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Is my tuner out of tune, or are my frets misplaced? Or are my strings old?


bass_dinger

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I tune my open strings on a Boss TU2, using the strobe setting.  Open strings are spot-on (apart from a wavering low B).  I then fret the string at the 5th fret and it registers as sharp - the strobe moves upwards, slowly. 

 

Of course, I may be only looking at a few cents out, but it is odd to see the tuning is not the same all the way up the fret board. 

 

The strings (a £5 set from eBay) are about a year old and are 45 to 125.  The bass was set up for a set of Dunlop steels (40 to 120).

 

So, should I simply tune so that the 5th fret note is right?  Should I change the intonation?  Should I buy a better tuner?  Fit new strings?  Should I simply not worry?        

 

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A few cents is not much. "According to Ellis, when two notes are played together, a difference of 2 cents is noticeable, and a difference of 5 cents is heard as out of tune."

 

It could well be cheap strings, but it might not be.

 

Have you checked the intonation? I check after every change of strings.

 

The 12th fret harmonic and fretted note at 12th fret should all be in tune.

 

If it's still noticeably out of tune near the nut, then the nut probably is a bit high and needs careful re-cutting.

 

Virtually no instrument will be spot on for every fret, everywhere.

 

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5 minutes ago, Stub Mandrel said:

A few cents is not much. "According to Ellis, when two notes are played together, a difference of 2 cents is noticeable, and a difference of 5 cents is heard as out of tune."

 

It could well be cheap strings, but it might not be.

 

Have you checked the intonation? I check after every change of strings.

 

The 12th fret harmonic and fretted note at 12th fret should all be in tune.

 

If it's still noticeably out of tune near the nut, then the nut probably is a bit high and needs careful re-cutting.

 

Virtually no instrument will be spot on for every fret, everywhere.

 

 

I will have a look later this week.

 

However, I play with a vocal group that drifts from G to G flat, so, a few cents is more likely to be what I would earn if I went busking with them, rather than the measure of my tuning problem . . .   

 

 

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1 hour ago, Stub Mandrel said:

Virtually no instrument will be spot on for every fret, everywhere.

This. All you can really do is get the octave/12th fret and harmonic in tune, adjusting the bridge saddles as shown in the video above. If your action is particularly high, that will tend to cause the strings to fret sharp. Address that via the saddles and/or truss rod. Even then, it can be difficult to get the bottom E (or B on a 5) to be in tune at the 12th.

 

I'm assuming your tuner is set at concert pitch. Many (such as my Korg) have adjustment of 10 cents or so either side of concert.

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Stub Mandrel is correct, the instrument will never be in perfect tune at every fret. 
You probably need to adjust the intonation. First tune the open string then fret at the 12th. If the intonation is correct they will be the same. 
So will the 12th fret harmonic. 
If they are not the same then you have to adjust the bridge saddles. Plenty of stuff on YouTube to show how if you don’t know already. 
For future reference, and for our younger viewers, it’s often necessary to do this after changing strings, especially if they are a different gauge. A truss rod tweak may also be required. 

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2 hours ago, bass_dinger said:

The strings... are 45 to 125. The bass was set up for a set of Dunlop steels (40 to 120)

I'd start with checking the neck relief, action and intonation

 

If the change of guage and/or string brand or material has resulted in more relief, then thats what may be pulling notes sharp up to the 12th... and intonation after.

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Intonation could be improved but I wouldn’t bother until new strings are fitted. It sounds as if the note gets sharper after the initial pluck ie recovering some tension after stretching.

I know…a whole fiver and the set only lasted a year!

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Intonation is the likeliest issue as others have said. With equal temperament tuning, you are not going to have every fret in tune.

 

All I can say is a set of strings for my cello costs about £300. The plus side is they don't need to be changed very often, but the top string is the one you tend to replace every 18 months or so and they cost around £40.

 

Edited by zbd1960
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As @Stub Mandrel has said the tuning of the fretted notes on all instruments is something of a compromise. So long as the intonation is set correctly so that the note at the 12th fret is exactly the same as the harmonic at that position, then that is the best you are going to get. You will have to accept that all the other fretted notes will be slightly flat or sharp by a few cents. It's the nature of trying to set the positions of the frets by mathematics alone.

 

And that's before you consider the inaccuracies of trying the cut fret slots and fret-dressing itself. Just consider all the various methods that try to cure all these problems on fretted instruments from the Buzz Feiten tuning system to Just Intonation frets. Unfortunately all of them are still compromises, just different ones.

 

Besides you don't want every not to be perfectly in tune, it's the slight discrepancies that make the music interesting. If you ever want to go seriously down the rabbit hole of tuning check a professionally tuned piano, with an accurate electronic tuner. You'll be horrified at how far some of the notes are out according to the tuner.

Edited by BigRedX
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The fundamentals for a set up should be a given really; you wouldn't service a car with old oil, flat tyres and dead brakes.

 

Despite the advice here, if you're not confident to adjust the neck, action, intonation etc. then find someone who can.  Do not, and I'll say this again, do not start trying to file the nut as if you screw this up, you'll be mired deeper in sh*t 

 

Questions:

Does the bass play OK? (Tuning aside, the notes all ring clear, the string height is OK.)

 

Is the neck flat/straight along its length or does it bow back or forward?

 

How high is the action at the 12th fret?

 

Post some photos of the actual bridge.

 

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36 minutes ago, NancyJohnson said:

Do not, and I'll say this again, do not start trying to file the nut as if you screw this up, you'll be mired deeper in sh*t 

Very much so.  This is a job for a pro.

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Just now, Nicko said:

Very much so.  This is a job for a pro.

Yes it is. I'm not a pro, but have all the right files and am pretty confident of my skills, but I am also really careful and don't try to get the lowest possible 1st fret action. Once it's good enough I stop.

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1 minute ago, nilebodgers said:

Yes it is. I'm not a pro, but have all the right files and am pretty confident of my skills, but I am also really careful and don't try to get the lowest possible 1st fret action. Once it's good enough I stop.

The exception that proves the rule.  I also have a guitard friend who I would trust to do this, given that he builds his own guitars as a hobby.

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1 minute ago, Nicko said:

The exception that proves the rule.  I also have a guitard friend who I would trust to do this, given that he builds his own guitars as a hobby.

Yes, it's one of those things that you need to have done a lot to develop the touch and eye to know when to stop. I've done enough to work on my own guitars+basses and fix an obviously too high nut action, but I'd not try and do it for money where people might want you to get it as low as it will go without buzzing. (although basses are a lot more forgiving than guitars as the files cut slower on wider nut slots)

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