Being perfectly in tune is virtually impossible, but understanding all the factors involved (and a little cheating) will help you get as close as possible.
Close enough for rock ’n’ roll. We’ve all heard the phrase before and have likely mumbled it ourselves while hastily tuning our guitar between songs. Tuning seems so fundamental to playing an instrument that we assume guitars can perfectly render the notes we desire. But reality disagrees, so we often find ourselves conceding to “close enough” to keep our audience from waiting. Why is it so hard to be in tune?
The basic issue is that a state of perfect tune, as we’d like to think of it, simply doesn’t exist. There are instead shades of being in and out of tune. A music professor once taught me, “There are no wrong notes, only different levels of dissonance.”
Once upon a time, tuning seemed as clear as one plus one equaling two. Notes were derived from perfect mathematical relationships. You’d start with a note and double its frequency to get an octave higher or other close fractions to yield related pitches that form our Western scales. While this math problem yields our pitches, the distance between the notes isn’t actually uniform. Interestingly, our ears tend to like it that way. When a new set of notes is derived to form a new key, the uneven gaps need to change to new locations. To eliminate this hassle, guitarists evened out the space between notes—cheating each of them a little so they didn’t seem very out of tune. This allowed guitar players to change keys without retuning or moving the frets on their instruments. But it also introduces a slight error that we can still hear in some chord shapes due to the altered mathematical relationship between notes.
Guitars and other stringed instruments present another challenge. Each time we press the string to a fret, the string stretches and makes a slightly higher pitch than we wanted. This stretch varies based on how far the string has to travel before it hits the fret, where the string is stretching, and how stiff the string is to begin with.
Looking at these factors helps us understand what guitar makers do to minimize the inherent inaccuracy of guitars. Starting with the obvious one: The closer the string is to the frets, the less it needs to stretch since it doesn’t have as far to go. In other words, low action tends to produce more accurate intonation. And where the string is stretched changes the apparent tightness. A tight string is stiffer near the ends than in the center. When the string is pressed near the guitar’s nut, the pitch-shifting effect is greater than when stretched in the center, which is somewhat negated by the string usually being closer to the frets near the nut than farther up the fretboard.
A string’s tension is determined by how long it is, the note it is tuned to, how much it weighs, and how strong the wire is. It’s interesting that the weight of the string can be controlled independently from its strength by wrapping the primary wire with another wire. The wrap wire doesn’t contribute significantly to the strength, but it adds a lot of weight. The actual strength is determined by the primary (core) wire, so bigger and stronger wire will have a greater pitch shift than small wire.
The solution to offset the rise in pitch each time a string is pressed is to shift the relative position of the frets under the strings, and this is usually done with a combination of two practices. The most obvious place to start is at the bridge end of the string. We’re all used to seeing a slanted saddle on a guitar, often with a little scoop on the 2nd string. This added active string length effectively shifts each fret’s position a little in relation to the unfretted strings. The amount each string is compensated has little to do with the string’s actual pitches. It is the result of each string’s graduated tension within the plain- or wound-string types. This is precisely why electric guitars using a plain 3rd string will have two predictable groupings of three saddle points in a line, instead of the four wound- and two plain-string groups used with most acoustic guitars. Many guitar makers will also try to account for the extra string stiffness near the nut by minutely cheating the nut’s position toward the bridge.
When we look at the factors that make a guitar play in tune, it’s a wonder we can feign an impression of true notes with all the cheating we do. When you go to play, get that guitar as close as you can. Try some harmonics, finesse the octaves a little closer, play a few chords, and then let it rip. It’s probably as close as you’ll get.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.