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  1. #1

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    Just once, I've had a pianist say something about the chords between guitar and acoustic piano not being in tune. I keep my guitars intonated properly.

    In fact, for the sake of discussion, let's assume a perfectly intonated guitar. Let's also assume it's perfectly in tune with an electronic tuner on open strings.

    Now lets assume we're in the octave and a half above middle C. That's the upper reaches of guitar for comping.

    And, now let's assume a perfectly tuned piano. One of my question is "is there such a thing as a perfectly tuned piano?". Acoustic pianos are stretch tuned and the amount of the stretch, as I understand it, depends on the limpness (there's a better technical term, stiffness?) of the metal string. No string is theoretical perfection because of the stiffness issue, if not other issues.

    So, if I've got this right, under the assumption of best possible intonation of the two instruments, the notes won't be exactly the same. No?

    They shouldn't be far off, though. Can a musician with good ears hear it? If so, why doesn't this topic come up more often?

    And, what if it's an electronic keyboard. What then? What if it's a Variax guitar? Would the match be any better?

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  3. #2

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    There is no prefectly tuned guitar and acoustic piano. Using open strings to tune is just the start even for the best instrument. I usually tune for the main area of the fretboard between 5th and 12th frets to have different chord forms all relative clear and checking quints, quarts and octaves in different positions and making compromises. Of course after get know a particular instrument, you can memorize that the optimal tune for that instrument and a particular string set on it means say have the open G and B bit flat and have a bit sharp D... so you can tune it for open strings.

    Anyway imaginig a digital piano no phisical imperfectness take inte consideration. However a way bigger imperfectness coming from tempered tuning system. One of the most painful is the major third which is way higher in the tempered system as it should be naturally If you tune by ear a major third to be clear, it will be lower at least 5 cents, so you must force your ear to accept the unclearness, and keep tune higher at least 5 cents to get the well tempered pitch. (which is correct according a tuner using the tempered system)

    Back to the physiscs an other source of imperfectness and partially out of tune feeling that overtones are not perfectly in tune, contrary to the popular belief because material unlinearities. Any tone played in guitar or piano may make sound other strings with not exactly perfect overtones relative the origianl note.

  4. #3

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    Of course a musician could hear it, but usually not a western musician. In most countries that use microtonal scales though, middle East or Eastern, they are much more particular about tuning, as their scales can have 30 notes per octave. I've played with musicians from the East that have made me feel deaf! Western music and instruments just sounded a heap of badly out of tune stuff to their ears..

    At least we play guitar, an instrument where you can't really do much about it . One reason the guitar wasn't popular in classical music (besides poor construction at the time), was the inability to really tune it in a non tempered tuning.

    The most interesting thing for me, in this debate for tempered vs non tempered music, is the psycho acoustic one. The difference in how humans perceive these two kinds of sounds. Next life time I'm picking up a non tempered instrument, it's too late now!
    Last edited by Alter; 03-06-2020 at 01:22 AM.

  5. #4

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    It is not physics so much as psycho-physics - the perception is pitch is not linear with frequency, less so at the high and low extremes... that is what "stretched" aka "German" aka "sweetened" tuning takes into account.

    That means using a straight electronic tuner that does not offer adjusted tuning is going to be inadequate; you have to adjust it yourself.

    A good way of tuning that gets you very close to adjusted tuning is to tune the high E string, then match that pitch with the other strings fretted... match your high open E string - it in the "least adjusted" range.

    High E open
    B at the 5th fret
    G at the 9th fret
    D at the 12th fret
    A at the 19th fret
    E at 12th fret

    Keep checking the high open E and correcting it if tuning the other strings takes it out of tune.

    This tuning is best for playing all over and especially up the neck; it accounts for string width and shorter sounding string length anomalies of intonation. It will be very close to adjusted tuning for all but the lowest strings - the low E and possibly the A may need to be dropped in pitch just a little (but wait until they are warmed up first or you will be doing it again).

    You should be able to match pianos or any electronic keyboards; they all use adjusted tuning.

  6. #5

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    I studied Turkish classical music in Istanbul for three months, studying every day with the national orchestra - the best musicians the country had to offer. There were - wait for it - 53 notes in the octave! And they could hear when anyone went slightly off. I remember one poor singer getting hell from the conductor. When I first started studying with them I just couldn't hear the subtleties, but when I got home three months later, I couldn't tune my damned guitar! What a frustration that was. Of course, with so many micro intervals they have no harmony in the Western sense, and not even the drone of Indian music. It's a different culture, for sure. They wouldn't allow a piano or a guitar anywhere near them, though a fretless guitar is played by some good musicians such as Erkan Ogur, a fine jazz player.

  7. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    It is not physics so much as psycho-physics - the perception is pitch is not linear with frequency, less so at the high and low extremes... that is what "stretched" aka "German" aka "sweetened" tuning takes into account.

    That means using a straight electronic tuner that does not offer adjusted tuning is going to be inadequate; you have to adjust it yourself.

    A good way of tuning that gets you very close to adjusted tuning is to tune the high E string, then match that pitch with the other strings fretted... match your high open E string - it in the "least adjusted" range.

    High E open
    B at the 5th fret
    G at the 9th fret
    D at the 12th fret
    A at the 19th fret
    E at 12th fret

    Keep checking the high open E and correcting it if tuning the other strings takes it out of tune.

    This tuning is best for playing all over and especially up the neck; it accounts for string width and shorter sounding string length anomalies of intonation. It will be very close to adjusted tuning for all but the lowest strings - the low E and possibly the A may need to be dropped in pitch just a little (but wait until they are warmed up first or you will be doing it again).

    You should be able to match pianos or any electronic keyboards; they all use adjusted tuning.
    Is there more than one meaning of "stretch tuning"? I thought it was an acoustic piano tuner's method of getting the octaves to play in tune in spite of the imperfect elasticity of the strings. The result is that the notes at the low end are tuned very slightly flat and the notes at the high end are tuned very slightly sharp. Then, the pianist can play in-tune octaves. Or so I recall reading at some point.

    Since strings on two different pianos may have different elasticity, I can imagine that two pianos can't necessarily be identically tuned. And, that's all beside the equal tempered tuning issues and quite apart from what happens when you've got guitar or vibes or organ along with piano.

    So, we're just used it sounding a little off?

    BTW, if anyone hasn't tried this ... play a harmonic behind the 4th fret on the low E string. It's a G# and can be quite faint. Make sure the two open E strings are perfect octaves. Then fret that same G# on the 4th fret of the high E string. You will hear the perfect third on the low E and the tempered third on the high E. These are very different notes and it doesn't take a trained ear from another musical world to hear it.

    BTW, that tuning method was recommended to me, years ago, by Hideo Kamimoto, noted luthier and author.

  8. #7

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    Jim Hall and Bill Evans wasted a whole day in the studio arguing about this before recording ‘Undercurrents’.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    Is there more than one meaning of "stretch tuning"? I thought it was an acoustic piano tuner's method of getting the octaves to play in tune in spite of the imperfect elasticity of the strings. The result is that the notes at the low end are tuned very slightly flat and the notes at the high end are tuned very slightly sharp. Then, the pianist can play in-tune octaves. Or so I recall reading at some point.

    Since strings on two different pianos may have different elasticity, I can imagine that two pianos can't necessarily be identically tuned. And, that's all beside the equal tempered tuning issues and quite apart from what happens when you've got guitar or vibes or organ along with piano.

    So, we're just used it sounding a little off?
    It is not just an acoustic piano thing; the adjustment is needed for all sounds of all instruments. If you set an oscillator to 500hz and compare that pitch to 1000hz you will instantly realize it doesn't sound like an octave above - it will be horribly flat. In the down direction it will be sharp... this is just how the perception of pitch works, it is not linear.

    The piano's strings are a "tight as possible" compromise - it was discovered long ago that tighter is louder but increasing tension causes overtone anomalies. The hammers strike the strings at 1/7th the distance from the string end to minimize troublesome overtones. That is to say, it is possible to make an acoustic piano considerably louder by designing for higher string tension, and this was in fact done seeking to produce the loudest possible sound, but the tone was increasingly wonky with increased tension. Modern pianos are basically as loud as possible without suffering tone problems.

    But the point is that the pitch shift is perceptual, not mechanical, not limited to the piano. Some guitar tuners have a pre-set adjusted tuning selection, others allow you to tune your guitar to where everything sounds perfect and then designate that (save those frequencies) as your preferred adjusted tuning so you can tune to that reliably.

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    It is not just an acoustic piano thing; the adjustment is needed for all sounds of all instruments. If you set an oscillator to 500hz and compare that pitch to 1000hz you will instantly realize it doesn't sound like an octave above - it will be horribly flat. In the down direction it will be sharp... this is just how the perception of pitch works, it is not linear.
    .
    When I play an open string and then play the harmonic at the 12th fret, it seems to me that I'm doing the same thing. Doubling the frequency. I don't hear them as out of tune.

    What am I missing?

  11. #10

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    I don’t know much about this, but I am not sure it applies to all instruments or oscillators. It seems it is mainly due to the physical properties of metal strings (or ‘tines’ as used in the Fender Rhodes).

    Stretched tuning - Wikipedia

  12. #11

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    You can compare 500hz to 1000hz here, doesn’t sound flat to me?




  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    You can compare 500hz to 1000hz here, doesn’t sound flat to me?




    It does to me... see if you can hear it with higher pitch comparisons... use this one.

    http://onlinetonegenerator.com/

    This one lets you key in the frequency and hit play, listen to the first frequency for a couple of seconds while you key in the octave, then hit play again without hitting "stop" so you hear the octave instantly - much easier to compare.

    500 -> 1000 is very slightly flat
    600 -> 1200 is a little bit more flat, still OK for music
    650 -> 1300 is definitely flat
    700 -> 1400 is about a quarter tone flat
    750 -> 1500 is more than a quarter tone flat
    800 -> 1600 is about a half tone flat

    Since these tone generators are confounded by being a program acting through a digital sound card with likely piezo micro speakers, there are various errors in the pitches above the examples. A proper mechanical oscillator would be better.

    I assure you, this is a real psychoacousical effect that has been well known for centuries, studied and tested experimentally a lot since the close of the 18th century.

  14. #13

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    Can’t say it’s obvious to me from those tone generators, mind you they are not a particularly musical sound to listen to!

    Having said that, I have found some online references to the perception effect you are referring to, so it makes sense.

  15. #14

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    At 1000 sounds slightly flat to my ears.

  16. #15

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    When playing with a pianist, tune to the piano. Forget about who's right or wrong. It doesn't matter who's off "perfect tuning" if you're both in sync. The same, off course, would apply to the bass player. One of my most successful Jazz/Rock bands in the 70's had guitar, bass, drums, Hammond B3, 2 trumpets, trombone and Tenor/Alto/Sax, flute(me). The only way we could be CLOSE to being in tune was to tune to the B3. For us horn players, we could only tune up/down about a quarter tone or slightly more with our mouthpieces. I doubt any serious musician or our artistically humble audiences could ever perceive anything close to being out of tune. If you're a working player, practicality rules the day. Good playing . . . in tune(?) . . . Marinero

  17. #16

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    And that's a very strong reason for learning to tune without a tuner. When playing with an acoustic piano you really have little choice but to tune to that well tempered clavier. My tuning sounds great to me when I do that.

  18. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero
    When playing with a pianist, tune to the piano. Forget about who's right or wrong. It doesn't matter who's off "perfect tuning" if you're both in sync. The same, off course, would apply to the bass player. One of my most successful Jazz/Rock bands in the 70's had guitar, bass, drums, Hammond B3, 2 trumpets, trombone and Tenor/Alto/Sax, flute(me). The only way we could be CLOSE to being in tune was to tune to the B3. For us horn players, we could only tune up/down about a quarter tone or slightly more with our mouthpieces. I doubt any serious musician or our artistically humble audiences could ever perceive anything close to being out of tune. If you're a working player, practicality rules the day. Good playing . . . in tune(?) . . . Marinero
    To take a theoretical case. Suppose it's an acoustic piano in perfect tune. The exact frequencies you end up tuning your guitar to, ends up depending on which octave of the piano you use as a tuning note, and whether you tune to an open guitar string or some other way. I'm not saying you'd be able to hear the difference, just that there would be one. Do I understand this correctly?

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    When I play an open string and then play the harmonic at the 12th fret, it seems to me that I'm doing the same thing. Doubling the frequency. I don't hear them as out of tune.

    What am I missing?
    Try the same thing, but instead of an octave harmonic, use one that sounds a major 3rd. If you compare a major third generated by playing a harmonic on the guitar with same interval on a equal temperament tuned piano, the piano's major 3rd will sound slightly sharp. Equal temperament major thirds are slightly sharp, minor thirds are slightly flat.

    The deepest book I have ever read on this topic is "the harmonic experience" by w.a. mathieu.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    To take a theoretical case. Suppose it's an acoustic piano in perfect tune. The exact frequencies you end up tuning your guitar to, ends up depending on which octave of the piano you use as a tuning note, and whether you tune to an open guitar string or some other way. I'm not saying you'd be able to hear the difference, just that there would be one. Do I understand this correctly?
    Hi, Rp,
    Great question. We, as guitarists, are specialists in relative tuning. I don't think any CG is ever in perfect tune although many EG's get very close because the metal strings are not as temperature/humidity sensitive(stretch) as a CG with nylon trebles. So, for practicality, what do we do? We realize that nothing is perfect in life and try to get as close to the truth(tuning) as possible. So, does it matter if we tune an octave high or low? Not really, but we can easily tune to the same pitch on both piano and guitar and get what we want. If you're playing Bossa and chose your CG to perform, you're literally tweaking all night long if you want to stay close to pitch. And, in some venues, especially outside, it's maddening. If I'm ever playing outside, which is rare, I'll use the EG for Bossa. However, in a humidity controlled environment I always use my CG. And, despite all efforts, there are times when you'd like to get up and pack your axe and leave out of self respect.
    As an aside, I once filled in for a sax-guy on a polka gig when I was playing almost exclusively--saxophone. It was a referral from a former teacher who got me many last minute gigs. The band was accordion, electric bass, and drums. None were "musicians" but everything was charted on cheat sheets. It also was a surprisingly well paid gig for the time( ano 1973. . . 3 hours-$87.50) which is why I took the gig. When I arrived, they were already on stage and I asked to tune up. They looked at me like I was nuts. The leader said,"Just read." Well, after the second piece, everyone was so out of tune, I told the idiot bass player next to me that if they didn't want to try to get in tune, I would leave. He thought I was joking until I walked off the stage and started packing up my horn. There were a few obscenities launched and I left. I'm sure they finished the gig to the delight of the beer slopping crowd. Do I know about tuning?? You bet I do! I hope I answered your question with, at least some, tragic humor.
    Good playing . . . Marinero

  21. #20

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    I tend to use the tuner as a starting point. In most of the guitars i use a lot, i kind of know if they have any tuning issues or peculiarities. I play some standard chords, but also some quartal voicings, and tend to fine tune by ear between these. Especially on really good guitars, the quartal voicings make a very strong difference, because the harmonics of the notes don't overlap as much as they do in chords made out of thirds, so you really get to hear dissonance.

  22. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by pcsanwald
    Try the same thing, but instead of an octave harmonic, use one that sounds a major 3rd. If you compare a major third generated by playing a harmonic on the guitar with same interval on a equal temperament tuned piano, the piano's major 3rd will sound slightly sharp. Equal temperament major thirds are slightly sharp, minor thirds are slightly flat.

    The deepest book I have ever read on this topic is "the harmonic experience" by w.a. mathieu.
    When you play a harmonic, of course, there's no tempering. When you compare the harmonic of a third to the piano key, one is tempered, one is not.

    The fretted third is tempered and so it should be closer to the piano note. But, for a variety of reasons, it won't be exact. It would be closer, apparently, on an electronic kb than an acoustic piano, because there'd be no stretch tuning to compensate for string-stiffness in the piano. But, you'd still have the usual issues with the guitar.

  23. #22

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    Open 6th string E is 82.5 Hz.
    12th fret 1st string E is 660Hz.

  24. #23
    Acoustic pianos are tuned to a tuner between F3 and F4. That's the F on the D string to the F at the first fret on the high E. You'll be in good tune there, except for the Buzz Feitan corrections, I guess.

    After that, the piano is stretch tuned, partly by ear. The amount of the stretch depends on the length of the piano strings and longer is better.

    So, how out of tune you are with the piano depends on the note and the size of the piano. And, that's when we give up.

  25. #24

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  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by rintincop

    James lost me almost instantly with this conceptual mumble-jumble. All guitars--especially acoustic guitars are different. They have their positives, negatives and quirks and every one has its own personality if you spend enough time with them. I don't think you can ever be in perfect tune but you can get close and adjust if you know your instrument. I don't see how these generalizations/concepts could apply to serious guitarists. Good playing . . . Marinero

  27. #26

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    This is an ongoing issue. Pianos get out of tune all the time!!!! The Pianist comes in and plays whatever piano is there with what ever deficiencies it has. Guitarist can get closer to "accurate" pitch than pianists because we can adjust and correct on the fly. If the piano is off there is generally nothing a pianist can do.

    If they are both/all (guitar, piano, bass, horns) CLOSE it doesn't matter that much as they will blend. When three octaves of a piano vary in their tuning accuracy it can get pretty bad.

    Having played in various churches for years you learn to deal with it by keying in on the bass or organ tuning which tend to be much better than the piano. If your pianist has good ears they can adjust by playing in different registers or laying out of certain parts, which guitarists should also do to serve the song.

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero
    James lost me almost instantly with this conceptual mumble-jumble. All guitars--especially acoustic guitars are different. They have their positives, negatives and quirks and every one has its own personality if you spend enough time with them. I don't think you can ever be in perfect tune but you can get close and adjust if you know your instrument. I don't see how these generalizations/concepts could apply to serious guitarists. Good playing . . . Marinero
    It's not conceptual mumble-jumble; James Taylor has seen rain, and he is right as rain.

    He might have explained why the otherwise progressive downward offsets in tuning pitch include the retrograde step upward, but that is for the same reason that adjustable bridge saddles show the same pattern of position - it is to account for the transition from plain to wound string mechanics.

    Something else important:

    Playing in perfect tune is not the same as playing a perfectly tuned guitar.

    Classical technique for vibrato is a longitudinal pressure applied to slightly shift the pitch up or down. This works statically to adjust tuning as well. Beginners often do not control this pressure and will sound out of tune chords or lines. Eventually our hands learn how to avoid this and in time learn how to do it unconsciously to correct for slight tuning errors encountered on the fly.

    This is why sometimes a guitar feels like it is hard to play, but other times it seems very easy to play. The closer the tuning, the less unconscious effort is applied to fingering it into tune. The guitar will feel easiest to play when it is most in tune and demands the least work to play it into tune.

    A related thing can occur when shifting position. Beginners tend to land on the fretted strings after an upward shift with a little residual upward longitudinal pressure that can make the chord or note slightly flat. Likewise braking a down shift with grip can make the subsequent sound a little sharp. Our hands learn not to do this.

    I call these unconscious things the hands and ears learn to do micro-techniques... they are far too complicated to learn deliberately, but by luck the hands and ears are intrinsically designed for these kinds of things, just need time, not attention. But the point is that because of this, tuning is so important for performance. The hands will dutifully go the extra effort to finger the guitar into tune without you thinking about it, but if they need to do this the effect is that the guitar will feel "harder to play" in a vague undefinable way, more like the feeling that maybe you are just having an off night or difficulty concentrating, etc...
    Last edited by pauln; 03-14-2020 at 01:03 PM.

  29. #28

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    Hi, Pauln,
    Yes, James has seen fire and rain and, yes . . . he's all wet. No jobbing musician would use his Flash Gordon tuning machine since it is awkward, time-consuming and where in a club are you going to tune to this contraption? Especially during a gig. Perhaps in James' world this is possible, but not for a meat and potatoes working musician.
    However, for the record, JT was certainly one of my favorite popular musicians who had the ability to sing, play a quality popular tune. What he does to create his magic is fine . . . however, IMO it's not practical. Perhaps, in a studio.
    Finally, try this experiment: tune your instrument to a quality tuning device. Then, use relative tuning with an A440 tuning fork or A440 from an electronic tuner. You will be adjusting several notes immediately. How is this possible if YOUR guitar was in tune from the first tuning? The answer is that every instrument is different and requires relative tuning to get it "close".
    Thanks for your reply and the initial humor! Good playing . . . Marinero

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero
    Hi, Pauln,
    Yes, James has seen fire and rain and, yes . . . he's all wet. No jobbing musician would use his Flash Gordon tuning machine since it is awkward, time-consuming and where in a club are you going to tune to this contraption? Especially during a gig. Perhaps in James' world this is possible, but not for a meat and potatoes working musician.
    However, for the record, JT was certainly one of my favorite popular musicians who had the ability to sing, play a quality popular tune. What he does to create his magic is fine . . . however, IMO it's not practical. Perhaps, in a studio.
    Finally, try this experiment: tune your instrument to a quality tuning device. Then, use relative tuning with an A440 tuning fork or A440 from an electronic tuner. You will be adjusting several notes immediately. How is this possible if YOUR guitar was in tune from the first tuning? The answer is that every instrument is different and requires relative tuning to get it "close".
    Thanks for your reply and the initial humor! Good playing . . . Marinero
    JT I think is describing the results of his tuning, not suggesting the process. What I mean is that after experience tuning his instrument, he knows it comprises some deviations to sound right. He has measured those and is showing how to do that to follow in his steps, as a demonstration, but not that those steps are how to do it. I agree that deliberately tuning flat by measuring a schedule of cents is not happening in performance... he is just showing how to reach the end result so you can hear it yourself. In actual use, that end result is reached quickly by ear.

    If you were discovering this on your own, it might be surprising or alarming that you were tuning down so much to get the right sound. You might not believe it or trust that it could be right and forgo it, just tune to what the tuner indicates as standard and move on. I interpret his video as more like a walk through some experimental evidence in order to assure people that it is real and important, not to be freaked out by it.

    I have been doing this by ear for decades; it is part of how I tune. I can see how it might seem bizarre, but that is why he went through it step by step... on the video, not on stage. For stage, you have to know your instrument and do it fast by ear.

  31. #30

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    Steel guitar players actually have access to what frequencies need adjusting for each string to provide the best intonation through the whole range of the instrument.

    Example:
    C6th
    Pitch Gauge Cents 440 Scale
    G .012 +6.0 441.5
    E .014 -6.0 438.5
    C .017 +4.0 441
    A .021 -6.0 438.5
    G .026w +6.0 441.5
    E .030w -6.0 438.5
    C .036w +4.0 441
    A .042w -6.0 438.5
    Last edited by cosmic gumbo; 03-22-2020 at 03:37 AM.

  32. #31

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    James Taylor's tuning works with any electronic tuner. It doesn't have to be exact to use his concept. And it does sound better with piano tunings than straight guitar tuning. Basically, tune flat from the lowest string and progressively raise it a few cents till the top string is right on. The B string should be a little extra flat in the sequence. It's hard to do by ear because our ear wants more perfect intervals. I think it is because physics of pressing down a string sharpens the pitch. The lower the string the worse it gets.

  33. #32

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    Could it be it sounds a little diffrent from the piano because when some chords played on the guitar have the third an octave higher than the root and fifth, but a piano playing the same chord has the third in the same octave. So to a piano player the chord will sound diffrent from his piano.