Guitar tuning on stage
Welcome back my friends to part 4 of guitar tuning.
In this post we will examine some of the aspects of guitar tuning in a live/on stage/touring situation. Once all the steps have been taken to insure that your instrument has been serviced and adjusted and that you have a new or relatively new set of strings to play on( I recommend changing strings as often as possible to maintain string integrity) For example: If you are playing regularly, let’s say more than a hour a day on your main guitar+ performing a live show the same night, I would put a 2 day max between string changes-If you have a multiple guitar set up, that schedule can be relaxed but you must keep tabs on each instrument. I strongly recommend keeping a log of all maintenance and string changes. Regular string changes and maintenance will insure proper intonation. Of course if you have the luxury of having a guitar tech at your disposal, he will be regulating the maintenance schedule. Now we are ready to hit the stage… Or almost!!!
Approx 20/30 minutes before your opening set, all guitars must be acclimatised to their environment, by that I mean if it is a hot and humid night in a club or a dry cold night on an outdoor venue, the guitars should be on their stands or racks onstage so that the strings and instruments can adapt to their surroundings. Heat, cold, humidity are all factors that can affect your instruments and it will take time for the guitar to stabilize.
Now we can start with the initial tuning of each guitar, depending on how many guitars you have to tune, this will dictate the time you will need before showtime. 10-15 min is just about right. If for example you have 1 main electric guitar, 1 back up electric and one acoustic/electric guitar to tune I would start with the acoustic, why? Because generally acoustic guitars use heavier gauge strings and are less prone to loose their tuning and will generally need just a slight bit of tweaking to be perfectly in pitch. Many acoustic /electric guitars now have quality on-board tuners integrated to facilitate the tuning process. If you do not have an on-board tuner a good idea would be to have a separate tuner hooked up to your acoustic DI box so you do not have to plug in to your electric guitar pedal board.
Next your backup or #2 guitar. For this example we will say that this guitar is tuned one half step down- Low E (6th)= Eb – You will have to recalibrate the tuner to the proper setting for Eb tuning- The standard setting for tuners is A-440 (Concert pitch) But other options are available, as in this case. I first begin by re-stretching the strings slightly to make sure they are not binding in the top nut or saddles and then proceed to tuning each string. I recommend using the neck pickup for the best tuner readings. A quick check plugged into your rig and she is ready. At this point I would also mention the need for a good quality A/B box switcher to allow you to plug both guitars into your rig to save time on guitar changes in mid show.
Once you have followed the the pre-show tuning steps outlined in part 4 of this theme, you are ready for your performance. There are so many factors that can impact your tuning during a show, string bending, tremolo use, temperature, movement etc so it is always a good idea to tune as many times as possible. There is usually a mute switch on your guitar tuner to keep your guitar silent while tuning so you can tune before a song, during a song where you are not playing etc, so I recommend tuning as much as possible when there is allowable time. Of course if you are the lead singer and have to intro songs you have to really pick your spots. Although while tuning often you may be making just slight adjustments, they can make all the difference, In my opinion you can never tune enough. If you are 2 or 3 guitarists in the band , you all must follow this routine. The more you repeat this regimen, the more you will become aware of “Locking” in tune with your band mates.
Another common tuning aliment happens when you use a guitar capo, while the capo is a useful tool to enable you to transpose 1st position chords to any key, it can cause problems with either too much pressure or not enough pressure on the strings. I recommend buying a high quality capo such as Shubb or Jim Dunlop and making sure you have the appropriate model (Acoustic, nylon,12 string etc) . When installing the capo for a specific song make sure it not installed too close or too far to the fret which now becomes the top nut or zero fret, this may case the string to go sharp or buzz. I usually install the capo right in the middle of the 2 frets and gently push it down to insure proper pressure on the strings. Check a couple of chords in the first position and away you go. Should it sound slightly (Out) remove and reinstall the capo, this usually works. If there is still a string that is out, you must check it on the tuner with the capo on.
There is also modern technology available at the moment such as the Gibson robot guitar that can automatically tune your instrument to any preset tuning by using software and mechanical tuners. There are also stand alone units such as the TronicalTune system that can be added to practically any make or model.
After all is said and done getting in tune, playing in tune and staying in tune is an important part of being an excellent player, it is part of perfecting your art. It is not to be taken lightly and something to be worked on regularly. I hope sharing some of my onstage experiences has been beneficial to you. Tuning standards and tuning tools have come a long way in the past few years (Thankfully) and we have all we need and more to make great music! There are many more sub topics that can affect tuning that I will explore in future posts such as, tremolo use, top nut maintenance, locking tuners, how hard you play, fret height etc.
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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