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  • 1 Post By ixlramp
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Unread 06-24-2012, 02:56 PM   #1
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Quick question about tuning intervals

I come from the surprisingly similar world of brass and have crossed over to playing guitar. That being said, i was wondering how much value tuning individual notes in a chord has to the fretted world? Example. In a major chord, lets use a C maj triad just cause. C E G basic triad. i was always taught that to sound perfectly in tune the maj 3rd of that chord was to be lowered while the P 5th required raising. I dig that one cant make these kind of changes on fast changes, but on slower tunes is something to seriously consider, and in all pro brass settings is mandatory unless you like delivering pizzas over playing. So my question is do you use this technique, and in what settings?
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Unread 06-24-2012, 03:25 PM   #2
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Do you mean like, sharp/flat by a few cents to be perfectly harmonic?
It's not an alien concept - Just Intonation guitars are designed for this.
However I haven't really heard of anyone doing this in a normal fretted context - cause it would actually make it sound out of tune with the rest of the instruments and track. The standard fretted guitar is an imperfect instrument and we tend to ignore this.

There are true temperament guitars with bent frets which have the same simple system as we are used to but attempt to counteract this. I've heard good things about them. But once again, unless everyone in the band also has a method of being perfectly tuned...
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Unread 06-24-2012, 04:17 PM   #3
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Yeah the 'just intonation'/'natural intonation' major 3rd is 386 cents = 14 cents flat. It is essentially the pitch of the 5th harmonic transposed down by 2 octaves. The interval is written 5/4 which means the frequency ratio is 5:4. it is the interval between the 4th and 5th harmonics of a string. 5/4 is the frequency if the the root frequency = 1.

If guitars were fretless perhaps this is something we would do, flattening a note is difficult on a fretted guitar.

Here's Matthew Grasso's just/natural intonation guitar:



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Unread 06-24-2012, 04:50 PM   #4
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thanks for the info. Ive tried tuning individual strings a few cents flat/sharp, but as soon as the chord or quality changes those strings are then out of tune which is worse than the original, relatively small chordal intonation issue.
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Unread 06-24-2012, 05:28 PM   #5
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My first thought on reading your original post was "Oh man, landlocked, your ear is in for a world of hurt."

I think anyone coming from the world of pro-level orchestral brass or strings playing whose ear is sensitive enough to discern just-intonated chords from equal-tempered chords could well be shocked by how poor the tuning standards are for fretted instruments.

Even the highest quality guitars are far from achieving the equal-tempered tuning accuracy of a keyboard instrument, never mind the pure intervals you're used to.


There are technical innovations in fretted instrument design which help this issue. I'd highly recommend getting a guitar with the Buzz Feiten modification or having the mod done to your guitar. This mod tries to bring the guitar closer to the tuning of a stretch-tuned piano and both of my guitars which have this(one electric and one classical) sound immensely more in tune all over the neck.


The True Temperament system also tries to bring the guitar closer to keyboard accuracy of tuning. Their solution of creating crooked frets but not using a compensated or intonation-adjustable nut makes no sense to me but I've never had a chance to try one so my opinion is not terribly valuable.


One of the most elegant methods for improving fretted tuning accuracy has been developed by Gary Magliari which he did an excellent presentation on at the last Guild of American Luthiers convention.

Unfortunately there's not much info published on the web yet but his presentation will probably appear soon in one of the upcoming American Luthiery magazines.

His approach involves compensating at both the bridge and the nut, and then tweaking the scale lengths of each string so that the frets become straight lines again instead of remaining crooked like the True Temperament solution.

I'm just completing an acoustic steel-string with Gary's system and I'll try to post again when I've had a chance to play it and take measurements with a strobe tuner.
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Unread 06-24-2012, 08:19 PM   #6
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Much thanks, Durero! I'm definetly checking out the Buzz Feiten system.
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Unread 06-25-2012, 11:16 PM   #7
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You can DIY something similar to Buzz Feiten System by adjusting your saddles such that notes go sharp by a few cents per octave, a then tune the open strings to match. Therefore stretching the octaves a little. The Buzz system doesn't get you remotely close to natural intonation though.

Here's a tuning i developed that allows you to play natural intonation scales and chords on a standard guitar (the specific post for natural intonation): Retune to play quartertone scales. Microtonal beginners guide
The whole thread with recommended gauges and details of playing quartertones with this system is here: Retune to play quartertone scales. Microtonal beginners guide
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