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  1. #1

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    I thought this might warrant a separate thread.

    In switching to a .042 low E on a 24 3/4 scale guitar, I noticed that the low E string was unusually unstable.

    That is, in using the G-string android app for tuning, the E string pitch would vary considerably from the initial pluck to a stable note a second or two later.

    I figured it was a bad string so I got another.

    The new one was a little better, but still not as stable as the other strings 10, 13, 16, 24, 32, 42. (This is a common 9-42 set with the E and B strings replaced with strings one gauge higher).

    I never noticed the problem when I was using 10-46.

    I've read that there's something about the low E and G strings that make them harder to tune, but I'm wondering about how to address this.

    Is this because the E string is too light at .042?

    Will getting a different brand of string be likely to help?

    Is this string-to-string variation and you just have to find a good one?

    Is it normal?


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  3. #2

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    It's a light string on a short(ish) scale length. If you play it lightly, it will work. If you play it with some force it won't.
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  4. #3

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    There just isn't enough tension to produce a clear, stable tone. That's just a very, very light string for that scale length, and there isn't anything that I know of to fix it except use a heavier string.

  5. #4

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    Does it sound out tune? With smartphone tuner apps (as well as the one in my DAW), I find that the "needle" jumps around a lot more than with a dedicated tuner, and more than my ear detects. My Snark tuners seem better able to lock onto the center pitch that the string is drifting around, and this matches what I hear better.

    So, maybe try a different tuner? I mean, yes, a lighter string is less stable than a heavier one, but people are able to play them without sounding out of tune.


  6. #5

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    Snarks and similar tuners "lock on" to the note because they're less sensitive. If you're within 5 or so cents, that's close enough for a cheap clip-on tuner. The more accurate the tuner, the more it will show small variations in the vibration frequency. If the Snark is close enough for you, use it and play on. Some people want more accuracy, though.

  7. #6

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    It's pretty typical for a plucked string to take a few milliseconds to settle into pitch. Hear's a question: how does it sound?

  8. #7

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    Use a real tuner and tune with the 12th fret harmonic.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:

    "Jazz is like goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

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  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont View Post
    Use a real tuner and tune with the 12th fret harmonic.
    EXACTLY what I was about to say. I have a reasonable tuner but it still does not like my low E (which is a .052), it wobbles all around it. 12th fret harmonic is the way to go.

  10. #9

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    Soloway is right on the money, here. If you play lightly it will work. I think Jim Hall used such a string in his later years. He sounded great.

    I just play with too much force when I am "blowing." No way can I use a .42-gauge string. It will be flopping and slapping against the neck.

    I have to be very mindful to keep lighter strings from doing the mess around.

  11. #10

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    This will probably seem contrarian given the common wisdom, but I'm not really a fan of tuning to the 12th fret harmonic. It's useful for checking your intonation but as a tool for making the guitar playable with no further adjustment, I think it's of really limited value. I much prefer checking normally picked notes being normally fretted at points where I'm most likely to fret them when I'm playing. For me, with the low E string that means anywhere from the 3rd to the 8th frets. Given that a fretted note means that the string is being bent and stretched, and a normally picked note means that it's essentially swinging from side to side, the open note and the fretted notes are never going to be perfectly in tune with one another. So find the practical compromise between those fretted notes and the open string and live with it.
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  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell View Post
    Snarks and similar tuners "lock on" to the note because they're less sensitive. If you're within 5 or so cents, that's close enough for a cheap clip-on tuner. The more accurate the tuner, the more it will show small variations in the vibration frequency. If the Snark is close enough for you, use it and play on. Some people want more accuracy, though.
    I don't what I'm talking about is a matter of accuracy. I'm talking about dedicated guitar tuners vs general purpose software tuners, such as g-force or the tuners built into DAWs. From what I can tell, guitar pitch is inherently unstable. First, it takes time for the pitch to settle down after the initial attack, then there's coupling between the string and neck that causes the pitch to flutter, and there's pushing and pulling on the neck when you turn the tuning key. I think true guitar tuners are able to pick out the center frequency from the flutter/noise and lock onto that (I assume they have processing logic to do that). In contrast, my experience with software tuners is that they're borderline unusable because they don't lock onto a pitch -- they just keep bouncing around. Maybe that effect is worse with lighter strings at lower pitch (the OP's issue). I haven't tested that dimension of tuning. But have noticed that dedicated tuners work better on guitars than pure software tuners.


  13. #12
    Thanks to all who replied.

    I hadn't thought about the tuner issue. I also wasn't sure how extreme 42 is. I know some use 38, but on 25.5 scale guitars -- I haven't heard of that on a shorter scale. I had never gone below 46 before -- which never had been a problem.

    I was aware that a string varies in pitch a little bit after being plucked. I guess that's worse the lighter the string? Makes sense, since it would be less stiff and easier to set higher harmonics in motion. Do you wait for it to settle before you read the tuner? Or do you pay attention to the initial pitch? (I always play through and ME80 and use its tuner, which doesn't seem to be so sensitive to those transients.

    I use both open strings and harmonics to tune. No set pattern. Sometimes the electronic tuner seems to struggle with the open string, in which case I'll try to fool it into being compliant by playing a harmonic.

    I have wondered, but never seriously tried, if it would make sense to tune to notes around the 6th fret, since it's closer to where I tend to play, on average. I haven't bothered, because the open strings work well enough.

    Thanks again.

  14. #13

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    I tend to use the 5th fret to tune, because it's in the area where I play most, and because it gives the same pitch as the adjacent strings, except for the G. Some guitars seem to be off more than others, but it's pretty common to be a couple of cents off at the 5th fret compared to the open string. If the nut isn't cut perfectly, intonation is compromised, and tuning to a fretted string eliminates that. The attack of the plectrum initially imparts a lot of energy to the string to put it into motion, and the harder it's plucked the sharper the initial tone will be, but it settles down after a short time, or should. The more tension, the less it goes sharp, and the quicker it stabilizes. Not all software tuners are created equal, and I haven't tried many of them, but the Peterson strobe tuner seems pretty stable to me.

  15. #14

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    When tuning a particular string with tuner I always dump other stings with my hand to prevent giving them harmonics which may have out of tune, for several reasons even they are in tune. Not talking about if they are not in tune.

    Also I check them in random unusual frets like 4th, 8th, 11th just to see how the intonation is there. Always picking in low medium strength, especially if the string is light. The lighter the sting the more of the picking strength will modify the force, so lighter stings are more go sharp picking them hard

  16. #15

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    .042 has been standard guage for new Fenders for decades. I know it's a different neck scale, but in the guitar world, I'm sure it's 100x more common than jazz guages.

  17. #16

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    Another possible source of the instability is the nut. If you've been using heavy sets, then the nut slot is probably about .010" wider than the string, maybe more, depending on what strings you had before. That extra slot width can allow all sorts of vibrational variances. Luthiers usually recommend cutting the slots only a thousandth or so wider than the string intended for use. You can get a new nut, fill the slots and recut them, or just live with it.

  18. #17
    Here's what happened with my transition to lighter strings.

    This is a Comins GCS-1. I had 11-46 on it, but I found it too stiff, so I went lighter.

    I tried 9 11 13 16 24 32 42. I found the 9 and 11 to be too trebly or tinny -- thin sounding.

    So, I replaced them, resulting in 10 13 16 24 32 42.

    The 42 would not stay in tune, so I got another 42 and put it on. I bought the strings at GC and they just handed me a new, single, 42 (I actually like GC, when they have the product I need). This new 42 tuned up and remained reasonably stable.

    I then went to a weekly session where I use a Roland 40X, with the same settings I used when I had 11s. The 10 sounded too thin unless I rolled the treble all the way off on the guitar. I probably could have accomplished the same thing with the amp's EQ.

    But, two days later, I played a session with my Little Jazz. Everything else was the same (except the room). At this point, the 10 sounded just fine. My guess is that the Little Jazz is voiced a little darker and that kept the 10 sounding full.

    Overall, the guitar feels much less stiff and that stopped being a problem. I didn't have to adjust the truss rod. In fact, the only adjustment I made was on the low E saddle (and maybe I shouldn't have -- I did it on the bad string). The guitar still sounds full.

    So, overall, I didn't experience any disadvantage to going lighter (to 10 anyway, 9 was too light for me) I don't mind, in fact, I prefer, the looser feel to the strings. I don't think everyone would though. Some players find this kind of feel to be too loose. They don't get the resistance they need.

    The 9 was really loose. It was very easy to bend and shake it -- easier to get intense vibrato, but it was too much. I like the 10 better.

    I want to thank everyone who replied.

    One last point ... here's something I forgot about. It may be possible to detect a defective string by plucking it and watching it vibrate. You should see the image of two distinct strings. If the image does not stabilize, the string may be defective.

  19. #18

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    This reminds me of the problem I had when I had my Barker 7 String guitar in the late 1980's. I initially tried to use a .62 low A string but really did not work not enough tension it was not stable. Ended up having to go to a .82 GHS 7 string and that worked fine. I must admit that even then I believe the tension really needed to be higher. To my thinking .42 us just not enough tension at least fo myself. Players use them all the time but I sure could not play on these guitars unless I completely changed my technique. I am bit too old to started again so we would go down that road.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  20. #19

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    I would never use a set that's thinner than a 10-46 on a 24.75" scaled guitar.

    Way too sloppy for my taste and "heavy-handness", so to speak.

    I currently use D'Ads XL-116 - 11-52 with my ES-339 and I couldn't be happier. YMMV.
    Pepe aka Lt. Kojak
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