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Is There A Better Way To Tune A Guitar Than Standard 440?

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by Bill Hell, Mar 21, 2016.

  1. Bill Hell

    Bill Hell Tele-Meister

    Nov 30, 2015
    Mesquite Tx
    I'm not talking/thinking about alternate tuning for example tuning to a chord.But no I was talking to a steel player and he mentioned that if he were to tuned to 440 he would be run off the stage and it made me to wonder why is that?
    I mean I tuned my old piano I've been rebuilding using a guitar tuner and "A "was tuned to 440 and the chords sounded good across the whole range. Good but not awesome though like maybe there's a way to build a better mouse trap and perhaps there's a hidden secret maybe somebody knows a little something about I'm hoping!:cool:

    And this got me to thinking if the guitar has dead on intonation could it be possible to get more celestial tones by tuning to other frequencies? What are your thoughts and help me to understand this.Thanks ahead of time.
  2. PacificChris

    PacificChris Tele-Meister Ad Free Member

    Jul 1, 2014
    Northern California
    Dunno what that steel player was talking about. Some orchestras tune to 441 or 442 but most of us guitar players are ok with the 440 built into the snarks or whatever electronic tuners we use. Some people say that music sounds better when A is much lower- 428 or even 415. It's all good as long as everyone in the band agrees to use the same standard.
  3. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US

    The 432 hz buzz hasn't resurfaced in a while, we're probably overdue for another round.

    There may be something to it for all I know. I don't think of it like UFOs or anything like that, more like Eric Johnson and his ears and batteries and stuff.

    I don't pursue this sort of thing partly because I'm lazy in certain ways, but mostly for pragmatic reasons. It's kind of like tuning down a half step. Too much trouble unless it becomes a standard that everybody goes to. I play with too many different folks and play too many stringed instruments to get caught up in stuff like A @ 432 hz and Eb tuning and the like, but good luck to you.
  4. Bill Hell

    Bill Hell Tele-Meister

    Nov 30, 2015
    Mesquite Tx
    I was just reading about tuning to A 432 "pythagorean tuning" and while I've not tried it yet But yeah i was reading others saying that it sounds more colorful but slightly out of wack because pythagorean tuning is actually a different kind of temperament, meaning the notes are not the same distance apart from each other as they would be in in equal temperament if that's the case it would seem that it would only get worse the further up the neck you went haha. I believe this is what the steel player meant by going a few degrees away from 440 not the ancient Greek tuning of Homer and Aristotle lol..But I've not tried any of these I'm just curious. It's got my suspicions aroused!
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
  5. Bill Hell

    Bill Hell Tele-Meister

    Nov 30, 2015
    Mesquite Tx
    I don't mean to digress off the subject but I kind of feel it's related to the subject a little bit. But I know this bass player/producer guy and he's pretty talented. He's received several awards for his jazz rock fusion solo project.
    But he's kind of out there though. I mean he's all into pyramid power and has these triangles strategically placed at his studio and he was telling me about the "Golden Mean ratio" and how he likes to use it on things like Tempo's to songs he records. and I kind of feel like 432 Pythagorean tuning kind of falls into that pseudoscience paranormal realm as the Golden mean ratio. What the heck does religion got to do with tuning telecasters ya know? Now that's just plumb crazy I feel anyways...
    DougM, Mr. Lumbergh and fuffydingo like this.
  6. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    Many pedal steel players will 'adjust' some of their 3rds, 6ths and 9ths (2nds), especially the guys who play in E9 type tunings. For example: they may add a compensator on the first or second pedal to lower the 7th string F# to make it a 'larger' major 2nd interval. This pulls the string in tune with the 'A' tonality of the pedals down position. In the higher octave, the two F#'s problem is solved by tuning the 4th string F# different from the 1st string F#.

    This is called just intonation. It can get quite complicated and good players just use their ears to decide if they want to 'sweeten' their tuning (or not?). Most guys in E9 that are serious about sweetening their tuning will also slightly sharpen their E's to blend better with their F#s and G#s.

    Pianos are not tuned uniformly, whether they're tuned to 440 or 441 or 442. They're tuned "stretch" i.e., the high strings are tuned a we bit sharp and the lower strings a little flat - stretched.

    I certainly don't tune all my (standard) guitar strings to A-440.
    We all know the G and B strings can be problematic.
    I adjust my low E a hair flat.
    Check out ...
    and ...
    *Caveat - good luthiers and repairmen have been 'adjusting' nut and bridge specifications/dimensions for literally centuries.

    **Major opinion ahead. Read at your own risk...
    IMO, the Pythagorean 432 thing is complete jive and it just sounds bad.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
  7. Bill Hell

    Bill Hell Tele-Meister

    Nov 30, 2015
    Mesquite Tx
    Thank you now that's what I was looking for!
    You know one thing I hate about classic Telecasters and I play a really nice Custom Shop Tele that slays other guitars but the bridge is those darn three barrel traditional bridges with two strings to a barrel and each barrel has two set screws one on each end. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

    But anyways those things are a major pain in the rear to set the intonation on.And to switch out the bridge to like individual saddles like a Strat uses would hurt the value of the guitar I kind of think. I dig the classic look of it just hate working on it.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
  8. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    Cindy Cashdollar goes through her tuning tweaks for specific intervals in C6 tuning for steel in her western swing instructional video. If I am playing strictly slide (no *fretted* chords), I will tune whatever open string that represents the major third, slightly flat. So, the B string (as representing the 3rd within a G-shaped triad) on standard tuned guitars, and the F# in open D.

    The most 'in tune' that my guitars sound without any 'by ear' tweaks are when using the Buzz Feiten temperament setting on my Peterson StroboStomp, and none of my guitars have Buzz Feiten nut/offsets.

    All that seems like practical stuff to me.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
    DougM and Bill Hell like this.
  9. Colin

    Colin Tele-Meister

    There's a youtube video somewhere showing how James Taylor tunes his guitars. And he goes a few 'cents' off on each string to do that compensation thing too. With a difference per string.
    E -12
    A -10
    D -8
    G -4
    B -6
    E -3
    kidmeatball likes this.
  10. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    First mistake: listening to pedal steel players o_O
    cabra velha, TMMC and surfoverb like this.
  11. Outspan79

    Outspan79 Tele-Meister

    Jan 1, 2013
    Tuning and intonation is always a compromise, especially on a three saddle telecaster. Each string is going to be flat or sharp at some point on the neck.
    Realistically A 440 is just an arbitrary starting point that has become the norm. Historically many classical composers and conductors have employed their own interpretation of concert pitch.
    Interestingly, middle C when tuned to 440 is right in the centre of the spectrum of human hearing. I don't think that is coincidence.

    Tuning down to Eb or whatever isn't a problem, and can sometimes sound really good. The only problem is playing with other people. The 432 thing always brings out the conspiracy theory types or talk of rainbows, unicorns and cosmic vibrations. I say you cant really argue with mathematics, there must be something to it, but whats the point if you cant play along with anything or anybody else tuned to conventional concert pitch.

    I think what's most interesting is that when people employ alternative tuning they almost always tune down. So guys who may have damaged the upper registers of their hearing may find that they can hear more with a lower tuning.
    Bill Hell likes this.
  12. Bill Hell

    Bill Hell Tele-Meister

    Nov 30, 2015
    Mesquite Tx
    Outspan-Great post! Yeah the problem with those saddles is when you get one string close to being right you effect the other and back and forth it goes. dead on with your other points as well.

    BigDaddyLH-Years ago I actually had a steel player try to tell me that major 7th chords have no place in country music lol.

    Tim Bowen-A while back I saw Cindy Cashdollar play in Redd Volkaert's dvd at the Continental club in Austin Texas and she was rippin it up! If I remember right she was using a couple of different lap steels. I guess one would have a C6 tuning and then on bluesy songs she would switch to a different lap steel I believe it was tuned to a minor chord.

    Klasaine- I'm glad you mention that link to the Buzz Feiten I have an acoustic I think I'd like to have that done to. I have a good strobe that's ancient but still a good one. I appreciate that!
    DSharp likes this.
  13. bchaffin72

    bchaffin72 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 14, 2004
    Stratford, Ontario
    That's what I was going to bring up, but I guess I don't need to now..............:D
  14. elpico

    elpico Tele-Holic

    Sep 14, 2011
    Vancouver BC
    Guitars can benefit from it as well. For anyone who hasn't encountered this before: even a single string played alone is out of tune. It's out of tune with itself. Because the string isn't perfectly flexible it's harmonics shift out of tune with it's bass note/fundamental frequency. In an ideal world each harmonic would be an exact octave of the bass note, but because the string isn't perfect those octaves get pulled sharp. (the effect is called "inharmonicity" if anyone is interested in more info)

    It's a small effect so it's not noticeable when you listen to one string alone. It's only when you play two strings like the low E and high E string together that the problem shows up. Your low E string is always playing it's own version of the note on the high E string. It's the third harmonic of the lower string so you're always playing both notes when you hit the low E. If you tuned both strings to make their bass frequencies "correct" then the high E note your low string produces is now "not correct". When you play both strings together those two different versions of the same high E note will beat and sound a bit off.

    One fix is to tune the high E string with the tuner to get the pitch reference, then play the 5th fret harmonic of the low E string (5th fret) and tune that to the high E to eliminate all beating. Now you've got the right amount of "stretch" to correct for the imperfections of your particular strings and setup.

    The strings in between can be filled in similarly, 5th fret harmonic of the A string tuned to the A on the high E string. Fret the 2nd fret of the D string and the 14th fret harmonic should match the high E etc. With the basic stretch set you can move on to playing a bunch of chords and final tweaking to make sure they all sound "equally bad" and no one chord has ended up with more than it's share of badness. That's the best you can hope for in tuning a guitar, it can never be perfect. It can only be evenly imperfect. A sad fact known since the time of the ancient greeks.
    maxvintage likes this.
  15. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    Is this the Pythagorean Comma?
  16. MilwMark

    MilwMark Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Apr 29, 2013
    near Arnold's
    No. I mean honestly, there just isn't.

    Any other answer is over-thinking and likely to lead to MORE conflict with the guitar itself, and with other instruments in the band. I suspect the "normal" tuning is the standard because it involves the fewest compromises overall. Nothing's perfect.

    That's just my opinion of course.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
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  17. elpico

    elpico Tele-Holic

    Sep 14, 2011
    Vancouver BC
    The comma is the unavoidable problem I'm referring to at the end yes. Nothing we can do about that, it's a mathematical certainty that our instruments will always be out of tune in some ways. Stretching the octaves only gets unisons and octaves as "in tune" as they can sound given the unique amount of error your strings and instrument produces. It can't do anything about the age old problem Pythagoras discovered.
  18. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    That and the sinfulness of eating beans.
    Rospo likes this.
  19. Mr. Lumbergh

    Mr. Lumbergh Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 13, 2013
    Initech, Inc.
    No, that's the difference between enharmonics. We define a C# for example to be equal to a Db, but in reality there is ~23 cents of difference between the two. 12 perfect fifths should get you to the same pitch from your starting point as 7 octaves, but they don't quite match.
    DougM likes this.
  20. LKB3rd

    LKB3rd Friend of Leo's

    Jan 10, 2013
    I think the A 432 stuff is interesting. YouTube has a ton of videos discussing it.
    I'll get accused of going hippy here, but it has to do with an attempt to use frequencies, and multiples thereof, which happen in nature. You can also google cymatics, which is a phenomenon where sand or other similar materials placed on a drum head form intricate patterns when certain frequencies are played, 432 being one of them.
    It's pretty fascinating in my opinion, but I am not sure what to make of it.
    Here is a video where they play scale tones tuned to A440 and A432, and the tones which are tuned to A432 produce clearer sharper patterns.

    Make of it what you will.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2016
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