Hello dear readers! The Onlineguitargenie is back for part 2 of Guitar tuning 101. In my last post I discussed the different types of guitar tuners available, past and present. Now we will move on to the practical applications of these units.
The first fact we must establish is that the instrument you are playing has been properly set up. By that I mean,the intonation has been adjusted or as some players call it “Harmonics” This means that the instrument in question plays in tune up and down the neck and without any sting buzz or choking and general adjustments such as,tuning gears,nuts, saddles, frets have been addressed . This is usually accomplished by a qualified guitar tech or luthier but can be accomplished by the player himself with a few basic tools and some hands on experience. I will have a future post on this subject.
A well adjusted instrument is the cornerstone of getting, playing and staying in tune so make this a priority. I usually do a complete setup and maintenance check every time I change strings. At times there are practically no adjustments to make other than small “Tweaks” but these can make all the difference in the world.
One mistake many players make is that they install a new set of strings(Make sure you are using quality name brand strings) on their instrument but neglect to stretch them properly before playing. The new guitar string stretches gradually as the pitch is increased, the string acts much like an elastic so proper sting stretching is paramount. The technique I use is simple, with your right hand pull up and down aggressively on each string while with the left hand frets each note chromatically from the first fret to the 12th fret(Opposite for left handed players). Check the tuning of the individual string and repeat until the tuning on each string stays stable. Then proceed to checking chords in different areas of the neck. I usually check an A major chord 2nd fret with E and A note extension on the B and hi E strings and repeat one octave higher on the 14th fret. This will give you a good indication if the instrument is in tune with itself. A quick double check of each string on the tuner will confirm that you are “In tune”. If you are playing with other guitarists or a bass player or a keyboard player, everyone has to be on the same page, in other words every other player has to have their instruments set up properly, use a quality electronic tuner and use the same tuning guidelines. Keyboard players in general do not have to worry about tuning too much because of the electronic nature of their instruments, however analog keyboards such as Fender Rhodes pianos, Wurlitzer pianos and some synthesizers such mini-moogs need regular maintenance to preserve their tuning integrity.
To further demonstrate the importance of every band member being on the same tuning page so to speak. Take for example a 5 piece classic rock band set up-(2 guitarists, Bass player, drummer ,Keyboard player). The keyboard player has had his Keyboards recently serviced and his tuning is in order, the lead guitarist and bass player as well. The lead vocalist who also plays rhythm guitar has decided to change to a heavier gauge of strings from .009/.042 to .010/.046 without having his guitar adjusted for the new strings. Remember one of the basic rules of physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and it is well illustrated in this case and the results can be catastrophic. Although he has checked his open strings on the tuner and they register in-tune , he has not had the neck tension , tremolo or intonation adjusted, you know what that means?? Playing chords up the neck will sound out of tune, especially compared to his band-mates. Too many times I have heard live bands and the tuning is just “Out the window”. It then is up to the sound man to filter out the “Out of tune” guitarist and lower him in the mix. Two guitars with loud distorted amps playing similar chord voicings that are not in tune to each other can sound awful, have a domino effect and ruin a performance. Most pro touring bands have on stage guitar techs to worry about these issues but the regular local bar/pub band member has to care for his or her own instrument. Once every band member is aware of these issues and addresses them, we are on solid ground. In my next post I will examine other issues that can affect your tuning stability and how to deal with them.
That’s all for now my friends see you next time for another magic carpet ride around the amazing world of the guitar.
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