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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. brianswindall

    brianswindall Tele-Afflicted

    Bart S, you ought to know better.

    First, Cindy Cashdollar is "da man" on lap steel. I mean, regardless of her gender, she can really play.

    It saddens me to think that opinions like yours are still widely held. I'm trying to raise two daughters to believe they can do anything they put their minds to. Attitudes like yours will hinder that.

    I'm surprised you can get an internet connection in a cave.
    dr_tom and Tony Done like this.
  2. sir humphrey

    sir humphrey Friend of Leo's

    May 3, 2011

    He's made a fool of himself. Suspect he'll be too embarrassed to reply.

    I also have two daughters and it makes me puke that there are still people so mentally stunted that they think girls can't do what boys can.

    I waver between pity and contempt for them - usually they have that opinion because they need to feel good about themselves when they have no other reason to, but mostly I feel contempt.
    dr_tom likes this.
  3. barfoden

    barfoden Tele-Meister

    May 30, 2013
    Whatever pitch you tune to the guitar or bass with standard frets will never tune correctly,, its the nature of the beast,,though a compensated nut will give you better intonated chords up closer towards the headstock I think.. But equal temeprement will always be a comprimise but a good one to my ears...

    Though in the discussion on pitch,,

    The next part will rub some people the wrong way...

    I have done a lot of investigation on this and it all related to the singing voice. It seems for the majority of male singers that 440Hz is too high.. For my voice something odd happens from A4=438 to A4=440Hz which is just an ~8 cents increase. Its gets harder to find the pitch in the throat so to speak, like it just went a little too high to get the breath and support going. I had this confirmed by a prof. opera singer.. 438Hz is the highest pitch recommended for heavier voices. 435Hz is nice and neutral and 432Hz is relaxed and fat. I tested the voice on a single note of A3 ang G#3, varying the pitch from A4=430Hz to 440Hz or 215Hz to 220Hz for the octave below (A3). 216/432Hz was most relaxed and comftable to sustain, 217Hz/434Hz was very comftable and not that different from 432Hz, At 218Hz/436Hz you could tell that it got less relaxed and I had to start transition the A3 note more towards my middle register (lift of weight),, 219Hz was high and bright but could be managed with right technique (singing at high keys for my respective voice) 220Hz was uncomftable and a big like game over when singing high notes.. Like the note went over the throat.
    I tried microtune G#4 from regular tuning at 415.3Hz and downwards and 408Hz (204Hz) was most relaxed and natural (-30.7 cents) which is very similar to 432Hz which is -31.8 cents down from 440Hz.. This can't be a fluke.. But going lower like 430Hz/215Hz or 406Hz/203Hz (-39.8 cents) had no benefits on the A3/G#3 notes. They started sitting at a weird low placement in the throat..

    The old french diapason standard form 1859 and used in most of Europe from 1860 to 1930 is at 435Hz.. which in my experiements are the highest pitch before the transition or register shifts becomes very noticiable at the passaggios.. In the 1960 and 1970s at the opera houses in Italy, they would tune down from 440Hz to 437Hz when performing Verdi operatic pieces which makes sense as Verdi would write most of his pieces with 435Hz in mind like his Requiem.. A lot of Beatles were at 435Hz on their first two albums from tuning to an old european piano in the studio.. Listen to original version of "ticket to ride",, it is between 434Hz and 435Hz to my ears..

    So in my humble opinion I think it would be more natural to tune between 432Hz and 438Hz depending on the expression you want. Deep and relaxed or high energetic and bright. The jump from 438Hz to 440Hz is not beneficial as it puts a lot of heavy voices "out of the game" so to speak,, But tuning to 438Hz is to close for comfort so tuning to A4=437Hz is safer and better though on a personal note, I greatly prefer 435Hz as I can blend more chest into my upper middle register..

    My experience in playing and singing with different singers for more than 22 years and singing in choirs.. Most people will find that tuning to 440Hz sets our 12 notes at a high and uncomftable place when they are singing in their respective middle register. which is dependent on your vocal fach..
    viccortes285 likes this.
  4. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    432 to 438 'may' (?) be more natural for the voice but the world of Western music doesn't work like that. In fact, pitch is constantly rising. Now, A=441 is pretty standard for tuning a piano.
    Stretch tuning:

    Singing Accapella - sure, you can tune low. But if you want some piano accompaniment you'll need to check the piano.

    Tuning high has been common practice for a couple of decades now. All modern orchestras tune to at least A=442 and some as high as 445. The tuning bells on either side of the stage here at Disney Hall (main concert venue, L.A.) are marked 442. Modern Vibes and Marimbas are A=442 (stamped right on the middle A bar). Highland Bagpipes, A=449 or 450 (now that's friggin' high!). Almost any recently tuned studio piano will be at 441 stretch. Does it rub against a 440 guitar? No, not really.
    PacificChris and jimash like this.
  5. LKB3rd

    LKB3rd Friend of Leo's

    Jan 10, 2013
    There is a better way, but no one will do it. They will call you a hippy new ager and mock you.
  6. ftbtx

    ftbtx Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

    Dumb question, when you deviate from 440, do the other strings deviate by the same amount of Hz or is it a ratio? By the way, very interesting thread!
  7. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

    Check out TrueTemperament necks if you want to hear a guitar with amazing intonation all the way up and down the neck. My buddy uses one in the studio. I got to try it and it's amazing how sweet it sounds to the ears, everywhere on the neck. Even if you are a person who is perfectly happy with how a regular guitar sounds after it has been tuned to a tuner, standard method, you will immediately notice the difference. Not a sour chord anywhere.

    I always temper my acoustic guitars in the following way. On problematic electric guitars it can also be helpful:

    1) Tune low E string, D string at second fret, and high E string so they all sound in tune and match up to E on your tuner. The low E in particular might actually be tuned down a hair because when you strum it at full strength it will tend to go sharp. You want it to sound like a sweet E when you hit it with normal force as when actually playing.

    2) Tune the B string at the 3rd fret so it matches the open D string.

    3) Tune the A string at the second fret so it matches the open B string.

    4) Tune the G string at the 2nd fret so it matches the open A string.

    This sounds kind of crazy, but try it some time. Especially on an acoustic guitar it will make your open E, A, G, C, and D chords all sound sweeter together.
    barfoden and ftbtx like this.
  8. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Mar 16, 2003
    Arlington, VA
    I find that guitar tuning depends entirely or heavily on playing style and genre. If you play mostly open string chords below the fifth fret in EGAD you have one set of tuning requirements. If you play a lot of jazzbo shell voicings in Bb and Eb and F you have a different set of tuning needs. Chord melody up and down the neck poses a different set of problems than chunking chords. Light strings pose a different set of problems than heavy strings. I tend to avoid certain voicings in some songs because they don't sound right, but they sound ok voiced somewhere else on the neck. I also find that I have to adjust tunings for different songs as the key changes.

    I cannot grasp the claim that there is some magic frequency. As mentioned, all the frequencies exist in nature and all material objects have a resonant frequency: it's not like a basketball, a 12 foot steel I-beam, and a 1/8 x15 x 24 piece of spruce will all produce more uniform Chladni patterns at 432.
  9. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Afflicted

    Apr 20, 2014
    Considering that the second is an arcane subdivision of the period of the rotation of the earth, it's unlikely that anything based on it could be universal. Numeric frequencies are based on the second.

    ...unless you believe that music is different on different planets, but let's not go there...
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
  10. Doghouse_Riley

    Doghouse_Riley Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 11, 2016
    I'm probably missing something but wouldn't this depend on where each individual's passaggi are and also whether we're talking about transition between chest and middle voice or middle and head voice?

    Never-the-less it makes me want to try it and see if I like singing at a lower standard. I've thought about trying to get the band to tune to Eb (we are a blues rock band so it would be apropos). But I think the lead guitar would object. But for my solo gigs maybe a different standard would sound better.

    I have some experimenting to do.:)
  11. Dennyf

    Dennyf Tele-Holic

    Feb 9, 2011
    Charlotte, NC
    It all went to hell when we went to "equal-tempered tuning" so that instruments could play in any key . . . kinda.

    For example, the purest harmony comes from "just" tuning. The pitches of the notes in a given key are based on a harmonic series of an open string. Suffice it to say, that the second note on an "A" string is not going to give you the same exact pitch as the 7th note on a "C" string, even though both are "B." Dig what I'm saying? So "just" tuning is perfect. For one key. In the good old days, there were no "valve" instruments, for example. Musicians had an assortment of "crooks," or tuning pipes they'd swap out for different keys.

    But thanks to keyboard instruments mostly, a decision was made to average, or "temper" the pitches so that while some intervals may not be exactly in tune in a given key, they were deemed "close enough" to gain the ability to play in any key, and faint dissonance was introduced to all western music.

    In addition to this, the guitar is further flawed. Everyone gets in a lather over having their intonation set precisely, but think about it a minute. When you move that saddle piece forward or backward, you're effectively changing the scale length for that string. And typically, you find your high E is subtantially shorter than your low E. But you haven't changed the fret spacing, which is set for a single scale length (except for fanned-fret instruments). So there's no way the thing's gonna play perfectly in tune except at the open string, and fret 12, if that's your method of setting intonation. But it's close enough to our desensitized, lifetime-of-western-music-listening ears.

    And as an aside, stretch tuning has nothing to do with this. Due to the physics of the piano and the huge range of string sizes, the following phenomenon is observed: the harmonics relative to the fundamental on the huge, low strings sound distinctly sharp. Conversely, the harmonics of the relatively tiny, short high strings sound flat relative to the fundamental. These overtones are sufficiently pronounced to make the instrument sound out of tune even if the fundamental notes are tuned perfecty. So the overall tuning is "stretched" to compensate. Skilled piano tuning is as much art as science.
    P Thought likes this.
  12. shoalbilly

    shoalbilly TDPRI Member

    Dec 14, 2005
    Marble Fallls TX
    google "tuning a 430" and...

    From: Verdi Tuning-- brief history

    The first explicit reference to the tuning of middle C at 256 oscillations per second was probably made by a contemporary of J.S. Bach. It was at that time that precise technical methods developed making it possible to determine the exact pitch of a given note in cycles per second. The first person said to have accomplished this was Joseph Sauveur (1653-1716), called the father of musical acoustics. He measured the pitches of organ pipes and vibrating strings, and defined the ``ut'' (nowadays known as ``do'') of the musical scale at 256 cycles per second.
    J.S. Bach, as is well known, was an expert in organ construction and master of acoustics, and was in constant contact with instrument builders, scientists, and musicians all over Europe. So we can safely assume that he was familiar with Sauveur's work. In Beethoven's time, the leading acoustician was Ernst Chladni (1756-1827), whose textbook on the theory of music explicitly defined C=256 as the scientific tuning.Up through the middle of the present century, C=256 was widely recognized as the standard ``scientific'' or ``physical'' pitch.
    In fact, A=440 has never been the international standard pitch, and the first international conference to impose A=440, which failed, was organized by **** Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in 1939. Throughout the seventeeth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, and in fact into the 1940s, all standard U.S. and European text books on physics, sound, and music took as a given the ``physical pitch'' or ``scientific pitch'' of C=256, including Helmholtz's own texts themselves. Figures 13 and 14 show pages from two standard modern American textbooks, a 1931 standard phonetics text, and the official 1944 physics manual of the U.S. War Department, which begin with the standard definition of musical pitch as C=256.[1]

    Regarding composers, all ``early music'' scholars agree that Mozart tuned at precisely at C=256, as his A was in the range of A=427-430. Christopher Hogwood, Roger Norrington, and dozens of other directors of orginal-instrument orchestras' established the practice during the 1980's of recording all Mozart works at precisely A=430, as well as most of Beethoven's symphonies and piano concertos. Hogwood, Norrington, and others have stated in dozens of interviews and record jackets, the pragmatic reason: German instruments of the period 1780-1827, and even replicas of those instruments, can only be tuned at A=430.
    The demand by Czar Alexander, at the 1815 Congress of Vienna, for a ``brighter'' sound, began the demand for a higher pitch from all the crowned heads of Europe. While Cclassical musicians resisted, the Romantic school, led by Friedrich Liszt and his son-in law Richard Wagner, championed the higher pitch during the 1830's and 1840's. Wagner even had the bassoon and many other instruments redesigned so as to be able to play only at A=440 and above. By 1850, chaos reigned, with major European theatres at pitches varying from A=420 to A=460, and even higher at Venice.
    Following Verdi's 1884 efforts to insitutitionalize A=432 in Italy, a British-dominated conference in Vienna in 1885 ruled that no such pitch could be standardized. The French, the New York Metropolitan Opera, and many theatres in Europe and the U.S., continued to maintain their A at 432-435, until World War II.

    The first effort to institutionalize A=440 in fact was a conference organized by Joseph Goebbels in 1939, who had standardized A=440 as the official German pitch. Professor Robert Dussaut of the National Conservatory of Paris told the French press that: ``By September 1938, the Accoustic Committee of Radio Berlin requested the British Standard Association to organize a congress in London to adopt internationally the German Radio tuning of 440 periods. This congress did in fact occur in London, a very short time before the war, in May-June 1939. No French composer was invited. The decision to raise the pitch was thus taken without consulting French musicians, and against their will.'' The Anglo-**** agreement, given the outbreak of war, did not last, so that still A=440 did not stick as a standard pitch.

    A second congress in London of the International Standardizing Organization met in October 1953, to again attempt to impose A=440 internationally. This conference passed such a resolution; again no Continental musicians who opposed the rise in pitch were invited, and the resolution was widely ignored. Professor Dussaut of the Paris Conservatory wrote that British instrument makers catering to the U.S. jazz trade, which played at A=440 and above, had demanded the higher pitch, ``and it is shocking to me that our orchestra members and singers should thus be dependent upon jazz players.'' A referendum by Professor Dussaut of 23,000 French musicians voted overwhelmingly for A=432.

    As recently as 1971, the European Community passed a recommendation calling for the still non-existent international pitch standard. The action was reported in ``The Pitch Game,'' Time magazine, Aug. 9, 1971. The article states that A=440, ``this supposedly international standard, is widely ignored.'' Lower tuning is common, including in Moscow, Time reported, ``where orchestras revel in a plushy, warm tone achieved by a larynx-relaxing A=435 cycles,'' and at a performance in London ``a few years ago,'' British church organs were still tuned a half-tone lower, about A=425, than the visiting Vienna Philharmonic, at A=450.

    1. Charles E. Dull, {Physics Course 2: Heat, Sound, and Light: Education Manual 402} (New York: Henry Holt, April 1944).

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  13. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

    Most interesting. My Mom has perfect pitch....I wonder if she hears A as 440 or what.
  14. Tony Done

    Tony Done Friend of Leo's

    Dec 3, 2014
    Toowoomba, Australia

    I know this is an old thread but it didn't do my blood pressure any good, so I'm letting off a head of steam. I wonder how he feels about Bonnie Raitt, Molly Tuttle, Gabriela Quintero, Badi Assad and Ana Popovic, among others
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
    P Thought likes this.
  15. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    Guitar being an imperfect instrument, this discussion does not surprise me at all. It must stem from the G or B string being the most off. I have always enjoyed the B string a little flat. Should the G string be wound or unwound? Intonation of a standard guitar is almost a joke. It all adds up.:confused:

    A very interesting subject. I only wish I understood it more.:oops:

    Naw, I'll just play the blues where it don't matter much.;)
  16. Tony Done

    Tony Done Friend of Leo's

    Dec 3, 2014
    Toowoomba, Australia

    The intonation of a guitar is part of its character, sure you can change it a bit, but "different"isn't necessarily "better". I like to think of it like a description I've seen of carpets made by followers of Islam - "the perfection of imperfection".
    Obsessed likes this.
  17. dlew919

    dlew919 Poster Extraordinaire

    Aug 6, 2012
    I call god wins law! ;)

    In all seriousness temperament is in my view the most fascinating of the topics of music. I love how the old bluegrass bands would tune and then get sharper and sharper. Try playing along to early country and rock and roll. You can't unless you know where they tuned.
  18. Doghouse_Riley

    Doghouse_Riley Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 11, 2016
    Hmm...Friedrich Liszt? Wagner's second wife was the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt. Also, classical is mis-spelled. Makes me wonder how many other mistakes are in that article.
  19. ripgtr

    ripgtr Tele-Holic

    Oct 12, 2012
    Austin, TX
    Couple things.

    OP mentioned in the second sentence he was talking to a steel player. It wasn't a discussion on 432 vs 440. Steel guy was saying he has to tune "off" because of the way the steel works, cabinet drop being one, and the fact that, unlike guitar, you play a lot of double and triple notes in leads. So the inherent out of tuneness of Just just doesn't work.

    The 440 tuning was around long before Any one tried to "impose it". It was the standard - for people who tuned 440. Nice thing about standards, we have so many to choose from. Pitch wars were/are just like the "volume wars", for the same reason. My band/orchestra sounds more lively than yours cause you tune 432 and I tune 438, so you retaliate and start tuning 442, lol. Some got pretty high above 440.

    432 is easier to sing in the same way Eb is easier to sing in over E.

    Cindy Cashdollar can really play, the person who said he wouldn't learn from her, that is his loss. Her C6 videos are some of the best teaching ones I have seen. I would be really surprised if said person could even begin to keep up with her.
  20. dlew919

    dlew919 Poster Extraordinaire

    Aug 6, 2012
    No but it does get to similar issues. We basically are finding 12 harmonious tones in eight spaces. Thirds and fifths let alone sevenths etc need especial care. And base frequencies help.

    But you're right too.

    I sharpen my top E a touch. Mandolin players have a formula too for their instruments. I use it when I remember. I think it's all of them a touch sharp.
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