? Mind. Blown.

Also important to note about Marty McFly’s rock-splosion is that a speaker that size would be best for producing low tones in the range of the oft fabled “brown note” that is said to make people lose bowel control but has never been found. Or, as Tippett put it, “the Doc Brown note.” What kind of weird fecal-related research did Doc build that speaker for, anyway?

Here are some students at University of Wisconsin doing experiments with a similarly-sized speaker a few years back:

Tippett also shared his expertise on other iconic guitar super powers like Macaulay Culkin blasting his dad to Africa in the video for Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” a non-Home Alone kid knocking his dad through a window in the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video, and Ted Nugent using a guitar to deflect bullets without even using an amplifier.

We’ve written about how great Dr. Ben Tippett is before, and he frequently shares his vast scientific knowledge on superheroes, the TARDIS, and the Cthulhu. You can read the rest of his thoughts on famous guitar superpowers over at CBC Music, and be sure to check out his Titanium Physicists Podcast for more science, physics, and puns.

(CBC Music via Ben Tippett on Twitter, image via Back to the Future)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.