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What Is a Signal Generator?

Adam Hill
Adam Hill

A signal generator, also called a test signal generator, is an electronic device designed to produce electrical impulses. These devices are most often used in troubleshooting, testing, and repairing other electronic or acoustic devices. They are also sometimes used for artistic applications.

There are many types of signal generators, suited to a variety of uses. Because they have so many possible applications, no one signal generator is suited to every purpose. Signal generators generally fall into one of two categories: function generators and arbitrary waveform generators.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

Function generators are the simpler of the two types. They produce simple repetitive signals in a wave-like form. This signal is produced by a circuit which creates the repeating wave, usually a sine wave. A function generator would most often be used in the process of designing or repairing simple electronics.

In these applications they are used to send a signal through the particular circuit that is being tested. Typically, another device such as an oscilloscope will be connected to the other end of the circuit to measure its output. Because of the many different ways in which electronic devices operate, many types of function generators are available, which vary in frequency range, accuracy, and other parameters.

Arbitrary waveform generators (AWGs) are so called because unlike function generators, the waves they produce can be in many forms, rather than just sine waves. This type of signal generator can produce waves with a sawtooth, square, pulse, or triangular form, among others. Because of this increased versatility, AWGs are the more expensive of the two varieties, and are thus limited to higher-end design and testing applications.

Before the advent of signal generators, such as in the early days of radio, the only method for the testing of new equipment and formats was to use another similar device to generate the signal. Such was the case with new equipment and modulation formats in radio. One radio’s performance parameters were measured and then used as the standard or “golden radio,” as it was called.

This test technique had many advantages, mainly low cost. However, one disadvantage was that the golden radio’s performance could drift over time, making it unreliable as a piece of test equipment. A modern signal generator, while more costly, is much better suited to the more specific and precise operations of electronics testing and design.

Discussion Comments


In 1934, the University of Southern California appointed a Special Medical Research Committee to bring terminal cancer patients from Pasadena County Hospital to Dr. Raymond Royal Rife's San Diego Laboratory and clinic for treatment. The team included doctors and pathologists assigned to examine the patients - if still alive - in 90 days.

After the 90 days of treatment, the Committee concluded that 86.5 percent of the patients had been completely cured. The treatment was then adjusted and the remaining 13.5 pecent of the patients also responded within the next four weeks. The total recovery rate using Rife's technology was 100 percent.

On November 20, 1931, 44 of America’s most respected medical authorities honoured Royal Rife with a banquet billed as “The End To All Diseases” at the Pasadena estate of Dr. Milbank Johnson.

Please consider what consequences this technology would have for medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. Then perhaps you'll understand why they label it fraudulent.


I once came across a particularly bizarre use of so-called signal generators - it was something called a RIFE machine which claimed to cure cancer. This claim has been discredited but the RIFE machine (named after its inventor) claimed to use signals to kill cancer cells.

Even today I read about people who swear by the technology in curing them of cancer, even though the American Medical Association has long insisted that the whole thing is a fraud and that no documented evidence exists which backs up its claims.


A function generator may provide several typical waveforms, which include the sine, square, triangular and sawtooth waves.

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      Scientist with beakers