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View Full Version : Just realizing how absolutely CRITICAL proper tuning is to player development



OldePhart
08-11-2011, 01:37 PM
If I had a nickel for every time I've recommended to people that they buy an instrument from a reputable dealer who will set it up I could...well...not retire...but probably buy another ukulele.

Even so, it just hit me today how absolutely critical it is to have a good setup (in terms of the nut height being correct so that intonation is good at the first few frets). Let me share how I've come to this meaningful insight (and the crowd exclaims, yes, John, please share!)

I played guitar, and quite heavily at times, for twenty years. I've owned a lot of guitars and for many years I've always checked the intonation at the first few frets with a tuner and passed on buying the guitar if the first-fret tuning was off by more than ten cents on any string. For all those years that was as good as my ear got - if it was within ten cents I was happy. I used to think my blind friend with perfect absolute pitch was just being picky if he commented on something not being right when I couldn't hear it.

Well, about two years ago I broke down and bought some fret files, built a fretboard "straightedge" with gaps for the frets, and got some long sanding blocks. I started doing my own setups, especially of nut height. As a consequence, every stringed instrument I own is basically perfectly intonated as near perfectly as makes no difference at the first fret.

This week I got an eleuke solid-body concert. I told Mim not to waste a lot of time setting it up because I'd probably want to intonate the bridge saddle anyway. When the uke arrived I checked intonation with a tuner, as I always do. I was surprised to find that all strings were within a few cents at the first fret on a good tuner and showed green on a simple clip-on tuner. I decided I wouldn't bother to break out the files as it was "close enough" (much better intonated, in fact, than many guitars I'd happily played for years before I bought my nut files).

But, every time I picked it up today I just couldn't play for long before I put it down with a disatisfied feeling (I play for a few moments here and there as I'm working to relieve stress and kick-start my brain - kind of like a "smoke break" when I used to smoke). Anyway, I finally broke out the files and did the final touch up to get the intonation at the first fret perfect. Instantly, playing the uke was satisfying - it sounded right!

So, what's my point? Simply this: for twenty years my "pitch sense" never became more refined than about ten cents - and now I think it's mostly because I was playing instruments where the intonation at the first fret was sometimes off by that much. After less than two years of playing only instruments that were intonated very nearly perfectly at the first fret, my "pitch sense" became much more refined - so much so that a chord where one or more strings are off by a few cents (even though all are showing "green" on a clip-on tuner) just sounds "wrong."

So, if one of your goals is to develop a good ear for music, I think this pretty much makes the case for buying instruments only from dealers who have a reputation for setting them up well. I also think it makes the case for getting a decent tuner. I've tried clip-ons by Kala and Fishman and both would show "green" when strings were tuned within about five to eight cents (+ or -). This means you can be tuning one string five cents low and others five cents high - and your chords just aren't going to be "right." Of course, the only ones who will know that are those with a more refined pitch sense, and it seems that the way to get that more refined pitch sense (or at least one way) is to play instruments that are perfectly tuned and intonated.

itsme
08-11-2011, 02:08 PM
I also think it makes the case for getting a decent tuner. I've tried clip-ons by Kala and Fishman and both would show "green" when strings were tuned within about five to eight cents (+ or -). This means you can be tuning one string five cents low and others five cents high - and your chords just aren't going to be "right."
Interesting you should bring this up.

I have an ENO ET-3000 clip-on that I rarely use. I wanted something small to bring along for meetups (still haven't been to one) and it resides in a little drawstring sunglass pouch. I'm usually too lazy to bother getting it out, since my trusty old Boss TU-12 ("the brick") sits on a shelf right next to me and is easy to grab.

Last night I decided to get out the ENO and tuned til everything went dead center, but it didn't sound quite right. So I grabbed "the brick" and noticed the same phenomenon you mentioned... the strings were all "off" by just a few cents +/-.

So, what is your idea of a "decent tuner"?

For those who have tried numerous clip-ons, which one would you say is the most accurate?

haolejohn
08-11-2011, 02:43 PM
proper tuning is important. I have never had any issues with my kala tuners or my other clip on tuner. The tuner does light up green before it is perfect but I wait until my needle is tall and proud before I move on.

cletus
08-11-2011, 04:10 PM
...but I wait until my needle is tall and proud before I move on.

>:love:Duly noted.

SuzukHammer
08-11-2011, 04:29 PM
I like this thread too. When somebody asks me about buying a uke, I tell them the tuner is just as important and will make that person want to play more if they tune the uke correctly.

I've been using Snark tuners and there is a difference between each PN. THe one that seems to work best has 3 black buttons on the back and is labeled All-instrument tuner.

In fact, I never used any tuners before when doing my bends on my harmonica; but, I use the Snark to help me now and I'll say its making a huge difference there just like with the uke. When bending a harmonica, its difficult to control the pitch; but, if you keep using the tuner, then you start "hearing" where you should be.

I have wondered. What is the best and fastest response clip on tuner ? Or do I need a brick?

joejeweler
08-11-2011, 04:29 PM
I use my Korg GA-30 guitar tuner to get my ukes tuned up. I like the needle guage that measures -10C to +10C, and has different color lights to help also. (green in middle signifying proper tune, and red on either side showing the note's sharp or flat)

The A, E and G strings i can tune directly to the meter. The "C" string, however, i can only tune by fretting at the
2nd fret and using the "D" setting. Apparently not many guitars tune strings to a "C"!!! :D

haolejohn
08-11-2011, 04:36 PM
>:love:Duly noted.
Lol!! Didn't even realize how that sounded until i read it.

itsme
08-11-2011, 05:09 PM
I use my Korg GA-30 guitar tuner to get my ukes tuned up.
You just reminded me that I have a Korg CA-30 a guy gave me when I bought on craigslist. Do you know how they're different?

It's definitely a lot smaller than "the brick", more like the size of a cell phone, so I could stick it in a gig bag pouch pretty easily. As a real plus, it takes standard AAA batteries instead of something more exotic. It's not a clip-on, though.

Sanagi
08-11-2011, 05:17 PM
I use my Korg GA-30 guitar tuner to get my ukes tuned up. I like the needle guage that measures -10C to +10C, and has different color lights to help also. (green in middle signifying proper tune, and red on either side showing the note's sharp or flat)

The A, E and G strings i can tune directly to the meter. The "C" string, however, i can only tune by fretting at the
2nd fret and using the "D" setting. Apparently not many guitars tune strings to a "C"!!! :D
Does it have a bass setting? Mine has guitar and bass settings and on bass it will recognize the C as well as the other three strings. Even though C is not standard for bass, but is an option for a fifth string. Pretty thoughtful of the Korg people to include that.

The other tuner I have is a Qwik Tune and it's a piece of junk. The only reason I still have it around is because it's too much effort to dig it out of a box and throw it away.

70sSanO
08-11-2011, 07:15 PM
I agree that a good setup goes a long way. I set the string height at the first fret with automotive feeler gauges as well as the 12th fret. I agree that the green/red... in or out of tune is not too accurate.

There are a few things that you can do when tuning. I use asn Intelli clip-on with a digital needle, and I always let it return all the way back down before I hit the next string. I have found that the tuner likes a spot and if you immediately go from string to string it just stays at the same place.

Another thing that happnes to me at times is a string will not stretch as well or as quickly through the nut. I'll tune the string and the 12th fret is off, even though I know it has been compensated. I'll lift up the string from the nut and place it back down and the intonation is perfect. Sometimes the reverse happens and even though the tuner shows everything to be correct, but it just doesn't sound right.

But all of this perfect tuning can be taken too far in that if you don't fret each string perfectly when you play they will be off just a little no matter how good your setup is.

John

joejeweler
08-11-2011, 08:16 PM
Does it have a bass setting? Mine has guitar and bass settings and on bass it will recognize the C as well as the other three strings. Even though C is not standard for bass, but is an option for a fifth string. Pretty thoughtful of the Korg people to include that.

The other tuner I have is a Qwik Tune and it's a piece of junk. The only reason I still have it around is because it's too much effort to dig it out of a box and throw it away.

Well,...it sure does! Never too old to learn.........so no more 2nd fretting the C string to read a "D" and be in tune.

.....just flip a switch and put it on Bass! :D


In my defense i don't own a bass, and never used it for anything other than guitar and now ukulele.
(and never looked that close at the tuner)

Thanks for the heads up.

Pippin
08-11-2011, 08:56 PM
I use my Korg GA-30 guitar tuner to get my ukes tuned up. I like the needle guage that measures -10C to +10C, and has different color lights to help also. (green in middle signifying proper tune, and red on either side showing the note's sharp or flat)

The A, E and G strings i can tune directly to the meter. The "C" string, however, i can only tune by fretting at the
2nd fret and using the "D" setting. Apparently not many guitars tune strings to a "C"!!! :D

Some Korg tuners have a "bass" setting. Use it and you can tune your uke. The guitar setting will behave like you describe.

NUTS! somebody beat me to it. lol

hoosierhiver
08-12-2011, 03:49 AM
Sometimes tuners can be a little off if the battery is getting low.
Also some seem to work better on the mic setting as opposed to the clip-on/vibration setting.
Lastly, sometimes you get one that is just not right, I think that can be true with any brand of tuner.

Skitzic
08-12-2011, 04:29 AM
Sometimes tuners can be a little off if the battery is getting low.
Also some seem to work better on the mic setting as opposed to the clip-on/vibration setting.
Lastly, sometimes you get one that is just not right, I think that can be true with any brand of tuner.

And sometimes, you curse your tuner because it's a wad of crap and it never tunes anything right. Or you blame the dog for chewing on it one too many times and threaten to put her in the microwave.

...then you realize it is set to mic and not clip...

...and you feel like a dork.

uker62
08-12-2011, 05:07 AM
Well...I've got a Petersen Stroboclip on order, it's supposed to be accurate to 0.1 cent and is a multi temperament tuner, with a preset for ukulele. It should be here in a few weeks. I'll post my opinion when I get it.

OldePhart
08-12-2011, 11:06 AM
You just reminded me that I have a Korg CA-30 a guy gave me when I bought on craigslist. Do you know how they're different?

It's definitely a lot smaller than "the brick", more like the size of a cell phone, so I could stick it in a gig bag pouch pretty easily. As a real plus, it takes standard AAA batteries instead of something more exotic. It's not a clip-on, though.

The chorg ca-30 is a pretty good tuner - I have one and used it when doing setups until I got my Peterson clip on strobe (which isn't a real strobe tuner but is very precise).

John

OldePhart
08-12-2011, 11:16 AM
Well...I've got a Petersen Stroboclip on order, it's supposed to be accurate to 0.1 cent and is a multi temperament tuner, with a preset for ukulele. It should be here in a few weeks. I'll post my opinion when I get it.

It's a very good tuner - arguably the most accurate and precise of the clip on tuners, though it is a bit heavy and bulky. I've been using one for a few months now. It's not a true strobo tuner but works on a similar principal. The important thing is that the precision is finer because you don't have the issue of "how wide is the lcd needle" like you do with a Korg CA-30 for example. Instead of looking for something to be in a particular position you're looking for movement (or, to be more accurate, lack of movement).

To follow up on my original post - I discovered something else... I never used to tune by ear because I felt my ear just wasn't good enough. I ran some experiments last night and today and have discovered that I now can tune more accurately by ear than with a Kala or Fishman clip-on tuner. I haven't tried tuning against an external reference like a piano yet, but once I set the A string with the strobo tuner I can tune the other strings to no movement on the strobo tuner.

Of course, a uke or mandolin tends to be easier to tune by ear than, say, a bass. The beat note is much more obvious at the higher frequencies. One of these day's I'll see if I can tune the bass by ear.

John

OldePhart
08-12-2011, 11:21 AM
proper tuning is important. I have never had any issues with my kala tuners or my other clip on tuner. The tuner does light up green before it is perfect but I wait until my needle is tall and proud before I move on.

Hmmm, my Kala clip on doesn't have a needle. It's got two or three little LCD indicators for "sharp" and "flat" - and they change at the same moment the background light does.

I've also got a Fishman that is a lot more expensive and a little nicer, but no more precise.

Both of them seem to be accurate - it's just that the precision of the display is poor. I need to find the intellitouch I have somewhere in one of my guitar cases - I'm curious to see if it has the same issue - I suspect it does.

John

OldePhart
08-12-2011, 11:35 AM
So, what is your idea of a "decent tuner"?

For those who have tried numerous clip-ons, which one would you say is the most accurate?

I've used the little Kala that MGM used to ship with ukes (had two of them, one died almost immediately, the other one works but is not vey precise). I also have a Fishman FT-1 clip on - it's a little nicer (and about 4 times as expensive) as the Kala but doesn't really have any more precision in the display. I need to figure out which of my guitar cases my old Intellitouch (the first model, the big long one) is hiding in. I suspect it has simlar problems with the precision because if I remember right it just has three "high" and three "low" LCD indicators, just like the Fishman. A few months ago I bought a Peterson strobo-clip and the others are not even on the same planet with it, let alone in the ball park.

Accuracy and precision are two different issues. Even the Kala (the one that is still working) seems to be accurate enough. It's precision that is the problem. Precision is how well the tuner communicates deviation from the correct pitch. If you've got a tuner that can measure a pitch down to 0.01 cent, but can only display that precision in cents, then you effectively have a tuner that is only accurate to one cent - though you can bet it will be advertised as accurate to .01 cent! My Kala and Fishman clip-ons both seem to have a precision of about 5 cents (as measured by comparing with the Korg CA-30 which gives a decent indication of the actual number of cents-off-pitch).

That's the big difference between the Strobo-clip and other tuners - the reference may or may not be more accurate, but the precision of the display is miles above even a Korg CA-30 (which is a pretty good little non-clip tuner) because any movement in the display indicates a pitch discrepancy. I.e. it no longer matters how wide the "needle" is or how many "step indicators" you have.

So, for the short answer to your question, the Peterson strobo-clip is the most "accurate" clip-on tuner I know of. Of course, it costs more than some cheap soparno ukes... Honestly, though, I think I'd rather play a Dolphin set up and tuned with a Stroboclip (or at least a CA-30 non-clip) than a KoAloha tuned with my Kala or Fishman clip-ons.

That said, there are times when it's nice to have a cheap and tiny tuner to throw in the case if you're going somewhere that you think the tuner might get damaged or misplaced. (I took the Fishman, not the strobo-clip, to UWC, for example.)

John

kenikas
08-12-2011, 11:35 AM
Sometimes tuners can be a little off if the battery is getting low.
Also some seem to work better on the mic setting as opposed to the clip-on/vibration setting.
Lastly, sometimes you get one that is just not right, I think that can be true with any brand of tuner.
I agree Mike, I noticed the battery phenomenon with many different tuners, and some of the cheap batteries seem to cause problems too.

jackwhale
09-12-2011, 06:46 AM
I agree with 70sSanO, 'tugging' on the strings is a helpful step. If a string is a little sharp, tugging often pulls it through the nut enough to make it in tune. I also start tuning with the string flat and then bring it up to tune, rather than starting sharp and bringing it down to tune.

I love my little Snarks...have one in each case. They're definitely 'close enough' and chords sound right on after tuning with the Snark.

pulelehua
09-12-2011, 07:15 AM
Probably worth mentioning that intonation and tuning aren't the same thing. As my old guitar teacher Miroslav Tadic told me 20 years ago, "You'll spend the rest of your life learning to tune a guitar." Any act of tuning is a compromise. It's all the perils of our out-of-tune equal tempered scale. If you get all the 4ths in tune "perfectly" (i.e. 4 cents sharp), the double octaves on the outside will be out of tune. Ukuleles are much kinder in that regard, given their narrower range. But it's still little compromises.

<Jackwhale, I'm from Pleasant Hill originally!!! That's not exciting in itself, just noticed where your location is ;) >

sukie
09-12-2011, 08:42 AM
Interesting you should bring this up.

I have an ENO ET-3000 clip-on that I rarely use. I wanted something small to bring along for meetups (still haven't been to one) and it resides in a little drawstring sunglass pouch. I'm usually too lazy to bother getting it out, since my trusty old Boss TU-12 ("the brick") sits on a shelf right next to me and is easy to grab.

Last night I decided to get out the ENO and tuned til everything went dead center, but it didn't sound quite right. So I grabbed "the brick" and noticed the same phenomenon you mentioned... the strings were all "off" by just a few cents +/-.

So, what is your idea of a "decent tuner"?

For those who have tried numerous clip-ons, which one would you say is the most accurate?

Don't know if it's "the best", but I have a Crafter TG-200H that I really like a lot. It's my favourite. Better than a Pono.

metricfuture
09-12-2011, 03:42 PM
If I want absolute accuracy, I tune to my keyboard (even pianos can be a bit off, in my experience). That's not always an option however, and I've been just trying to make sure everyone is tuned to each other. The problem? We have an autoharp, and it's a flipping odessy getting that sucker in tune. Makes me happy I only have 4 strings to deal with on a daily basis, instead of 30+.

pulelehua
09-12-2011, 09:31 PM
If I want absolute accuracy, I tune to my keyboard (even pianos can be a bit off, in my experience). That's not always an option however, and I've been just trying to make sure everyone is tuned to each other. The problem? We have an autoharp, and it's a flipping odessy getting that sucker in tune. Makes me happy I only have 4 strings to deal with on a daily basis, instead of 30+.

A good keyboard should copy piano tuning. Pianos get a tiny bit sharp as they go up. This adds brilliance to the sound. Old Russian pianos did not (ot sure if they still do it that way), and sounded dull. What I'm saying is stick to an octave. Not sure specifically, but I bet the octave the ukulele is tuned at is spot on (otherwise you wouldn't have A440). But be careful not to tune to the upper register, or you'll be a bit out of tune with everyone.

uker62
09-18-2011, 08:21 PM
Well, I promised that I would review the Peterson Stroboclip. I got one about 2 weeks ago and have been using it on all my ukuleles and on friends guitars. In short, I love it. The precision is just about the same as the bench unit in our local music shop. My instruments have never sounded so good. It's cost was $70 Cnd. in my local shop.
I know this is considered expensive by many. In my case, I had just taken delivery of a MyaMoe tenor and I felt that I owed the Meyers the benefit of the best tuner I could afford. I'll never go back to the other tuners I used in the past.