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Is excesssive precision in tuners going to be the next big problem?


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See the thread linked below.

 

Recently a member has posted concerns about an apparently well set up bass being 'out of tune' when played near the nut or beyond the twelfth fret.

 

I'm thinking the culprit may well be the new Korg Pitchblack Custom Strobe Tuner. This is 'accurate to 0.1 cent.'

 

The ear is sensitive to tone differences of about 4-5 cents "the interval of one cent is too small to be perceived between successive notes." A typical tuner has a precision of 1 cent. 0.1 cent is 1/1000 of a tone (let's ignore the logarithmic nature as we are looking at tiny errors).

 

That's a distance of about 1.5 thousandths of an inch at the first fret. To be accurate to 0.1 cent, the first fret would need to be placed to an accuracy of about 1.5% of its width. For the last fret, it would need to be placed with an accuracy of less than 0.5% of its width.

 

Basses are generally made of wood not metal and working to such accuracy is almost impossible to achieve. Even the way someone frets a note can differ between players (or styles of playing) enough to shift the tone by a cent or more. Most strings drift by a cent from when they are struck to once the note has settled.

 

I forecast two impacts of these new 'super accurate' tuners:

 

  1. People taking ages to tune up and never being satisfied because they drift out of tune after every song.
  2. More and more people reporting that they can't set up their instruments to be in tune all along the fretboard.

 

It's a regular issue in engineering that nothing waste more time and effort than trying to work to an accuracy greater than is needed simply because the measuring equipment offers greater precision than the jobs requires. That's why the concept of 'tolerances' was developed, and I suspect we need to cultivate the concept of a tolerance of 'within one cent' as the gold standard when tuning and setting up instruments.

 

 

Edited by Stub Mandrel
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I suppose it depends how obsessive the person doing the tuning is.

 

It's just about impossible to get any of my basses or guitars absolutely 'spot on' according to the tuner on my HX Stomp, they're always fractionally over or under the mark.

 

The machineheads on the instruments just don't have the finesse to make to the tiny adjustments that would be needed to get them 100% on the money.

 

Fortunately the Stomp also employs a traffic light system where the green light indicates 'close enough' and that's what I go by.

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Bit like the Ravi Shankar story were he played an outdoors show in front of a large crowd of hippy trippy Californians.

Because of the humidity the string players took an age to tune up.  

After which the Hippies burst into enthusiastic applause.

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1 hour ago, Ricky Rioli said:

Is dragging a conversation that one takes issue with from a quiet subforum to General Discussion going to be a big thing, too? Exciting times :/ 

 

It's an interesting issue, and I thought it was worthy of wider discussion than just diagnosing what may be an issue with a single bass.

 

In another thread, a similar issue is raised, but the person querying is using a TU2.

 

I've just checked and the TU2 has an 'accuracy' of +/- 3 cents (the TU3 is +/- 1 cent).

 

Two people with the 'same' problem yet one is using a tuner that is thirty times more 'accurate' (the manufacturers may mean precise).

 

There's a real possibility that one bass needs a good setup and the other is fine, but if +/- 1 0.1 cent tuners become the norm we will see these issues a lot more.

 

How did we cope when we had to tune by ear to a reference ?

Edited by Stub Mandrel
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Bit dramatic.

Fret placement makes it impossible to get 100% intonation, trying to get full bass notes on a short scale makes it even less likely. Also see Warwick's compensated fret system.

 

I've not heard of anyone tuning at other locations than open string and 12th fret. Why would you want to do that? Sure you could check the flageolet at 5th and 7th if you want to, but the positions in between are next to meaningless (Close Enough) in most music.

 

The tuner is a good indication of where one instrument should be calibrated. If you want to be in tune with eachother that means a lot of work tuning by ear. And that's fine if the music allows for it but in most contemporary music it's hardly required.

 

The fretted system many of us take for granted is flawed. We have enjoyed 60-70 years of popular music using it now, and it's fine. One can do better, but not using mass produced assembly line type fretted instruments.

 

The tuners are not the problem. They are tools to be used for specific purpose and nothing more.

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I agree with @Stub Mandrel around 4 or 5 cents is the limit of what a person can discern as a tuning error referred to another pitch.

 

Yes, you need to tune the instrument and depedning on the environment, that might be regularly needed. Something I see a lot of with adult learners when I'm playing in groups (and I classify myself as an adult learner in terms of playing, but I have done a lot of music theory etc over the years as well) is playing with a tuner switched on and constantly referring to it. This is not good, especially if you're playing with instruments that are not fretted or fixed pitch (e.g. violins and woodwind/brass). If you're playing a fretted or keyboard instrument, you have little choice than to play using ET for your tuning, but if you don't then you can adjust to get better tuning than ET... People need to 'develop' their ear so that they can understadn when they're in tune or not - meters don't help with that.   

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22 minutes ago, Lord Sausage said:

Everyone will just have to get the True Temperament frets that Stevie Vai has.

 

I won't. I like a bit of wobble. We've got by forever without totally perfect intonation. It's pointless. 

 

I'd rather have feel than totally clean in all aspects of music.

 

True Temperament means that you'll only ever be in tune with other True Temperament instruments.

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1 hour ago, Stub Mandrel said:

 

It's an interesting issue, and I thought it was worthy of wider discussion than just diagnosing what may be an issue with a single bass.

 

In another thread, a similar issue is raised, but the person querying is using a TU2.

 

I've just checked and the TU2 has an 'accuracy' of +/- 3 cents (the TU3 is +/- 1 cent).

 

Two people with the 'same' problem yet one is using a tuner that is thirty times more 'accurate' (the manufacturers may mean precise).

 

There's a real possibility that one bass needs a good setup and the other is fine, but if +/- 1 0.1 cent tuners become the norm we will see these issues a lot more.

 

How did we cope when we had to tune by ear to a reference ?

Your point regarding the TU 3 is spot on. I bought one when my Korg pitchblack met it`s end. When trying to tune my P bass, the thing was bouncing around and I was constantly adjusting the bass to get it to settle. I ended up selling it and getting another Pitchblack which isn`t so jumpy.

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If you play with any acoustic instrument, your tuning should not be calculated from some basic "sixth root of two" because instruments like piano cannot be tuned mathematically straight. Otherwise they would sound funny (read: terrible).

My Peterson SAM has tuning temperament for bass. It tunes lowest notes slightly too low. Works and sounds like a dream. And yes, our band has a piano player and some brass.

The answer to the original question is: "No". I would be far more interested in the stability of my bass necks than the tuner accuracy. Modern quartz tuners are very good and stable - and I have half a minute to tune my carbon neck instruments before the rehearsals or gigs start, so I will sleep my nights just like before.

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