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Thread: Guitar Tuning and Temperament Primer (revised)

  1. #1
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    Guitar Tuning and Temperament Primer (revised)

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    Guitar tuning and temperament primer.

    Much has been said on this board and others about the reality behind getting your guitar in tune and what can and canít be achieved. Recently the subject came up and I was asked if any of the threads on the subject were worthy of being stickied. My sig a few links to some useful info on the subject but often people donít have the time or inclination to wade through them.

    This thread is an attempt to present that information and try to put it into terms that the average guitar player can understand and relate to. This content is taken both from my notes and handouts which are aimed at degree level students and those links I referred to.

    Iíll start simple and elaborate if anyone wants a more in depth understanding.


    So whatís the deal with guitar tuning?


    A common problem many guitar players encounter as they improve and start to listen carefully to what they are playing is that many of the chords they play just donít sound properly in tune. They will adjust one of the notes in that chord to compensate only to find that other chords are now out of wack. A frustrating problem and the first thing many will do is look to the intonation on their guitar as the source of the problem. Although the intonation needs to be right and should be set correctly it isnít the root cause of the problem and will not cure it.

    Why is this?

    So what is the problem? Basically in a nutshell the musical system of dividing the octave into 12 equal divisions that we use today is not perfect. The only intervals that will be perfect are the octave and unisons. Letís take a quick look at some of the science behind tuning. If we take a vibrating string it has a frequency that is dependent on the mass per unit length of the string, the tension in the string and the string length. To keep things simple for now we shall concentrate on the string length as this is what is important to us.
    We shall give the string length a value of 1. It has a fixed frequency at that length. Now we shall divide the string exactly in half and now the frequency is exactly an octave higher in pitch and where the 12th fret is on your guitar. For now assume we havenít changed the tension in the string. The octave can be described as 2:1 as a ratio.

    To bypass some of the more mundane maths for the moment accept that the ratio above is true. Pythagoras, way back when, discovered that the other notes that form perfect intervals can also be expressed as ratios of divisions of a string in the same way.

    They are the octave is 2:1, the fifth 3:2, the fourth 4:3, the major third 5:4, the minor third 6:5, the major sixth 5:3, the minor sixth 8:5, the whole tone 9:8. Dividing the string according to these ratios produces pure intervals without beats.

    In other words you need to divide the string using the ratios above to sound as perfect intervals. As an example to sound a perfect fifth we would need to fret the string exactly one third of the string length. We divide the string into three and stop it one third of the way along. A ratio of 3:2
    The other perfect intervals follow the same rules. For the fourth divide in to four and stop one quarter of the way along or a ratio of 4:3.

    Why donít we position frets to give perfect intervals?

    OK thatís the theory. So why doesnít it apply to the guitar? Simply if we did that then you would be able to sound a perfect fifth in one position and in relation to just one key note. Try and play the same interval starting on another note and it would be way off. We get round this by tinkering with the intervals by sharpening or flattening them by small amounts to bring things back into line

    The problem lies in the fact that by dividing the string into 12 equal intervals as we do today the ratios and as a result the intervals are not perfect. Each one is compromised to fit as closely as possible to give a system that can play ďalmostĒ in tune in every key. This tuning system is known as 12 note equal temperament or 12ET. Essentially to avoid having some perfect intervals and some imperfect and to facilitate playing in more than one key signature the notes of the scale are adjusted or ďtemperedĒ by varying degrees to even out the inaccuracies.

    12ET is a good system and it works but it isnít perfect. With the exception of the octave and the unison all the intervals on your guitar are off perfect by different amounts. It is unavoidable.

    So what can we do about it?

    In short there isnít much you can do to change the tuning system we use but you can do two things to help the situation. First, you have to understand and accept that 12ET is a compromise designed to allow you to play equally ďout of tuneĒ in all keys. Secondly you can tune you guitar with reference to a single note to avoid further compounding these compromises by transferring them from string to string.

    A method of tuning the guitar to play well in 12ET,

    I make no apologies for cribbing this instruction directly from an article in the GAL Journal published some years ago. There are quite a few methods of tempering your guitar when tuning but this one is about the best I have come across. Essentially you are trying to tune all strings with reference to a single note at either the unison or octave. Try it

    Tune the 1st and 6th strings: The E, open 1st string, should be in pure unison with the harmonic of the E, 6th string at the fifth fret.

    Tune the 4th string: Play a harmonic on the (in tune) 6th string at the 12th fret, adjust the 4th string until the E on the second fret is in pure unison.

    Tune the 2nd string: Play a harmonic on the (in tune) 4th string at twelve. As this sounds, adjust the 2nd string until D at the 3rd fret is in pure unison.

    Tune the 3rd string: Play a harmonic on the (in tune) 4th string at twelve and as this sounds, adjust the 3rd string until D at the 7th fret is in pure unison. Your done now check it.

    Double check: Play a harmonic on the (now tuned) G string at twelve, and as this tone sounds, play G on the 1st string at three. The two tones should be in pure unison. If they are not, you've done it wrong or the instrument doesn't fret in tune at seven. Go back to the beginning and carefully check each step up to this point. If the tones are still faulty, then readjust the 3rd string until the harmonic at twelve is in unison with the 1st at three. Do not tamper with the 1st and 4th strings because it is the 3rd string you are trying to bring in tune. When you have the 1st, 6th, 4th, 2nd and 3rd strings in tune, in that order, continue with the remaining 5th string.

    Tune the 5th string: Play the A on the (in tune) 3rd string, at the 2nd fret. Listen to this pitch carefully and now adjust the 5th string until the harmonic at twelve is in pure unison. When the foregoing steps are followed correctly, the strings will be tuned perfectly to equal temperament. No further tuning adjustments will help you now..

    Thatís all for now! Any questions?

    Thatís a very basic nuts and bolts introduction to temperament and tuning when applied to the guitar. As I started by saying, I hope to expand on any and all of this if you folks want me to. In the meantime if you have any questions or if any of it is unclear please ask away and Iíll do my best to fill in the gaps or explain it better.

    The links I have had in my sig for ever are listed below for any that may want to read up on them. They all relate to the subject and are good sources of information on the subject.

    => => Equal Temperament & Guitar Tuning.<= <=
    => => How to tune your guitar - Correctly...<= <=
    => => An excellent in depth look at musical temperaments.<= <=
    Last edited by Chili; 10-16-2009 at 05:08. Reason: Spelling

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    Another idea is the "Buzz Feiten Tuning System" it solves tuning and intonation problems with 2 simple steps:

    1. Shelf Nut
    Shelf Nut moves the strings closer to the first fret according to his Patented Formula. This eliminates sharp notes at the first three frets. The strings are moved closer to the first fret a precise distance based on the scale length, fret width and string gauge of your guitar. The slight overhang of our nut (the 'Shelf') does this without altering your guitar in any way. So it's even fine for vintage guitars.

    2. Intonation
    The guitar's bridge is adjusted according to his Patented Pitch Offsets, creating balanced intonation over the entire fingerboard - every fret - every string.

    I had this system installed by local authorized dealer on one of my USA vintage strats and it is amazing, the guitar always sounds in tune. It really sounds cool if you are playing with another guitar player that tunes normally; you get this almost Chorus type of sound. I did have to buy a better tuner though, the Korg DT-7 tuner seems to work the best.

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    The buzz feiten tuning system is junk. It claims to solve problems that are not solvable for the very reasons that are outlined above.

    You also do not have to buy a better tuner to correctly intonate a guitar. Any tuner that will give you a440 will do.

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    The Mister Know It All you think the Feiten Tuning System is “Junk” that is quite laughable... .. Well that is what opinions are, an opinion. The Buzz Feiten has been reviewed by Guitar Player and a few others with great reviews. Like these reviews.
    http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/guygui...eitentest.html
    http://www.myspace.com/buzzfeitentuningsystem

    Not to mention a lot of manufactures are using this system with great results, including to guitar builders like Tom Anderson and Washburn.
    http://www.washburn.com/resources/re...zz-feiten.html
    Last edited by Double; 02-22-2010 at 10:15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Double View Post
    The Mister Know It All you think the Feiten Tuning System is ďJunkĒ that is quite laughable... .. Well that is what opinions are, an opinion. The Buzz Feiten has been reviewed by Guitar Player and a few others with great reviews. Like these reviews.
    http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/guygui...eitentest.html
    http://www.myspace.com/buzzfeitentuningsystem

    Not to mention a lot of manufactures are using this system with great results, including to guitar builders like Tom Anderson and Washburn.
    http://www.washburn.com/resources/re...zz-feiten.html

    I'd take the word of a mr. no-it-all over a mr. post-a-link anyday.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Double View Post
    The Mister Know It All you think the Feiten Tuning System is “Junk” that is quite laughable... .. Well that is what opinions are, an opinion. The Buzz Feiten has been reviewed by Guitar Player and a few others with great reviews. Like these reviews.
    http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/guygui...eitentest.html
    http://www.myspace.com/buzzfeitentuningsystem

    Not to mention a lot of manufactures are using this system with great results, including to guitar builders like Tom Anderson and Washburn.
    http://www.washburn.com/resources/re...zz-feiten.html
    If you took the time to read and understand the content of the original post you'd know why it is junk. It is junk for exactly the same reason as monstor cables are junk. It claims to do something that is impossible. I would take the word of thousands of years of science and investigation than a company that has a vested interest in promoting it's snake oil. They survive because of gullible people like you.
    Last edited by muttley600; 03-10-2010 at 07:45.

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    Quote Originally Posted by muttley600 View Post
    If you took the time to read and understand the content of the original post you'd know why it is junk. It is junk for exactly the same reason as monstor cables are junk. It claims to do something that is impossible. I would take the word of thousands of years of science and investigation than a company that has a vested interest in promoting it's snake oil. They survive because of gullible people like you.
    Just because you say it is so does not mean it is. Stating it is junk just means you are closed minded. And this to back up what I have been saying along with the other information I posted this great system.

    http://www.edroman.com/techarticles/buzzfeiten.htm

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    Quote Originally Posted by Double View Post
    Just because you say it is so does not mean it is. Stating it is junk just means you are closed minded. And this to back up what I have been saying along with the other information I posted this great system.

    http://www.edroman.com/techarticles/buzzfeiten.htm
    All the physics and science and practical explanation you need to work this out is in the original post. You are not arguing with me but with physics, Good luck with that.

    I'll tell you what, you post a decent explanation of how a vibrating string works along with the important determining factors governing pitch. When you have done that point out which of those predetermined and fixed properties the buzz feiten system has overcome. Once you have done that I will do the same. Oh and you will get extra marks for showing your working and the formula along with examples of how thEy may be applied.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Double View Post
    Just because you say it is so does not mean it is. Stating it is junk just means you are closed minded. And this to back up what I have been saying along with the other information I posted this great system.

    http://www.edroman.com/techarticles/buzzfeiten.htm
    Oh and anyone who has to resort to the Ed Roman site for validation has pretty much admitted they have no clue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by muttley600 View Post
    The buzz feiten tuning system is junk. It claims to solve problems that are not solvable for the very reasons that are outlined above.

    You also do not have to buy a better tuner to correctly intonate a guitar. Any tuner that will give you a440 will do.

    +10000

    I have two Washburns with buzz feiten tuning system and had to replace the nut on one of 'em after two months.

    Junk.
    Quote Originally Posted by muttley600 View Post
    Fuck it. I can't keep up with you..

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