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10 Ways To Avoid Guitar Tuning Nightmares

Brandon Drury —  June 15, 2010

Robo scientists, Richard Feynman, is quoted as saying, “If you understand quantum physics, you don’t understand quantum physics”. In a similar light, if you haven’t had a guitar tuning nightmare, you haven’t recorded guitar. Otherwise outstanding guitar players often come to the conclusion that they can’t play a D chord in tune. (Just for the record, it’s generally more embarrassing when a person isn’t aware of their D chord problem than it actually is for them to actually have a D chord tuning problem.) It’s a very common problem. Very common! The studio world makes this whole tuning issue a total freakin’ nightmare on a bad day.

In this blog, I’m going to discuss advanced techniques to save you a few billion hours in time in the next few years. I’m making the assumption that you already know how damn good a performance playing IN TUNE sounds and how awful a performance that is 1% off sounds. While many bands may not have the budget, inclination, or ear to care, the serious projects will require mega tuning. It’s easy to waste a weekend on a single riff. I know. I’ve done it.

Some guitar players don’t have much trouble and can just jump in and rock. These guitar players are few and far between. If you’ve never had tuning troubles, odds are good that you haven’t really heard in tune guitars before. Guitars that are REALLY in tune are dramatically clearer, bigger, meaner, and better on the engineering end and dramatically more musical. I’m convinced that the #1 reason people struggle with recording acoustic guitars is they are trying to compensate for the boxy sound of a barely out-of-tune guitar with mic placement and such. When you get the guitar REALLY in-tune, you will hear it and LOVE it.

#1 – A Tuner Is Just a Gadget

Tuners are nice little devices. They tell you the frequency of the note a person has struck. The problem is strings go sharp when you first hit them and go flat immediately afterwards. This means that just because you got a string to land on “E” or whatever on the tuner doesn’t mean when you strike it with 10x more (or less) force in the take that the string will go sharp.

#2 – Never Tune Flat

One of my favorite tactics that I use daily is to never turn the tuning peg flat. If I’m tuning the G string and I end up being a little sharp, I don’t grab the tuning peg. I simply bend the G string HARD. There is always slack hiding in the string and a hard bend will yank that slack right out of there. If you leave this slack in there, it will slowly come out over time and the guitar will drift flat as you play it.

If you aren’t so great at bends (it amazes me as a crappy lead guitar player that some really talented guitar players look like something is wrong with them when they attempt to bend a string!) it’s okay to physically grab the string with your right and and pull on it a bit. You don’t want to yank TOO hard, but you can probably pull a little harder than you think.

This one takes a bit of practice as you have to nail your pitch by SLOWLY turning the tuning peg sharper and sharper. (Kinda like when getting gas for your car. No one wants to go over the magic dollar amount in your head.) Of course, if you go too far, you should just bend the string, and repeat.

In rare occasions when you go too sharp and there isn’t enough slack, always go way down so you can come back up, bend the string, and tighten it some more. Repeat.

#3 – Stretch ‘em Hard!

I see guitar players all the time who toss brand new strings on, tune up, and think they are ready to track. I’m not sure where they got that idea, but I’m positive all of ‘em have fought through wild tuning fluctuations at first. I stretch strings AGGRESSIVELY. I always start with by placing my left hand over the 22th fret and press down pretty hard. My right hand will be under the 24nd fret pulling up. I give it a good, slow tug and attempt to pull everything I can out of that 23rd fret. Then I move down a fret and repeat. I do this for the entire guitar. I can do it pretty quickly and it’s not a huge deal if you skip a fret here or there.

My right hand is usually fairly torn up, so I try to use some kind of cloth as padding.

If you take a guitar that was freshly strung and just tuned up without stretching, you can often pull a full step out of the thing. Some of that is going to be slippage in the tuning peg, obviously, but a nice chunk of that is slack that you would have had to deal with during tracking. Always stretch ‘em!

#4 – Tune Up If You Have To Wait

While not an Earth shattering tactic, if I know I’m not tracking for a few hours, I’ll go ahead and tune up an extra half step after doing all that stretching. Why? I figure the extra tension while I’m not doing anything will help work out a bit of the slack. It’s probably not perfect, but it only takes a second. Anything that saves a ruined take is worth doing.

#5 – How Do You Tune?

I know there are quite a few guitar players that debate over how you should tune. Some guys claim they want the initial attack to land exactly on the note. The problem with this is the string will drop in pitch in a hurry immediately afterwards making sustained notes and chords go flat. Some guys claim you should wait a good three seconds to let the pitch fall. This will get the guitar in tune for the long sustained stuff, but the initial attack will always be a bit sharp.

I tend to take a hybrid approach. I like to give about one second to make sure the note just after the initial attack is in tune. This method is the best of both worlds approach for me. There are certain notes that I have to deal with during tracking, but this approach tends to be the most effective for me.

#6 – Take Note Of How You Play

I’m not sure why so many guys who smash their strings with the sledgehammer known as their right hand turn into delicate fairy princess mode when they stomp on the tuner, but it’s an epidemic. Make sure you tune how you play. It’ll save you decades of trouble.

#7 – Throw The Tuner Out

When it comes time to really get a guitar in tune, it usually takes a bit of abandonment of the tuner. The tuner is a good tool, but it can’t compensate for problems with a guitar or with the hands. Almost everyone needs a little sweetening on the G string. (Usually this requires tuning it just a hair sharp, but not always.) The B and High E string are optional, but often benefit as well.

#8 – Tune Specific To The Chord

If one chord is giving you ultra-trouble, I recommend tuning to that chord and punching in. 95% of the time it’s the player at fault, but you can compensate for that by tuning specifically to that chord. This is no different than a singer re-singing a phrase because of pitch. Take your time and get it right.

#9 – Can You Play A D Chord?

99% of all guitar players thing that playing a good ol’ D chord is for babies. Then they start recording and can’t the damn thing in tune. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. This happens to the seemingly best of guitar players. Usually, there is some much crappier guitar player in the band that can do it no problem. You may want to double check and make sure you can play a D chord in tune. The odds are not in your favor.

#10 – Practice Playing In Tune

I see plenty of guitar players who just obsess over flashy playing. I’m usually shocked by how few of them play in tune consistently. It’s as if they never even thought about it. This is one reason why I love practicing guitar using an emulator through my studio monitors to drum loops. It forces me to play in tune and on time as if it were a real take. This skill is dramatically different from anything a person does in their practice area. It’s something any serious guitar player SHOULD work on. If you aren’t a guitar player, but just a recording guy, you should push this message. Make a big deal about this tuning business.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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57 responses to 10 Ways To Avoid Guitar Tuning Nightmares

  1. Great advice!

    One little thing I would add is, learn how to check and adjust the intonation on your guitar. If you always have to keep tuning to chords rather than your open strings it could be you need a little intonation tweak.

  2. Good advice, Johnny. However, under “normal” conditions if guitar player can’t play a certain guitar in tune, 90% of that is the player himself and not the intonation. If you record a guy playing a riff 10 times, you’ll find different chords are out of tune each time under most cases. The really good guitar players have dealt with this, but a majority are completely clueless on it. They don’t even realize it until they have a tramatic studio experience.

    Brandon

  3. On #2, I agree very much that one should never tune flat.

    However, my approach is to tune the too sharp string down roughly a semi-tone below the desired pitch and then slowly tune it back up to the correct pitch. Instead of yanking on the string until it’s the right pitch. But maybe I’ll try that next time instead of my method.

  4. Intonation is the key word here. A guitar sounds good when its intonation is set correct. Otherwise you can never have a good tuned guitar.

  5. I use a floating trem. I am avid on the stretching and playing before I lock the nut. Once I have tuned a string until it no longer goes flat after stretching it, I then run my finger up and down the neck on that string pressing a little hard, this bends it a bit at each fret and streches it a bit more. After that ritual I play all strings hard strumming all over the neck. Retune and lock the nut, retune and its money.

  6. Years ago, I played in a band with a guy who would put fresh strings on before just about every gig. He’d tune up, throw his guitar in the case and come to the club. First thing I would do was grab his axe and one by one yank on the strings until he’d holler because he thought they’d break. Once or twice they did. Then I’d hand it back to him. He was never in tune, but at least my brutal treatment minimized the amount of wang, wang, wang we’d have to suffer through for the rest of the night.

  7. If all goes to plan I try to restring the night before. Tune it all half a tone too high to get the string settled and stretched. Then I tune it back down like Rook says, but I will bend the string in 5th position quite hard after each step up to make sure the string is settled well. Guitarists that have played with me mimic that bend to make fun of me me, but that’s OK. I also use Sperzel locking tuners to make sure there are not to many windings (there are hardly any at all with these) on the machine head. Too many windings can result in many retunings before the string is settled and stretched. And yes: Do check the chords that you will be playing.

  8. The tempered tuning system we use means that only octaves and perfect fifths are supposed to sound “in tune” and everything else is slightly off so that we can play in all 12 keys reasonably well. Otherwise you would need to tune to one “master tone” (which is the concept of a key).
    Guitars need to be intonated so that some notes are slightly sharp as you travel up the neck, not so that every octave at the open string is dead on. That way most chords sound better.
    Our tuning system is designed so that less important notes are out of tune. Straight frets are easier to manufacture but don’t necessarily help tuning. It’s a disadvantage of fretted instruments. There’s also the issue of the condition of the nut, string age, string gauge and finger pressure etc.

    Daniel

  9. Wow, thanks for this article Brandon. It’s validated what I have been doing for 25 odd years now.

    It’s bugged me why, despite using a tuner, I still needed to tweek the B and E strings. And I’ve always used the D chord as the benchmark to determine whether my guitar is in tune.

    Will try the stretching tips with the new set of strings that are going on the Taka tonight.

  10. Great info.

    I used to stretch the hell outta my strings when I was in school on classical.

    My 12 string was an experience recording the first time. It really forces you to note your different finger pressure (especially the D maj chord).

    Once you’re aware there’s an issue, you actually re-learn how to play some chords (finger pressure again). Then you notice it’s slightly different on almost every guitar.

    Thanks again,

    JvM

  11. Heya. Great advice. I’m going to raise my hand and admit that I was guilty of #10 for a ridiculously long time.
    I’d like to suggest an alternative to #3. I haven’t had a chance to apply your technique but I’m sure that both versions address the issue of unresolved slack in a freshly tuned string.
    Firstly to explain my lay theory. When you tune your string there are three possible places that a string can go out of tune- at the tuning head where there will still be some slackness in the winding, at the bridge where your string may not be completely held in position (especially bullets), and the string itself. I am no physisist… physici… science person but I would assume that strings will have a natural stretch needed to be resolved over time at tension.
    As Brandon points out, stretching your strings is 100% necessary (poor nylnon string players will be doing it for days). Anyhoo…
    My approach is this, I rest the guitar on my lap/floor/bench with the fretboard side facing up. I wrap my fingers of one hand under the string at about the third fret and the fingers of my other hand under the string equidistant from the bridge and simultaneously, with force but slowly, pull the string away from the guitar whilst simulataneously pushing down with both thumbs (otherwise you are just going to pick your guitar up by the string and probably snap the string and drop the guitar).
    You will be amazed what happens when you do this. You will actually feel the string tightening at both the headstock and the bridge. You will realise much unresolved tension you have in a string that you’ve probably spent ages retuning in the past. Bullet players may also get a freaky snap/pop sound as the bullet ‘snaps’ into it’s correct position. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you’ll be glad that it did. You will suddenly realise a mistake in stringing your guitar that you have been making for a longgg time. Get your bullet right the first time.
    Also, this technique will address my advanced theory of stretchy-string-integrity.
    What initially stuck my as awkward to Brandon’s #3 is the possibility of string damage.
    Well, that’s that.

  12. -What about making sure the guitar has had proper maintenance, and its harmonics (string length) set perfectly?
    -What about guitar tone, and how an ugly kind of distortion (most players arent’ usually aware of) can have a detrimental effect on tuning, in bursting out the wrong partials. Go through the high-gain presets of a POD X3, while playing a D chord (tuned as best you can) and you’ll know what i’m talking about?
    -What about string brand? Ever tried to tune a pack of Stagg strings? Buy some GHS and experience what stable tone sounds like. Don’t think the most expensive strings are the best. They’re usually not.
    -What about your guitar cable? Ever tried a Planet Waves, Canare or any other brand that’s good (and not necessarily very expensive like Evidence Audio or Vandenhul), and felt that your tone had less clutter, hence was easier to tune?
    -And lastly, how are the acoustics of the room you’re in, as they affect your sound and tuning as well.

    Great article by the way.

  13. Michael Jones June 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Dont forget about the bridge. Not just the intonation, which on any guitar that has not been set up by a pro is usually off, but also the type of bridge. If the guitarist likes a fixed bridge then you’re in luck, but with 1/2 of players choosing some form of floating bridge (i.e. Floyd Rose, Fender Tremelo, Ibanez Edge, etc…) it makes things really up to the player to get it right. every time you put tension on a string, it takes the others out of whack causing the chords to sound atrocious. Using 8s or 9s (not to reference a previous article) can compound the issue but players who go floating bridge tend to use lighter strings because the “feel” is “looser”.

    When tuning a floating bridge you better hope you’ve got a locking nut or locking tuners or you’ll never stay in tune long enough to get through a take. In addition, start tuning with the fat strings and work up. The come back and re-tune fat to skinny again because as you change the tension on the strings on one side it will change the tenesion on the others. Eventually you’ll be golden but assume it will take 3 times as long to tune a floating bridge guitar.

    Then, to combat the out of tune while playing battle you have to get creative. little peice of wood that fits under the floating part sometimes helps to make it more stable but only in one direction. Some guitar players just physically screw in the spring bridge on a Strat. I’ve seen some contraptions that can lock the bridge unless the bar is engaged that seem to work nicely, though I’ve never used them. There is also a device called evertune that can keep the guitar in tune no matter what you do, but I’m not sure what it might do to tone or flexibility.

    In my opinion though, it just takes a good player with a good ear to stay in tune on a floating bridge guitar. Otherwise, go fixed bridge. It’s just better tuning.

  14. I’ve gotta say I agree with everyone above, but especially Daniel. I’m also a singer so I really notice the difference between tempered tuning and real life tuning. 3rds and 5ths will never, ever, ever match in tempered tuning.

    Sometimes it also seems to just depend on the day and I really have to work at sweetening up the guitar after it’s in the ballpark from the tuner. They can be moody…

    I find that good guitars and fairly fresh strings make a huge difference.

    It’s definitely in the hands! Most of my students can’t play in tune even though they can do other fancier things.

    I love tip #10. Very helpful.

    Thanks for the article.

  15. Get and Earvana nut installed.

  16. onemoreguitar June 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Let me start off by saying that I am completely anal retentive about my tuning. I’ve used and in almost all cases owned every major tuner on the market, rack mount, hand held and stomp box both live and in the studio. There are some good points here, but you’ve missed some of the most important ones.

    1. Setup, setup, setup…. It’s all about your guitar setup. If your guitar is setup badly it will be impossible to get it to stay in tune. The most common problem IME is the string snagging on the nut or saddle. It doesn’t matter how accurately you tune, if your nut and saddle don’t allow the string to even the tension across it’s whole length then your in for trouble. You may be able to keep it in tune while you’re tuning it, but the moment you hit the strings, the tension will start equalising past the nut and saddles and take your guitar out of tune. It may take a whole song, it may only take one chord. Use graphite (pencil lead, or other appropriate lubricant) at every string change or buy a self lubricating nut and saddle set. The next most common, again IME, is guitarists thinking “I only had it set up last year so that can’t be the problem.” Most guitars are going to need seasonal adjustments which means doing a setup every few months. If you’re on the ball with making season adjustments, then it shouldn’t take more than about a half hour.

    2. Buy a guitar that can stay in tune…. I play Parker Flys. They stay in tune. Period. Some guitars simply won’t stay in tune because of the way they are constructed. It’s not just cheap guitars that suffer from this. Sometimes the string path has a harsh break point across the nut when the machine heads haven’t been placed directly in the string path. Your nut needs to be filed to accommodate the angle and it needs to be lubricated. Make sure the guitar is stable enough before you buy it. I used to have a beautiful LP that sounded amazing, but no matter what I did, it wouldn’t stay in tune for any length of time. It doesn’t matter how good your tone is if your guitar is out of tune…. so it had to go. Lesson learned. Sometimes it’s construction, sometimes it’s setup (see point1).

    3. The guitar tuner is everything….. Go buy a Peterson Strobe tuner and learn how to use it. Don’t bother with everything else. There’s a reason it’s used by more acts around the world than any other. If you take your guitar to a guitar tech to be setup, more often then not they’ll be tuning it, intonation and all, with an old Peterson AutoStrobe or one of their newer strobe tuners. I bought a V-Sam second hand on a whim a number of years back. Within a week all of my other tuners were sold and replaced with Peterson Products. I own all of their virtual strobe products. In tune with everything else is still out of tune with a Peterson. What sold me on it was that, after I had tuned up, all of my open chords worked without any adjustment whatsoever. It is the first truly silent tuner. If my Peterson says I’m in tune, then I don’t even need to check. I know it’s in tune. If you’re playing a song using mainly one key or chord shape, there are sweetened tunings that make those particular shapes sound even more in tune. I’ve never needed them. The equal tempered tuning already works amazingly. FYI…if you have an iPhone or iPod touch, the Peterson Tuner app is on sale right now for about a dollar. I still have my StroboRacks, StroboStomps, StroboFlips, StroboSoft and V-Sam, but now I really have no excuse. If you read this, then you don’t have an excuse either. I’m not being cocky about this. It’s simply a fact. Petersons are more accurate if you learn to use them. It should only take about 10-20 mins. That’s time well spent in my book. Once you learn to use them, I’ve found that tuning up is actually faster. Check out this link:

    http://www.petersontuners.com/index.cfm?category=123

    Hold your mouse over the smiling and frowning faces and listen. My personal experience matches these differences.

    IMO, if you don’t sort out these sorts of problems first, you’re gonna have a much harder time sorting out the source of tuning issues. Remove some of the variables from the equation and the solution becomes more clear.

    BTW, the G string is the most unstable string on your guitar. It’s simply how it’s constructed. The core, which bears most of the tension, is almost always the thinnest wire on your guitar thus making it more unstable.

    This is all IME and such, except about the G string and Peterson tuners being more accurate. That really is fact. Sorry for being long winded. Hopefully it was helpful to someone.

  17. Guitar mechanics.
    Even the best guitars will have issues with tuning, i play PRS guitars, and unless you can hear and feel if the guitar being out of tune, and your fingers cannot compensate for the slight intonation variances between frets, then all the best electronic tuners in the world wont help.
    The best players never rely on electronic tuners, even the masters are i.e Steve Vai,Mattias Eklund are now using the new true temperament guitar necks to get almost perfect intonation along the neck, and get rid of the dreaded dodgy open B string out tune feel.
    Its all in the ears and the hands, be it $100 or $10000 guitar, they each have there tuning issues.
    But some players just cant hear it, which is a shame.

  18. Funny thing about that “ignorance is bliss” phrase. Why? I’ll tell you why, because when another guitarist (or any instrumentalist for that matter) is unaware
    of how out of tune they are it drives those of us with ears nuts! So while their blissing out in microtonal oblivion, some of us would just as well put up with the sound of a cat in heat!

    I’ve personally learned to accept (to a small degree) the inherent tuning
    discrepancies akin to most fretted instruments, because there isn’t ever
    dead perfect intonation throughout all 12 keys. You just do whatever it takes to get as close as possible. Btw…
    Not sure about pc’s, but an excellent strobe tuner for macs is available from katsura shareware. I’ve been using mine for over ten years & it’s cheap too. Just save your registration info if you buy the program!

  19. oh! Here’s a link for that strobe tuner for macs.
    http://www.macmusic.org/software/view.php/lang/en/id/3263/KS-Strobe-Tuner-AU
    They also have it in a non plug in version…

  20. Sorry for the comment frenzy, but I just stumbled upon this link as to why the laidman & katsura tuners are superior.
    http://www.rustykat.com/FAQ.html

  21. Another good piece of advice, in addition to realizing that equally tempered tuning will never sound perfectly “in tune” as Daniel pointed out, is to tune all the strings to the A string.
    You can do this by…
    Tuning A string to a tuner.
    12th fret harmonic on A string to tune 7th fret D string.
    12th fret harmonic on A string to tune 2nd fret G string.
    5th fret harmonic on A string to tune 10th fret B string.
    5th fret harmonic on A string to tune 5th fret high E string.
    Open A string to tune 5th fret low E string.

    This works really well cause you’re tuning every string to the same note, and although I usually use the ol’ 5th fret 7th fret harmonic tuning I do this quite often to check tuning.

  22. There are a few things I find useful when tuning. For electric guitar, distortion or overdrive can aid when using the 5th fret method of tuning to the higher string (4th for G) as when it’s out of tune the two strings sound terrible together and you can hear the oscillation as they battle each others frequencies. Get them in tune and they harmonize.

    Also, natural harmonics can be useful but only when the guitar’s intonation is set-up properly.

    Another thing I always do is wind the tuning peg up to a stop and never down. So if a string is too high I lower to just before the ideal note and then tune up. This retains the tension and will avoid any slippage after-the-fact (it’s easier to tune down then up so, therefore, friction is greater and slippage should be less).

    Of course, a locking nut will avoid this issue but not all guitars have ‘em, right?

  23. Our system of dividing an octave into 12 tones has a basic mathematical flaw. Pythagoras discovered this eons ago. It is impossible for every chord to be in tune. The equal temperament system which we have been using for the last 400 years or so equally distributes the mathematical error over all 12 notes. The error is the 12th root of 2. The result is that every chord is equally out of tune. For the most part our ears have come to accept this. The problem comes when a guitarist attempts to tune a single chord so it is “beatless” or in perfect (just) tuning. This will work for the I and V chords in a given key but the minute you change keys, you are going to be radically out of tune.
    The only practical way to fool mother nature (physics) is to tune an open chord and play slide. That is why steel guitars have that sweet, in tune sound when properly tuned and played.
    Another factor is that the frets on guitars are placed according to equal temperament and if you want to be in some kind of agreement with keyboards, they are all set up with equal temperament.

  24. Great information. To stretch/take slack out of the strings, I use the right hand, in playing position: squeezing the 1st and 3d, 2nd and 5th, then 4th and 6th.

    My “test” chord is the G, but with the 2nd string fretted on the 3d fret. It often reveals a sharp 2nd string. In fact–after 40 years of playing–I finally realized that I’ve been playing the the upper three strings a little sharp all these years! The tuner helped me figure that out, although I agree that the tend note to be precise enough. I use the tuner to “set” the A string (probably a habit from the old “tuning fork days”, then tune the rest of the strings from various intervals and harmonics. For example, I use the harmonic on the 5th string, VII fret to check the 1st string. Then the 1st string VII fret to test the open 2nd string.

    If you capo, it’s ESPECIALLY important to take the slack out, using the same technique you use without the capo. But I also “wiggle” the capo to allow the strings to move.

    Final “trick,” don’t tune immediately after picking up a guitar “cold.” At least for an acoustic, it will warm up as you play for a few minutes, and the strings will get sharper. Play for 3-4 minutes, then tune.

  25. you are making a very good point. a guitar or any other musical instrument (including the human voice) is more musical when the frequencies line up. the closer the better. i think this is why Lennon and McCartney or Buckingham and McVie almost sound like one voice when we hear them sing together. precision matters. this is the best point you make. a question for you. do you know how much a wooden guitar neck moves around just because of changing environmental conditions? i will promise that it is far more than how many beats you set between F# and D in a D chord. when musicians decide to use a fret to intone a note, they are deciding to require the fretted neck be a machine. wood does not generally make good machinery. i build aluminum because wood can not maintain the kind of precision it sounds like you want. the tricks you outline show that – 1) you care 2) you can hear 3) you are willing to not skip steps to get there. but, all of your trick are coming from the context of conventional wisdom. bad conventional wisdom. you know – wood makes the best guitar neck, or very good machine heads will solve tuning problems. i hear the same nonsensical talking points over and over again. “if aluminum were such a good neck, why would almost all guitar necks be made of wood?” or, “wood qualitatively damps the string.” all of this can be easily taken down. my point is – if you really care about tuning, and i salute you for doing so, get rid of the wooden hack with it’s truss rod, and get a real guitar neck. get aluminum because it will smoke a plastic neck too.

  26. All good and fairly obvious points. Everybody has an approach that works for them.

    Interesting how some folks focus intensely on specific pieces of the puzzle. Cool! Lots to learn and rust never sleeps…

    I used to set up my own guitars a lot but have gotten out of the habit because I’m now incredibly busy with all the different “planes” that I’m landing.

    I’d like to take them in seasonally but it’s expensive and then I’m without that guitar for a while. I think set-up is a very fundamental point to this whole discussion. I usually take them in when I notice some kind of issue. There’s a pro shop just up the street from me.

    I’ve never tried guitars made out of other materials, but I’ve got a piano that’s in a more “natural tuning”.

    I’m a lefty so I don’t have a huge arsenal of guitars. My wife’s from a bona fide Russian gypsy clan based around New York and I lost my sanity and traded in my Les Paul standard and Fender amp for a Spanish guitar.LOL

    So far, I manage to play in tune most of the time. I just purchased KHR and I’m doing even more recording.

  27. doug hazelrigg June 17, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    As a couple people mentioned, guitars are out-of-tune by design. This is due to the Equal Temperament mode of tuning we use here in the West, as well as a flaw in guitar design. I’ve seen on the web a European company that builds guitars with uneven frets that is supposed to compensate for these issues. I find it MUCH easier to simply tune the guitar so it’s perfect for one set of chords, and the retune and punch-in to correct the chord or two that isn’t right

  28. I don’t like all this “guitars are out of tune by design” talk.

    Yes, theoretically, they are right. It’s kinda like saying that Dave Letterman sounds distorted on his TV show. Theoretically, he probably has about 0.0032% distortion through the gear they are using on him. Technically, Isaac Newton screwed up. Einstein showed him the correct theoretical way in which the world pretty much works, but take a 50lb rock, hold if over your foot, and let go. Newton got it close enough.

    A good guitar player compensates for this tuning as he plays. There’s no need to delve into impracticalities we have no control over (unless we plan on redesigning the guitar as we know it). There are plenty of guys who sound great in IN TUNE using our gold ol’ Strats and Les Pauls. The question is “how do we get THAT?

    Brandon

  29. I totally agree with you Brandon. It’s rediculous how anal people can become over something which has functioned superbly for neons. I doubt (no doubt!) the first makers of music had the technical knowhow and equipment to be classed ‘in-tune’, but I bet the stuff sounded beyond this world.

    And would you have the balls and audacity to tell Robert Johnson his guitar was inherently flawed and out-of-tune? And would he care? Would anybody care except an engineer with aspergers?

    Are we to now look back on decades of guitar history and undermine the greatest works because the silly fools were playing about an 8th of a note out on some chords?

    Jimmy Page, you faker! You charlatan!

  30. As long as the guitar is set up generally ok, it’s on the player to morph his playing (finger pressure, chord voicing, etc) to the instrument.

    Jay von Mohr

  31. Sorry, but both Tony and Brandon are missing the point.

    You may not like that the guitar and all the musical instruments using the tempered tuning system are all slightly out of tune but that doesn’t make the facts go away.

    Listen to a G# harmonic on the 6th string roughly at the 4th fret and it does not match the G# on the 3rd string.

    The harmonic is the true major third and the G# on the third string is the tempered one.

    The idea behind the tempered tuning system is that all the big vibrations (octaves and fifths) are in tune and the smaller vibrations like the ones that generate the thirds and flat sevenths in the overtone series are tempered. They are inherently weaker vibrations and in the context of a vibrating string they are not as noticeable. In the context of a chord in root position they are not as noticeable.

    Understanding this idea is not at all about being anal, it’s about understanding how the system works so you can set up instruments to play “in tune”. Otherwise, we’d be stuck playing in only one key and we wouldn’t be able to modulate as easily to other keys.
    Robert Johnson knew that the world is inherently flawed and a musical instrument is a world in itself, just like the physical world we live in.
    People are redesigning the instrument. Check out the just intonation fretboards. Steve Vai is playing them and he is really in tune when he plays.

    So how do we get “in tune”? We intonate the instruments so the octaves and fifths sound good and so that they get slightly sharper as we go up the fretboard relative to other notes.

    Nothing is perfect, not even people but flawed people are still capable of doing great things just like our instruments.

    I hope you guys open your ears!

    Peace and much love,

    Daniel

    guitarist,

    James Robinson Group
    Favored Nations Acoustic
    http://www.james-robinson.com

  32. I agree to dis-agree with the “out..by design” theory. Humans have only been making stringed instruments for how many years now? I think the design is as perfected as it’s gonna get unless someone goes to the trouble of making necks with strangely alligned frets to account for the minute variations in intonation from one string to another. Who would go to that much trouble? Just set the guitar up right and be done with it. Does string size match neck scale(number of frets)? String length set to account for size and ride height? Sit down with a tuner(a good one) one night and run up and down the neck(at least to the 12th fret) while watching the tuner and see if your tuning is TRUE to scale on the neck on all strings. Use your ear as well,I agree that no tuner is perfect. It’s not rocket science or anything that complicated when you get down to it. It sometimes requires more time and patience than some people want to invest in their craft. Everything else I’ve seen here regarding tuning techniques–pretty much right on depending on personal taste and individual guitar setups. I’m no expert or anything, but I know what works, and I’ve never had complaints about my set-up work.

  33. You may not like that the guitar and all the musical instruments using the tempered tuning system are all slightly out of tune but that doesn’t make the facts go away.

    No, it doesn’t. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the hands are 100x bigger issue than the guitar 99.9999% of the time. At least, for me this has been the case.

    Take a very good local guitar player. Have him play a riff once. Him him play a riff a second time. In this 10 second period he will be out of tune on different chords. To me this instantly illustrates that the hands are the name of the game. If the guitar were the bigger issue the guitar would be out of tune in an exact way each and every time. This does happend, but not often in my experience of recording hundreds and hundreds of guitar players.

    Yes, the guitar has physical flaws, but I’m not sure where this conclusion leads us. Are we suggesting we just throw up our hands and give up? I don’t think you are. So what are you suggesting?

    Maybe there are better guitar designs or new breakthroughs in guitar technology. However, I’m not a guitar designer. I’m a recorder that needs practical solutions I can use on a session tomorrow.

    Brandon

  34. Mike Wendland June 19, 2010 at 1:52 am

    I think what all the folks who bring up equally tempered tuning are suggesting is to merely keep it in mind, even though the player is vastly more important. I know from experience that when your ears get to a certain point, you do have to really compromise between an open c chord sounding “perfectly” in tune and an open e chord sounding “perfectly” in tune. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make them both sound ridiculously beautiful together, but I actively think about the compromise when I tune by ear. There’s a happy medium where both sound great, but at the same time you can make the C chord sound “perfect”, and the E chord sound a hair dissonant.
    It’s also really important for getting a piano in tune.
    Also, honestly, it’s just kinda fun to think about! Even if it’s not practically important the majority of the time.

  35. “You may not like that the guitar and all the musical instruments using the tempered tuning system are all slightly out of tune but that doesn’t make the facts go away.”

    I neither like nor dislike. I’m indifferent. Why? The FACTS are that the greatest works on guitar have been on the dreaded tempered system. Shock horror! How could we have been so naive?

    If it weren’t for the flaws in the guitar we wouldn’t have the likes of the ‘Iron Man’ riff by Black Sabbath or the concept of open strings. The flaws you point out are actually utilised as techniques to give the instrument character and personality.

    Interesting speculation on what Robert Johnson would have thought by-the-way. But I fear you missed my point this time. Was Robert Johnson overly-concerned about his tuning or was he focused on creating music?

  36. A similar discussion actually raged in Europe about 300 some odd years ago. The Church versus Science and Musicians. It’s fascinating how traditional western harmony developed.

    Apparently J.S. Bach settled it when he composed the “Well Tempered Clavier” :-)

    This is a great discussion and very entertaining! I’ve learned a great deal reading everyone’s input. I think we could all write a book :-)

    I know one thing…paying attention to my tuning is a habit but now it’s gonna be highlighted in my mind! Even though I think perfectionism is destructive, I’m aiming for excellence… or at least getting the job done.

    That being said, I think every guitarist or keyboard player should try singing intervals in tune and dancing with lots of women at some point!

  37. I just want to make a sincere apology to anyone who isn’t heterosexual or male. I should’ve chosen my words more carefully.
    I’m just having a bit of fun and pointing out that I like music to have at least a little sexiness added into the mix :-)

    Peace to all,
    Dave

  38. ??? who was insulted? I was thinking… “Yo, get outta your mom’s basement. See that over there?… that’s a real girl… a giirrrrll!” Oh, & don’t forget to tune your guitar now.

  39. Thanks for the insightful comment, Jay.

    Go get ‘em, player…

  40. You know Jay, I was gonna just let your immature comment slide by. But now I’m feeling really ticked off because I just joined this Forum and was excited about it. I thought I’d found a place to contribute from my own wealth of experience as a professional musician and to also learn from the viewpoints and experiences of others… but in a positive and enlightening kind of way.

    Your attack right at the outset of my joining this Forum has now given me a bad taste about the whole thing…even though I realize there are many professional and intelligent folks aboard.

    I don’t know how your comment even made it through the filters and into the thread! At least according to the Agreement I checked off when joining.

    I was simply erring on the side of being respectful since I’m new here. Also, here in Canada we’re taught to be that way in elementary school..it’s woven into the fabric of the culture I live in.

    So unless you’ve got people lined up around the block at venues in order to hear you perform and women lined up at your back door, I think you should back down, “shut up n’ play your guitar!”

    Even so, what is it that’s causing the comb filtering in the tiny little box that you’re thinking inside of? Alcohol? Drugs? Or are you actually just that parochial in you outlook? You don’t know me or anything about me to assume anything. If you weren’t “insulted”, then why did you even react to my comment?

    I know one thing…I’ve got rock wool and bass traps up now. If you generate any more annoyingly stupid and obnoxious frequencies they simply won’t get through. You’re cancelled out in my world.

    With that said, I wish you peace and good luck in your sojourn here on earth.

  41. My comments on the guitar being out of tune by design was more talking about a luthier choosing one piece of wood that is not as stable as another piece of wood. Some pieces are just more unstable than others.

    BTW, one of the reasons slide guitar became popular way back when is because they couldn’t get a guitar to stay in tune through a whole song.

    Ken Parker got around the whole wood as inferior material thing by placing carbon fibre sheets along the back of guitar necks and bodies. They are extremely stable but still retain the tonal characteristics of the wood. They were also built to extremely exacting standards, the likes of which almost no other manufacturer could stand up to. Unfortunately they are now made by US Music Corp and standards have slipped a bit. Oh well.

    You also sometimes get the guitar that was built at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and just isn’t up to snuff. Think about the CBS 3 bolt Fender necks. You could have had 8 bolts on that neck and would have moved. It was simply shoddy workmanship. There were still some good ones, but you have to look for them. Sometimes the neck tenons aren’t seated properly and cause tuning to be inconsistent. These sorts of problems aren’t as rampant as they used to be, but they still occur way more often than should be expected. I know numerous guitar players who have flaws in their guitars, because of design or fit and finish,that give them undesirable characteristics. They just don’t know the difference or how to fix them. Just be aware of the issues when you buy the guitar in the first place and save yourself a headache.

    As far as Peterson Tuners go, I’m sure some of you guys have great ears, but everybody has an off day. The tuner doesn’t. It does it’s job to high level of accuracy every time you use it. It also means someone with a less than perfect ear can still tune to a high degree of accuracy. I can hear the rub inside of every chord just as well as the next guy, but a Peterson gets the guitar to the best compromise available quickly and silently. If you’re only playing in one key or using only one chord shape, it can get you to a more refined compromise in that situation as well. It also doesn’t matter that your accurate ears have tuned your guitar if the bass player’s ears tuned his instrument less accurately. The tuner is as close to infallible and repeatable as you can get. BTW, I guarantee you that Steve Via does not tune his guitars by ear. Neither does his guitar tech who does the lion’s share of his tuning. They use tuners. In fact, the last time I saw him, they were using Peterson tuners backstage. I’m not sure what he’s using today.

    Brandon, it sounds like you work with some awful guitar players. That’s some pretty woeful technique to go that noticeably out of tune that easily. That sort of inconsistency is also a symptom of a sticking nut or saddles, badly installed strings or out of balance tremolo which would be made worse by sticking saddles. I know numerous player who are extremely good, but have tuning issues because of badly setup guitars. Not saying it’s the #1 issue, but when dealing with good musicians, it’s at least #2 IME. That’s just my experience, but yours obviously differs.

  42. Thanks for the info on the Peterson Tuners. I’m definitely going to look into them. I’ve always been a bit “arrogant” about my ears. I think I could benefit from experimenting with a new and more pro approach.

    Being a lefty, I’ve definitely had issues with “bad” guitars over the years. They were probably manufactured at 4:30 pm on Friday afternoon :-) I read once that’s why Jimi Hendrix only used right handed guitars flipped over even though Fender offered to make him a lefty. Hendrix was apparently a little superstitious about the manufacturing quality. I don’t know how true that is.

    I’m casually in the market right now for a new solidbody of some kind… although I’m also attracted to the idea of a 335 type of sound. I’m going to be keeping the issues you mentioned clearly in mind… once I find the few lefties actually available! I should’ve listened to my dad many years ago when he told me I’d have trouble buying instruments! But hey! I’m left handed and I was also “self-taught” in the first several years…just copying of records and jamming with friends in bands and such.

    I’d also be curious to try a guitar manufactured out of a different material than wood. Are they also typically lighter?

    Over the years I’ve had pretty good luck with playing in tune as long as my guitars are well set up and temperature/humidity changes aren’t too severe. But sometimes I’ll grab new chord voicings or I’ll grab old familiar ones with different fingers while in the ‘heat of battle” and I’ll hear tuning issues…even though I silently tune between songs, during songs, etc. But that’s mostly in live situations. With recording we have a lot more control over things.

    I’ve learned a lot from this thread. Thanks :-)

  43. Um Dave… i wasn’t even talking about you. I was trying to figure out why you were apologizing in your comment about dancing with girls.

    My comment was a self deprecating joke at how most of the nerdy musicians (like me) are more likely to be practicing (& tuning) in their parents basement than out with girls & groupies. I guess you didn’t get my point. That’s ok, good luck with your music.

    JvM

  44. “You may not like that the guitar and all the musical
    instruments using the tempered tuning system are all
    slightly out of tune but that doesn’t make the facts go
    away.”

    No, it doesn’t. However, it doesn’t change the fact
    that the hands are 100x bigger issue than the guitar
    99.9999% of the time. At least, for me this has been the
    case.

    “Take a very good local guitar player. Have him play a
    riff once. Him him play a riff a second time. In this
    10 second period he will be out of tune on different
    chords. To me this instantly illustrates that the hands
    are the name of the game. If the guitar were the bigger
    issue the guitar would be out of tune in an exact way
    each and every time. This does happend, but not often
    in my experience of recording hundreds and hundreds of
    guitar players.”

    The hands and finger pressure is an issue but it’s a secondary issue. The stringed instruments you record have to be set up and intonated first- understanding how the tuning system works is a means to achieve that end and allows you to adjust your instrument to your taste without relying on a guitar tech taking several days to adjust your instrument for you. That’s something you can usually do on an electric instrument right away at the session if necessary. I always carry tools to make those adjustments.
    There has to be an order of operations: if the guitar isn’t set up right, then the experience and level of the player makes little difference.
    A player who has intonation problems because of finger pressure simply has to spend time training in a teaching studio with a good teacher.
    The most common hand problems are players who squeeze the neck with their hands (too much) instead of pulling directly back with the arm, allowing the muscles in the hand to relax. This also keeps the player from pulling the strings down or up perpendicular to the fretboard. This minute stretching of the strings causes the pitch to go sharp and might be the source of your players playing the same thing in tune then out of tune a moment later.
    Pulling the strings down or up in a controlled fashion turns into vibrato or string bending to a target pitch.

    There are shades of being in tune just as there are different shades of color that we can see with our eyes.
    I’m not saying that equal temperament is a bad system or that everything sounds out of tune in equal temperament-neither do I ignore all the masterworks that have been written for equal temperament. It’s an ingenious system that distributes the problems across all the intervals so much that we hardly notice the beats in the major thirds or at least our ears have learned to accept them.
    Those shades of being in tune are what makes chorus pedals great or give character to vibrato or string bends.
    How sharp is too sharp? Flatness is most likely unacceptable but dropping the pitch with a trem bar quickly can be a great effect.

    “Yes, the guitar has physical flaws, but I’m not sure
    where this conclusion leads us. Are we suggesting we
    just throw up our hands and give up? I don’t think you
    are. So what are you suggesting?”

    I’m not suggesting that we give up-it’s about using the system to get what you want to hear out of your instrument. The more you know the better you are equipped at dealing with problems when they arise and allow you to make educated decisions.
    For example I read in a book once that the B string can be tuned to the B harmonic that appears on the G string at the fourth fret. This is a big no-no because that true major third is not the same as the equal tempered major third.

    You can use this knowledge to make quick adjustments to a guitar when you are in a session or to ask the player to bend up to that note a little sharper or flatter to match the keyboards or bass a little better.

    It’s the same reason you know to check the sample rate on your system if all of a sudden your track plays back at the wrong pitch and your correctly tuned instrument all of a sudden sounds wrong.

  45. I wasn’t blaming guitar flaws for bad playing/tuning problems.Let me rephrase—If one takes the time to make sure their guitar is set-up and tuned properly, then there is no longer any excuse for bad playing/tuning problems and the fault then lies in the player and not the guitar as some have said. I maintain my hardware fairly well, and when I do get to play guitar (I’m a drummer right now) I know when I screw up a note or a chord that it’s ME and not the guitar.—B

  46. I find the more you tune your guitar (after stretching strings etc.) the more it stays in tune. I always tune before and after I play and more or less it is bang on. Sometimes I’ll even tune in the middle of practice. After tuning so much I get lazy because after a week of this I find there is no point in tuning it. Guitar strings seem to settle in so make sure the settle in IN-TUNE. I think the most important point in this hole tip section Brandon is # 6. So many people are so gentle when they tune and then wonder why it goes out when they really play that guitar. I enjoyed this all, keep up the good work.

  47. Jay, I apologize for missing your point. The way in which you missed my point was that I after I had posted, I realized that I’d made a very general projection about everyone who might be involved with this thread as being heterosexual and male. Probably because as I said, here in Toronto we are taught to be aware of differences in cultures from a young age. It’s something I might have actually been reminded about here.
    That is what I was apologizing for. And I’m new to the forum so I was being cautious about things. Anyways, no worries.

    This thread is great! It’s like a discussion on religious and political views for guitarists ;-)
    ==> I have a Taylor dreadnaught style that very rarely seems to go out. I only need to stretch the strings when I replace them. I think it’s because it enhances just the right overtones in creating it’s gorgeous timbre. Plus I utilize open strings as much as possible with it…and keep it safely in its case when not playing it.
    It’s mostly been my electrics over the years that I’ve needed to tweak about with at times. Of course, we tend to venture all over the neck.
    I’m also considering getting back to setting up and tweaking my own guitars. Just the simple stuff… no fret dressing or anything.
    Best to all :-)

  48. doug hazelrigg June 21, 2010 at 10:17 am

    So Yarritu and I simply point out the facts regarding Equal Temperment and flaws in the design of the guitar and some start wringing their hands and make ridiculous and unfair and insulting accusations? Is THAT how it works?

    Any decent guitar player or MUSICIAN should be at least aware of these issues, and know ways to mitigate them.

    Also, some of us are more sensitive to tuning issues than others; some of us hear things and some of us don’t. But the tuning issues are there. The question is, how to deal with it.

    Anybody who has looked into the mathematics of the Equal Temperment system knows that one, there’s nothing that can be done about it, and two, it’s STILL the best overall method for tuning instruments we have (in the West).

    Anybody that has played guitar for a given length of time knows that there are tuning issues that plague the instrument. It’s just a fact. Just because I cite this fact doesn’t mean I want to “give up” as one person in this thread suggested. I want a SOLUTION.

    I’ve tried Buzz Feiten plus and even better method that my local luthier invented and it helps, but my main axe has locking tuners and you can’t do Buzz Feiten on that kind of guitar.

    So what is the answer? On a lot of songs the particular chord progression involved minimizes these issues. On a few others, however, they’re magnified. For me the best solution has been to simply re-tune and punch in to correct the offending chord. Why not? The modern DAW affords us this flexibility.

    BTW, Brandon, I mentioned that there IS a European company that makes guitars with uneven frets to offset the design flaws of even frets. I couldn’t find it after a brief search of the Web. Anyway, they are the weirdest looking guitars you’ve ever seen.

  49. doug hazelrigg June 21, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I found the link to the company that builds guitars with uneven frets:

    http://www.truetemperament.com/site/index.php

    Would they build this if there weren’t an issue?

    Case closed

  50. I found the link to the company that builds guitars with uneven frets:

    http://www.truetemperament.com/site/index.php

    Would they build this if there weren’t an issue?

    Case closed

    I don’t think anyone here is disputing in the inherit limitations of the typical guitar design. I’d love to try one of these guitar out! However, if I did, I’m positive I would be out of tune in there somewhere because of MY limitations as a guitar player.

    If the case were closed, this guitar maker would guarantee that all players, regardless of skill, would be in tune 100% of the time. That’s obviously not the case and that is my point. I guess to me the “case” is how to make guitar recordings that are in better tune. For others, it seems the “case” is whether guitar technology could improve. I’m not sure how we got on the latter.

    Brandon

  51. All I read here is good information to say the least. I’ve learned a few things myself from reading all the comments. We could go on about it for weeks I’m sure, but I think the more important issue is to do what we need to do and get on with the recordings. I know I hate to have to redo tracks due to technical problems that could have been dealt with before-hand. I’m not going to sit here and say I see and know everything either, stuff happens. Just fix it and keep moving forward.–B

  52. doug hazelrigg June 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    What I meant was the case is closed whether guitars have inherent tuning issues due to design. Some where disputing this or minimizing it. The case of how to mitigate this fact is wide open, however. To be honest, I think most such issues are mitigated by arriving at a happy medium. For example, the G string which is so problematic. Tune it so an E Major chord sounds right, suddenly an open C doesn’t. So you kind of arrive at a trade off, and tune it somewhere in the middle where it won’t be offensive if either chord is fretted.

    GREAT topic, Brandon; well done!

  53. Hi guys! I work at a music instrument shop and have to set up and re-string guitars very often. I have a few recommendations for anyone interested:
    1. Set intonation very, very slightly flat. Make sure the 1st and 2nd srings are a little sharper than the rest (but still slighlty flatter than the in-tune reading) for barre chords, where those exert less pressure than the other fingers. 2. Use heavier gauge. 3. Boil your strings when you have to change soon before gig. 4. Make sure other guys’ intonation is ok, also for bassists and GM1 keyboard users (!). 5. Use Gripmaster “Varigrip” or “Heavy tension” and weights.

    1. If you set your strings’ intonation just SUPER SLIGHTLY FLAT (the needle is veering very slightly away from the “in tune” position) when you use “AVERAGE FINGER PRESSURE”, compared to the harmonic equivalent at the 12th fret, it compensates for FINGER PRESSURE VARIATIONS (like the range from barre chords to good vibrato in solos), as opposed to setting it for a SPECIFIC FINGER PRESSURE, like when set for playing chords or set for lead and using vibrato. The reason is that when you play chords, the notes get coloured by the variations in voicings of the chord and you can add very MILD VIBRATO to the chords or a little extra squeeze on them which allows you to “surf” the tuning of your guitar with your fingers (!!!!) and makes it sound expressive, like some pro guitarists tend to, on recordings. This is apparently one reason why their guitars sound in tune and why people associate their musicality with something melodic or musical as opposed to something which clashes. Because the sounding of the chords is dynamically rich, like BENDING A GUITAR STRING AND ADDING VIBRATO ARE MUSICAL AND DYNAMICALLY RICH. IF YOU STRIKE THE STRING AT “AVERAGE” INTENSITY IT WILL GO SHARP AND THEN FLAT. This compensates for that. Sorry for ALL THE CAPS LOCK MOMENTS BUT YOU KNOW HOW IT IS WHEN YOU READ A LOT OF INFO AND YOU’RE A NEWBIE OR EVEN A PRO… That wasn’t eXprEsSeD very well…

    There are a great variety of finger pressures one would use with a guitar in different positions on the fretboard and in different types of song…

    This also applies for different chords in the same fret area. SOLUTION: If you set your 1st and 2nd strings’ intonation slightly sharper than the other strings (but still a little flat of in-tune), it compensates for the lack of finger pressure when playing barre chords, especially when chomping the fretboard so you can get that recording contract (with the fingers… “make it talk”, right?).

    2. Finally I’ve reached the second point:
    Don’t be afriad of using a heavier gauge. I started learning with an electric with 13 gauge when I was a kid and found it fine. Off-the-shelf acoustic guitars at shops normally have 12 gauge strings and have higher string height than off the shelf electrics, which mostly have 9 gauge which means that acoustics are harder to play. Yet, that’s how they sell acoustics to newbies or shredders without much concern for intonation, playability or tone. Acoustics tend to have much worse intonation but much better tuning stability. With low action your 12s will feel okay and let’s face it, if you get chicks when you’re playing 12s and 13s because your visible forearms are getting a solid “Velvet Revolver / Slash” workout, like I did before I turned into a man (“Way past 21…” [Sorry Muddy Waters, nothing happened]) and started using 9s and stopped finding true love (over and over)… Have I revealed the real reason why the MTV guys are always singing about lost love (#1).

    3. Boil your strings. Flying Eddie Van Halen did. Especially if you’re playing a gig soon and and you can’t wait 5 days for the strings to “settle down”. I recommend this more for regularly gigging musicans than people who feel that their strings are “dead” after a week. They ain’t dead dude. That’s what they sound like… (joke). Ahem: )

    4. This is almost as important as #1 but you know how it is with people: can’t tell ‘em what’s best, without them using some schmo from a guitar blog as a referen… If the bassist’s intonation is out (they are never in. Tell them and live the pain of losing a friend); if the other guitarist’s intonation is out… if the vocalist is prone to singing out of tune… if the vocalist has that EL CHEAPO reverb on his mic (I tried singing with reverb and without and found I was pretty much okay without the clanging false tones that reverb generates when it’s used at even low reverb volume levels)… If the keyboard guy is using that EL CHEAPO General MIDI 1 sound with its rubbish out of tune tone with its “if we add a chorus effect on top of this it’ll sound like some instrument which no-one will use but we can still say that there are 473 different instrument sounds available!!!!! Think of how much money we can make with this device with its 5(and a half) usable sounds.) Have I said too much again (#2)? Tell the keyboardist to play in tune as well, and lose a friend if you must… Be professional.

    5. Use a Gripmaster ™ and weights (Refer to MTV guys “Have I said too much reference #1″) and be comfortable with bending to the same position with your heavier gauge strings as your light gauges but hitting a slightly lower note because the heavier string gauge doesn’t resonate the same pitch at that point as with a light gauge. Become a “Jazz Guy”… When “Jazz Guys” hear you play, they won’t make you feel like you aren’t a real musician because you can’t play Misty for them!!!!!!! Play Misty!

    6. If you’ve made it this far into my litle contribution, CONGRATS!!! You have great concentration and don’t need to buy anything that slows stuff to half speed so you can learn that lick! You are the “New Jazz”, “New… NuMetal”, “New Kid on the Block”!!!! That last one was for the older kids… Ask your mom…

  54. All good info re tuning. You all make good points.
    One of the most important things I feel should be considered is the tuners (machines) and how you use them.
    When tuning strings I ALWAYS tune up to the note from a step or two below. This tensions the strings around the tuning peg.My guitars stay in tune all the way.

    As for boiling strings. NUP, NO WAY, NEVER. They have a certain amount of elasticity and when you boil them that goes out the window. They will go dull fast and just sound like cr*p. My own opinion of course.

    Intonation is critical. You might play the open D nice but play up the fretboard and tuning goes out the window. Make sure intonation is setup for the strings you use then stay with that brand/gauge.

    The components. I have an MIM Strat and when using the trem it went out of tune horribly. Soultion? I installed Graphtech nut and string trees. Problem solved. Almost. I setup the guitar again, String tension, intonation height etc and now I can body slam the trem bar till it almost hits the wood and she stays in tune. If the strings bind anywhere then the tuning will suffer. Make sure the saddles are smooooth so the strings slide freely over them.

    Technique: Hand preassure is a good one to think about. I demonstrate this to my students by pressing lightly on the E6th string at the 5th fret and playing the note (A for those who didn’t work it out LOL.) then I play it again this time pressing hard. The pitch increases. I show then on the tuner also. Keeping relaxed with the left hand (cept you Dave) make a massive amount of difference to the stability of the tuning while playing.

    Well, I hope this discussion has inspired all the twangers out there to think about the tuning.

  55. Numbers 7 and 8 are the best (Throw The Tuner Out / Tune Specific To The Chord). The problem of many cheap guitars is that when you tune it using the tuner it may be tuned in one position and not tuned in another one. To avoid this I use the tuner to tune only the first string and the rest 5 strings I tune listening to the chords… and also depending in what position I will have to play the song and what chords I will use in it!

  56. Bruce W Hathaway August 31, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I’ve read this article and all of your suggestions are good ones. I also wanted to mention that a guitar is not temper tuned so naturally many strings although they’re tuned in the open position run into all kinds of problems when you play on certain frets. The solution, as you mentioned is to compensate for this by tuning for the key you’re in. That darned G string! I always tune it just a little flat so it doesn’t sound sharp when say, you’re playing an Emaj chord in the open position.

  57. For a differing opinion:

    Use a tuner. They are fast and will get you super-close. Not only check the open D but also the open A. Because of equal temperament issues, those are two really good ones to make happy.

    Don’t “stretch your strings aggressively.” You may as well be “taking the life out of your brand new strings”. The give of the wire feels good and is where a lot of a musicality of playing the instrument can be found. Don’t throw it down the toilet in the hope of some sort of absolute tuning stability. Wind them correctly and you won’t need to take them on a short, violent trip to being half worn out before you play a not.

    “Never tune flat”. This is confusing and not a particularly useful viewpoint as you are tuning from a “kinda, almost, it’ll probably settle down into being right” standpoint. Make it right right then. Maybe he meant “always tune start with the string flat and tune it up to pitch”? Now there’s some useful advice.