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Towards better guitar tuning

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Steve Parkes 17 Feb 99 - 11:30 AM
Scotty Rotten 17 Feb 99 - 10:38 PM
Garry 18 Feb 99 - 02:16 AM
Mark Clark 18 Feb 99 - 02:34 AM
Jon W. 18 Feb 99 - 11:19 AM
rick fielding 18 Feb 99 - 11:22 AM
Jon W. 18 Feb 99 - 12:12 PM
Jon W. 18 Feb 99 - 12:14 PM
Mark Clark 21 Feb 99 - 09:05 PM
John in Brisbane 22 Feb 99 - 12:10 AM
Jon W. 22 Feb 99 - 10:53 AM
Len N (inactive) 22 Feb 99 - 08:41 PM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 22 Feb 99 - 08:50 PM
Art Thieme 23 Feb 99 - 01:08 AM
Bert 23 Feb 99 - 02:46 PM
John in Brisbane 11 Mar 99 - 02:32 AM
j0_77 11 Mar 99 - 03:51 AM
Jack (who is called Jack) 11 Mar 99 - 06:11 PM
Mark Clark 12 Mar 99 - 01:02 AM
Vixen 19 Mar 99 - 08:49 AM
John in Brisbane 21 Mar 99 - 07:13 PM
Bob Jovi 22 Mar 99 - 12:57 AM
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Subject: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 17 Feb 99 - 11:30 AM

All these years (more than 30) I've tuning my guitar using the harmonics at 5th & 7th frets, and it never seems quite right. After a chance remark by a friend the other day I did a bit of searching, and found this explanation and solution: http://w3.ime.net/~cygnus/equal_temperament.html . At last now I know what the problem is: I've got sensitive ears! I may have to take up a different instrument ...

Steve


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Scotty Rotten
Date: 17 Feb 99 - 10:38 PM

I've got a friend who insists on tuning with the fifth and seventh fret harmonics...now I've got 'em!! Thanks for the tip Steve, Scotty


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Garry
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 02:16 AM

I have been a guitarist for 30 years now and I have been telling people about this for years, they don't believe me especially in the folk scene in Australia, I just laugh because I can hear how out of tune their instruments are whereas mine is always in tune


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Mark Clark
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 02:34 AM

If I may add my two cents worth... I've used everything over the last 38 years from pitch pipes to electronic tuners but I've only ever found one way to consistently tune accurately and quickly and that is by ear. By that I mean one must actually practce tuning just like anything else you want to do well. Your ear must "know" the sound of 3rds 4ths and 5ths. This takes a little time but is well worth it. Then buy a good tuning fork tuned to A-440. Pluck the A string and while it rings, tap the tuning fork on your knee and place the butt end on your bridge. Comparing the open A tone to the tuning fork you will be able to set the "beat" to zero very quickly without the error inherent in using harmonics. Then play the A and bass E strings together and do the same thing. Follow this with the A and trebble E played together. Play the A and D together to tune the D, and the D and G together to tune the D. Finally, play the trebble E with the B string to tune the B. All strings are played open, no harmonics or fretted strings.

If the guitar is correctly set up, this will overcome the common error that occurs between the G and B strings. The whole guitar should fall naturally into perfect tune. In a noisey room, I hold my left ear on the side of the guitar as I tune. Makes everything loud enough to hear easily. I've come late to jam sessions and tuned this way in a corner while the group played. When I joined the group they wanted me to retune to their electronic tuner. I quickly ran through the strings in front of the gadget and it showed each string was exactly in tune. I maintain mine was the only instrument there that was completely in tune.

If you play an electric guitar this still works great. With your amp on, hold the vibrating tuning fork tines near one of your pickup poles and play the open A string as above. The electronics make the "beat" even easier to hear clearly.

This method pleases the ear, not necessarily the physicist which, after all, is what you want. It's fast, cheap, and you don't have to carry batteries. Even if your bridge is slightly off, you'll be in tune for most first position chords.

I don't have a great ear so I figure if I can learn to tune this way then most people probably already use it. On the other hand, I've run into very few people who do.

Hope this is useful to someone,

- Mark


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Jon W.
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 11:19 AM

I could swear I recently read something about tuning with harmonics on FRETS.COM but I couldn't find it with a quick perusal today. Anyway, the point of it may have been that you can't use certain harmonics (I think the one at the fifth fret in particular) for tuning because the harmonic is different than the pitch of the fretted note, because of the vagaries of even temperament (the harmonic being possible because of pure temperament and the frets being set to even temperament). I was reading quickly the first time and didn't pause long enough to study it out but the idea I got was that if you're going to use harmonics to tune your guitar you can only use the one at the octave (12th fret) and the perfect fifth (seventh fret).

I have bought a cheap chromatic electronic tuner (about US $30) that seems to work well for me.


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: rick fielding
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 11:22 AM

Here's a couple of little tricks I learned years ago. If you're doing a last second check before starting a song...put your index finger on the 5th string at the 7th fret...middle finger on the 4th string at the 9th fret...and ring finger on the 3rd string at the 9th fret. strum across all strings...you should get a very harmonious sound (all Bs and Es) the absence of the "3rd" (G#) in the chord makes it much easier to tell if you're in tune. Also, if you have no tuning reference at hand, but you do have a phone, pick it up and listen to the dial tone. Every phone I've tried this on (in North America) rings to an "F" note. It takes a little time to get used to translating the dial tone to something musical, but it does work.


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Jon W.
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 12:12 PM

Here is the correct site for the information on tuning using harmonics: Click here

I was wrong - you can't use the seventh fret harmonic as it isn't in the even-tempered scale. The only harmonics you can use are those that produce some octave of the note, which are at the fifth fret (two octaves above the open string) and the 12th fret (one octave above).

One method I've used is to compare the 12th fret harmonic of the sixth string with the second fret of the fourth string (both E), the 12th fret harmonic of the fifth string with the second fret of the third string (both A), the 12th fret harmonic of the fourth string with the 3rd fret of the second string (both D), and the 12th fret harmonic of the third string with the third fret of the first string (both G). The only problem is, you've got to first tune the sixth and fifth strings with each other or you could end up with the second, fourth and sixth strings in tune with each other and the first, third, and fifth strings in tune with each other but the two sets out of tune with each other.


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Jon W.
Date: 18 Feb 99 - 12:14 PM

Or I suppose you could coordinate the two sets by tuning the open first string to the fifth fret harmonic of the sixth string (both E's)


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Mark Clark
Date: 21 Feb 99 - 09:05 PM

I believe the harmonics method only works perfectly if the bridge is set perfectly and the strings aren't too high. To say the bridge is set "perfectly" allows for the possibility that the correct bridge setting may be slightly different for each string.

To quickly put any guitar in correct tune you need to learn how the open strings are supposed to sound together and learn to hear the very slight "beat" produced by playing adjacent open strings together. I am convinced that any other technique will produce errors on at least some guitars.

"But that's just my opinion... I could be wrong."

- Mark


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 22 Feb 99 - 12:10 AM

This method looks like it delivers the goods:

My Friend Minnisota Slim.

(Simon Husbands)


Simon moved to the U.S.A. recently, to start a glittering career as a PIANA TOONOR, having completed his studies at the world famous Newark College of ?piano tuners? He has his own page at www.isd.net/husbands

Simon's Patent Guitar Tuning Method!


During Simon's training as a piano tuner/technician, he became aware that the theory of tuning could help in the tuning of guitars too. In general musical terms, when a piano tuner tunes a piano, he sets two notes an octave apart and then puts all the other notes in between. However, because of the way the semitones and tones are laid out in our musical system, he has to tune all the other notes slightly out of tune ( very, very slightly! ) in order to get them all to fit into the octave! For example, if you started with C and tuned the G above so it was perfectly in tune, then tuned the D below so that it was perfectly in tune with the G, and so on in a so called 'circle of fifths', by the time you came to tune the final C it would be very, very sharp in comparison to the original C. If you don't believe it, try it! In short, the tuner adjusts the pitch of the notes to get them all to fit.

Now, if this sounds like nonsense, how many times has this happened to YOU when tuning the guitar? You tune it using your prefered method, and play a chord of E. It sounds great. You play a chord of A. It sounds great. You play a chord of B. It sounds naff. How can this be? It was 'perfectly' in tune a minute ago. And so you start' fiddling' with the tuning, until you have adjusted several notes and it it then sounds OK in all chords. What you have done is the same as the piano tuner - you have adjusted a note that was in tune in one chord but not in another. A compromise is made and both chords sound fine.

In Simon's method, the tuning incorporates an adjustment, and if mastered, will ensure a smooth tuning in all keys from the minute the 6th string is tuned. And this is how to do it!

1) Tune the bottom E string to a tuning fork or tuning device.

2) Tune the A string by comparing the harmonic at the 7th fret to the harmonic at the 12 th fret on the bottom E string. They should be the same. THEN, sharpen the A string slightly - listen to the harmonics again and as the string is sharpened you should be able to hear a change in the sound - a slow increase in the volume ( like a 'wo wo wo' sound that gets faster and slower as you tune the string up and down ). We want to get this 'beating' at about 1 beat every couple of seconds. It will take a few seconds practice to get it right, but if you are used to tuning the beats so they are not present, it should not be too hard. So, you are tuning the A string sharp.

3) Tune the D string by comparing the harmonic at the 7th fret to the harmonic at the 12th fret on the A string ie. you are repeating the process, only a string higher. Tune it so the 'beating' is going once every couple of seconds again.

4) Tune the G string by the same technique - remember, you are tuning the string slighlty sharp!

5) Miss the B string out - tune the top E to the bottom E. They should be perfectly in tune with each other, neither sharp nor flat. Use the open strings or use harmonics if you like.

6) Once done, go back to tune the B string. Listen to the harmonic on the 12th fret and compare it to the harmonic on the 7th fret of the top E. Tune the B so it is slightly FLAT this time - again, it should 'beat' at about once every couple of seconds.

And that should be it. If it sounds terrible, you have overdone it on the detuning. The strings are only slightly off, and it takes a little practice. But, this works and the tuning achieved should sound very sweet in all keys and will make you feel like a true professional tuner!

Good luck! Write to us if you have any queries.


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Jon W.
Date: 22 Feb 99 - 10:53 AM

That's interesting, John. I think this may be due to the difference between even-temperament and Pythagorean temperament (see the link above in my message from 18-Feb-99 - 12:12 PM). Even-tempered scales are a bit of a compromise so you can play in all keys without retuning - so they are just a little out of tune. We've gotten used to it over the last 300 years or so.


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Len N (inactive)
Date: 22 Feb 99 - 08:41 PM

I find this thread to be fascinating, and I expect that it may be very helpful to me in the future. It also causes me to think about the thread that was making the rounds a couple of months ago on stagefright, because while I don't seem to mind speaking, playing or singing in front of a large group of people, ask me to tune in front of a group that is waiting for the next song and I fall apart...it takes me too long, my ear goes numb or dumb. Truth be known, I'm one of those guys who has that certain knack of finding the one string that is out of tune, and then retuning the entire guitar to that one string, (and poorly at that). As a result, when I do play in front of others I usually cheat and use an electronic tuner. I will have to devote some time to one or more of the methods described above and see if I can ween myself from the tuner. This thread also raises a question for me. I also play 5 string banjo.... most often tuned to an open G chord. With the banjo I have much greater success tuning by ear than I do the guitar, I assume, because I am tuning to an open chord. My problem with the banjo though is that although I can always get the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 1st strings perfectly in tune with each other by ear, the 2nd string, (a B) always fights me. Does the answer to this vexing problem lie somewhere in the difference between pure and equeal temperaments, or is it just further evidence of incompetence on my part.

Len


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 22 Feb 99 - 08:50 PM

I tend to agree with Mark. Tuning by intervals is really fast because you are only dealing with open strings and your left hand can just hold onto the tuning peg and adjust it.

This is the way you tune unfretted string instruments.

I haven't perfected my ear yet and I must admit I double check the tuning by playing a few open chords and also by fingering the fifth fret.

By the way, Mark, that is a good test to see if the bridge is set up right. If you can't get a harmonic right at the twelfth fret, or if it doesn't sound in tune, then the bridge is the wrong distance from the nut at that place.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Art Thieme
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 01:08 AM

For the last decade I tuned to the steamboat whistle on the Julia Belle Swain. (a perfect "A") When I left the Mississippi River gigs I just soldered all 6 strings. Never have had to tune since. It's always in tune now.

Art


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Bert
Date: 23 Feb 99 - 02:46 PM

Len N,

Of course it's easier to tune a banjo. There's so many overtones that you pluck one string and it plays all the notes at once;-)

Bert


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 11 Mar 99 - 02:32 AM

I've had a Boss TU-12 Tuner for a lot of years and it has served me well, particularly when I've needed to do a quick check on tuning after leaving a cold dressing room and another band on stage is making more noise than my ear could cope with. (I learned this the hard way with two very flat srtings in front of a huge crowd that really was waiting for The Fureys to appear in the next set).

I have received some comments from an old friend who's really into gadgets that not all tuners are created equal when it comes to really accurate tuning. However, like me, he still swears by the TU-12. I regularly see them in second hand shops for about $US25.

Regards
John


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: j0_77
Date: 11 Mar 99 - 03:51 AM

Home made tuning method- tune 3rdG 4thD to concert(in my case a harmonica) - then set B2nd a shade flat. Tune E1st so it sounds nice in a G maj Chord. Next set A5th with an Amaj chord. Finally set E6th with a Gmaj chord. Play Cmaj, Dmaj to fine tune. Golden rule if you like the sound - use it


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Jack (who is called Jack)
Date: 11 Mar 99 - 06:11 PM

This is tangential, but there's a local music store near where I live that does sound for a lot of local musicians, including some of the better folk events. Anyway, they all wear shirts that have a skull and crossbones printed with the words TUNE IT OR DIE! in bold block letters. It always cracks me up.


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Mark Clark
Date: 12 Mar 99 - 01:02 AM

I like jo77's golden rule. I also tend to think that if your guitar is properly set up and you can't tune the open strings correctly by ear, you may want to practice some ear training. I don't think it's an issue of perfect pitch or rare talent or anything like that, it's just training.

Notice that a symphony orchestra tunes entirely by ear. True, the oboe may begin from some standard reference before giving pitch to the concert master (or is it the other way round?) but each member of the orchestra then fine tunes entirely by ear, adjusting each instrument according to jo77's golden rule.

But hey, that's just me. :-)

- Mark


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Vixen
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 08:49 AM

Dear John in Brisbane--

Wow! I've been playing around with Simon's tuning method, and what a sound I get out of my Alvarez!!! I used to use the 5th and 7th fret harmonics, and then about 15 minutes of string by string tweaking followed by a "that's close enough!". Now I know what close really sounds like!

Many thanks,

V


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: John in Brisbane
Date: 21 Mar 99 - 07:13 PM

Hi Vixen, thanks for the feedback. I'm really glad you find it useful.

Regards
John


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Subject: RE: Towards better guitar tuning
From: Bob Jovi
Date: 22 Mar 99 - 12:57 AM

I wish that I saved the posting from one of the classical guitar groups. Christopher Parkening tunes his guitar before every song that he performs. He does it not by harmonics, but by pressing the strings down, five frets apart. The difference is that he tunes either up or down the neck, dependent upon where he will be playing the bulk of the next piece. The assumption is that even the best guitar will be more in or out of tune depending on which fret the string is stopped at.

Personally I just yank the strings lengthwise, if that doesnt work then I pour on the vibrato. But then again, I'm no Christopher Parkening.


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