Geeky Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Be sure to check out my technical blog at www.microsoftbob.com.

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Guitar Shopping in Nashville

My wife and I had an opportunity to travel to Nashville, and since Nashville has long-been hailed as the “Music City,” I decided that I should take advantage of the situation to check out some of the local guitar shops while I was in town. As a brief bit of background, I have a good friend, Harold, whom I have known from my earliest days at Microsoft. Harold lives in Nashville now, but when the two of us lived in Seattle, we used to hit all of the guitar shops in that area from time to time. With that in mind, I pinged Harold prior to my arrival and suggested that we should plan to visit a couple of guitar stores while I was in town. (Because the algebraic formula for how many guitars a guy should own is G = N + 1, where “G” is the optimal number of guitars that you should own, and “N” is equal to the number of guitars that you currently own.)

Having said all of that, Harold and I spent a great afternoon visiting two stores, and here’s the lowdown on them.

Store #1 - Carter Vintage Guitars

The first store we visited was Carter Vintage Guitars (www.cartervintage.com), which has thousands of vintage guitars, amps, and pedals…

carter-vintage-1_2_3_Painterly 5

On a personal note, it was a little disconcerting to see an original tape-based EchoPlex selling for $1250, since I sold mine for $50 way back in the 1980s. (At that time in my life I was a poor 20-something and I needed the cash.)

I tried out dozens of amazing guitars, all original and vintage, and most of them selling for a hefty price. (Hey – they are vintage guitars, after all.)

I didn’t buy anything, but they had a beautiful 1974 Gibson EDS-1275 that I would have loved to bring home with me – if only I had the $7,500 to spend on it. [Deep Sigh.]

Store #2 - Gruhn Guitars

The next store that Harold and I visited was one that I had on my list before I arrived: Gruhn Guitars (www.guitars.com), which is a Nashville institution. They have two floors of guitars: the first floor had hundreds of guitars – many of the newer models are what you might expect in your typical guitar store are on that floor, although there were dozens of special gems scattered around, too…

gruhn-guitars-1_2_3_Painterly 5

The second floor has an amazing collection of vintage guitars, (although you need to talk to a salesperson to access that floor)…

gruhn-guitars-2nd-floor-1_2_3_Painterly 5

I found a pristine 1918 Gibson Harp guitar on the second floor that would have found a nice home in my studio, but once again – the $7,500 price tag was more than I could muster.

There were several guitars nestled among the vintage collection that were even more valuable based on their previous owner; for example – one of the acoustic guitars had belonged to John Denver, and the following Flying V used to belong to the great Albert King

albert-king-flying-v

As Harold and I were perusing the various vintage guitars on the second floor, we bumped into George Gruhn, the founder and owner of Gruhn Guitars. George is something of a legend in the Music City, and he’s also the nicest guy you could ever meet.

George invited Harold and me into his office to see his amazing collection of – pythons. Yes, you read that correctly – George has a dozen or so pythons and other snakes in his office. The three of us talked about his collection of reptiles, and then George brought out a couple of his snakes for us to hold. Harold held a tiny but friendly pale-colored python, whereas I held a species of serpent that resembled a coral snake a little too close for comfort. He was a full-sized and quite curious fellow; he kept trying to inspect what I had in my pockets, and I had to keep shifting him from arm to arm in order to prevent him from falling. After ten or so minutes of reptilian admiration, we returned the snakes and resumed our discussion of guitars.

George had an amazing resonator guitar in his office, and the three of us took turns playing it; I played a little jazz piece on it, Harold played excerpts from a classical etude, and George played some amazing vintage improvisational fingerstyle (with hints of Celtic influence). This particular resonator had an amazing sound, but the price tag was a bit out of my range. (Although Harold was seriously contemplating adding it to his collection.)

As we discussed the various guitars we each owned, George shared a bit of his guitar wisdom with Harold and me. For example, he said that there are three primary reasons why someone buys a guitar:

  1. They don’t have a guitar
  2. They want a better guitar
  3. They collect guitars (which all three of us obviously do)

We all laughed about George’s observation, but George pointed out that many collectors do not seem to actually care about the quality; some of the collectors he meets are simply trying to fill a generic void in their collection. I responded that I buy different guitars for specific purposes; each of mine is unique and purchased for an individual sound or purpose.

George also produced a Martin that I played briefly, and when I commented that I much preferred the neck on my Taylor for playing fingerstyle, George produced a trio of Taylor prototypes that had not yet been assigned a specific model number. (One of the prototypes was personally signed by Bob Taylor and addressed to George.) I liked the Taylors much better; their necks were more like what I was accustomed to playing. After a few minutes George needed to head back to work, so Harold and I headed downstairs, where Harold continued to put the resonator from George’s office through its paces while I browsed through the wide-ranging collection of acoustic guitars.

About ten minutes later George found me; he said that he had a 1946 Epiphone upstairs that he wanted to show me, so the two of us headed back upstairs to check it out. I own an 1965 Epiphone 12-string, and George’s 1946 6-string was somewhat reminiscent of my guitar, (albeit in better shape than mine). I swapped out the Epiphone for one of the Taylor protoypes, then George picked up a 5-string banjo and started to play various melody lines in Old Americana, Celtic, and Klezmer/Yiddish styles as I tried to keep up with the rapid chord changes on the guitar. It was a fun, impromptu jam session between guitar geeks, and I had a blast.

Eventually Harold joined us on the second floor, and it was time for us to go. I had to meet my wife downtown for a previous engagement, so Harold and I bid George adieu and headed off into the proverbial Tennessee sunset.

Posted: Sep 18 2018, 19:49 by Bob | Comments (0)
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I Love Levy's Guitar Straps

I have played guitar for over 40 years, and I have to say - without a doubt - that Levy's makes the best guitar straps. I know that this is probably going to sound like a paid advertisement, but I have used their straps for the past 25 years or so, and I have never had one fail on me. (And trust me, I have abused the heck out of them.)

With that in mind, I thought that it was pretty cool that I stumbled across the following short video which shows how their straps are made:

FYI - I currently own a dozen different straps from Levy's, and I use them together with Schaller Strap Locks. That combination is, in my opinion, the best setup for any guitar player.

Posted: Jul 02 2018, 17:46 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Transcribing It's the Right Time by Mitch Malloy and Van Halen

Every month or two I decide to transcribe a song; it's a weird hobby, but it's a lot more challenging than Sudoku. Anyway, today's song was "It's the Right Time," which is the only song by Van Halen with Mitch Malloy on vocals. (See https://youtu.be/NBXjQ8FASug for the original song.)

My transcription is pretty faithful to the original - the only artistic license that I took was to add an ending since the original recording fades out.

While I have usually liked EVH's grooves, this song had some particularly interesting parts to it: the main hook for the verses is a four-measure progression, wherein EVH hits the opening chord for each of the first two measures an eighth note before the beat, and he hits the opening chord for the third and fourth measures on the downbeat; this creates a cool groove with a heightened tension, because your ear usually wants to hear the chords hit on the downbeat. When EVH gets to the bridge, he changes accents all over the place; so sometimes he sounds on the beat, while at other times he sounds like he's playing in a different time signature. As a whole, all of EVH's inventiveness on this song results in a really fun piece to listen to; it sometimes sounds like it's not quite right, but in the best possible way.


Note: Mitch Malloy was probably Van Halen's shortest-term vocalist; Van Halen hired him right before the Gary Cherone debacle, although Mitch eventually declined the gig due to a mix-up regarding David Lee Roth. (See https://youtu.be/dxF4WRORQ9s for Mitch's story.)

Nevertheless, back in the 1990s, it seemed like Van Halen was going through a different vocalist every other month. It became kind of a running joke, so Eddie and Alex Van Halen posed for the following milk advertisement:

Van Halen Milk Ad

The text in the advertisement reads:

"Of all the lead singers we've had, most never got enough calcium. Typical. But not for Alex and me. Because every time we change singers, we have an extra glass of milk. That way we're sure to get more than the recommended three glasses a day. As you can see, sometimes all at once."

Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Jun 11 2018, 23:14 by Bob | Comments (0)
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I Love Neil Zaza...

I had this melody line stuck in my head all day... and if you have to have a song lodged in your imagination, this is a pretty good one to go with.

Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Apr 18 2017, 11:24 by bob | Comments (0)
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Flamenco at the Speed of Light

I felt like some old-school jazz flamenco this evening, so I put on some classic Paco De Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin playing Di Meola's masterpiece Mediterranean Sundance. It's been over 35 years since these three toured together, but it's amazing how great this piece has held up... and Al Di Meola's run of 256th notes starting at 2:40 would melt most fretboards.

Surprised smile

Posted: Feb 12 2017, 14:46 by bob | Comments (0)
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When A Song Gets Stuck In My Mind...

I had a song stuck in the back of my mind all evening and it was starting to bug me, so I decided to sit down and transcribe it in Guitar Pro 6.

Once I had finished transcribing the song, I remembered that it was named "Silver Tightrope," and it was from an album which was released in 1975. I seem to recall that I thought the song had been recorded by "Yes" when I had first heard it, but the song was actually written by a short-lived band from the UK named "Armageddon."

The four bars which I transcribed are probably around 99% of the song, so it was a pretty quick diversion for the evening. Now I'll get back to the business of writing some code.

Open-mouthed smile

Posted: Aug 25 2016, 15:09 by bob | Comments (0)
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A Few of My Favorite Guitar Solos

This should waste an hour or so of your time - here are ten of my favorite guitar solos...

eric-johnson david-gilmour
Eric Johnson
"Cliffs of Dover"
David Gilmour
"Comfortably Numb"
eddie-van-halen neil-zaza
Eddie Van Halen
"Eruption"
Neil Zaza
"I'm Alright"
joe-satriani alex-lifeson
Joe Satriani
"Satch Boogie"
Alex Lifeson (Rush)
"La Villa Strangiato"
stevie-ray-vaughan paul-gilbert
Stevie Ray Vaughn
"Voodoo Chile"
Paul Gilbert
"Scarified"
steve-morse yngwie-malmsteen
Steve Morse
"Tumeni Notes"
Yngwie Malmsteen
"Evil Eye"

Note: Few people know about Neil Zaza, which is too bad - as his live video shows, he's seriously underrated as a guitarist. By the way, although all of these solos are good, "Tumeni Notes" is downright impossible to play. (For me, anyway.)

Honorable Mentions

I should call out some Honorable Mentions; I think that Stevie Ray Vaughn's cover of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" is is arguably better than Jimi's original version, but I still like the original. Also, it was a toss-up between Paul Gilbert's "Hurry Up" and "Scarified" in the original list.

jimi-hendrix randy-rhoads
Jimi Hendrix
"Voodoo Chile"
Randy Rhoads (Ozzy)
"Crazy Train"
rik-emmett paul-gilbert-2
Rik Emmett (Triumph)
"Fight the Good Fight"
Paul Gilbert
"Hurry Up"

Of course, I could go on and on about other guitar solos by other guitar players, and there are several guitarists who were somewhat inadvertently skipped in my list. (e.g. Gary Hoey, Vernon Reid, etc.) But that being said, the original list comprises some of my all-time favorite solos.

Posted: Oct 14 2015, 18:17 by bob | Comments (0)
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Meeting Jack Vaughn - Guitar Tech and Line 6 Modder Extraordinaire

Recently one of the footswitches on my Line 6 M13 Stompbox Modeler went bad. I'm pretty good with a soldering iron, so I started poking around on the Line 6 website, but it didn't look like Line 6 sells that type of footswitch as a spare part. Before calling Line 6 about the problem, I thought that I would do an Internet search to see if anyone else had run into this issue and what they did to resolve it. As it turns out, a bunch of people had run into this exact problem; most people's feedback was incredulity that Line 6 had created such an incredibly rugged pedal like the M13 with such easy-to-destroy footswitches. (Unlike the individual Line 6 stompbox modelers like the DL4 and DM4 which you could probably run over with a tank and they'd still work.)

However, a bunch of guitarists had blogged about how they had modified their M13 by drilling out the original footswitches and replacing them with more durable, off-the-shelf footswitches. This increases the overall durability of the M13; but should a footswitch ever go bad again, it's much easier to replace the bad switch when you're using readily-available parts. One particular blog on Guitar Geek was extremely detailed – the blog's author had taken copious photos throughout the whole process. It looked like it would take an entire weekend to do the mod myself, and I was planning on using the Guitar Geek blog as a guide for modifying my own pedal when I noticed that the author had written in his notes that if he had it to do over again, he would hire Jack Vaughn (www.jhv3.com) to do the work for him.

I checked out the JHV3 website, and it looked like Jack charged a fair price for doing the M13 footswitch mod, and he did other mods as well. What's more, when I looked at the "Clients who use JHV3" section of his website, he had a long list of Christian artists whom I listen to as his clientele. I contacted Jack through email, and I discussed hiring him to do a couple of mods for me – the footswitch replacement and his audio upgrade. We settled on a price and he gave me his address  on the East Coast. Jack asked that I get it to him quickly because he works as a guitar tech for bands on tour, and he would be heading out near the end of September. With that in mind, I packed up my M13 and sent it to him in the mail near the end of August. Jack had mentioned that it takes him 3 to 4 weeks to complete the mods, so I wasn't worried when I hadn't heard anything from him in a couple weeks.

Jack contacted me a couple of days ago to ask for my telephone number; I sent that to him, and he called me a little later that day. He explained that my pedal was almost done, but he needed to report for Casting Crowns tour rehearsals that night. He said that he could mail my pedal to me from the road, which would probably save some postage since Casting Crowns was touring the West Coast and I live in Arizona. I said that was no problem, but he mentioned that Casting Crowns was going to be in Phoenix at Grand Canyon University (GCU) on Friday, September 19th; Jack said that if I wanted to do so, I could drop by GCU and pick up my pedal from him in person. I said that sounded like fun for me - and he said that it would be interesting for him, too, because he has never met any of the people who send him their pedals for modifications. (He also said that he might be able to get complimentary tickets to the show for my wife and me, but my wife had to work that day, so I had to politely decline the offer. This was too bad – I like Casting Crowns.)

With our plans in place, I took the day off from work on Friday, drove my wife to work, and then I made the two-hour drive to Phoenix to meet Jack. I sent him a text message when I arrived at the GCU arena, and he came out to meet me. We shook hands, and then he took me backstage to show me my modified M13. We discussed the updates for a few minutes, and Jack said that if I wanted to hang out while he set up the guitar gear for the bands, we could go out for a late lunch. Watching the stage set up sounded like a lot of fun, really - I like seeing how a show comes together from the technical side.

So Jack took off to set up the guitar gear for the show, while I tried my best to stay out of the way on the sidelines as I checked out everyone's gear from a distance. I didn't have a crew pass, so I needed to hang out near the guitar area; oh darn. (Note: Josh from Casting Crowns plays some nice guitars from Paul Reed Smith; even the sea foam green one looked good.) Before we headed off to lunch, Jack gave me a tour of the effects pedal boards that each of the guitarists was using; this is always a great deal of fun for me, because every guitarist has their favorite pedals – including me – so we like to see what everyone else is using. (Hence why the Guitar Geek website exists.) Another thing that I thought was particularly ingenious was the way that the guitar techs had recycled one of the drum crates as an isolation chamber for the guitar amplifiers, so the stage volume was significantly reduced, while the amplifiers were able to deliver some great tone at volumes for which they were designed.

Once Jack was done with the initial gear set up, we headed out to lunch. We found a nearby taco place, because I never need to be asked twice if I would like Mexican food. Jack bought lunch, which was a nice gesture that wasn't necessary. Over lunch we talked about various pedals, guitars, mods, families, etc., and how Jack got into work as a guitar tech and effects pedal builder/modder. He's extremely well-read from an electronics perspective, which lends itself greatly to his skills as a guitar tech.

We had a great discussion over a bunch of topics, but eventually it was time for Jack to head back for Casting Crowns' sound check. I drove us back to the arena, and Jack said that I could watch a bit of the sound check before I headed back down to Tucson to pick up my wife from work. This sounded like fun, so I followed Jack into the arena, and I found a seat on the side of the arena that was close enough to the stage to watch a bit of the sound check while I stayed out of the way. My son plays in a band in the Seattle area, and he likes Casting Crowns as well, so I thought he'd like to see what another band looks like when rehearsing. With that in mind, I took a short video during the the sound check to send him. (Note: Jack is the tech who walks onstage about 15 seconds into the video.)

I watched the sound check for around ¾ of an hour, and it was amazing how tight Casting Crowns sounded; it was only the second night of their tour, but they were effortlessly nailing their songs perfectly. That being said, I needed to head back to Tucson to pick up my wife, so I dropped by where Jack was working, thanked him again for everything, and I hopped back on the Interstate headed south.


One last note – since this whole adventure was started because I needed to mod my M13, I should point out that Jack's mods were great. I would recommend him to anyone, and I'd hire him again. ;-)

Posted: Sep 19 2014, 13:50 by Bob | Comments (0)
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A=444Hz Tuning and the Magic 528Hz Frequency

One of my guitar-playing friends recently posted the following article to Facebook as a joke:

http://themindunleashed.org/2014/03/miracle-528-hz-solfeggio-fibonacci-numbers.html

I know that my friend was just being silly, but the actual content of that piece is more drivel in a long line of mathematical silliness which forces me to heave a deep sigh for the fate of humanity. The article in question reinforces my conviction that some people will believe just about anything: bigfoot, aliens, unicorns, Obamacare, leprechauns, etc. But one of my personal favorites is the assertion that altering the base frequency in a tuning scale will somehow lead to a perfect universe.

What a bunch of hooey.

As I mentioned earlier, I know that my friend was posting the article to be silly, but just for the sake of argument, I can't resist taking a look at the math from the article. At the risk of being overly self-indulgent, I know that I have used my A=432Hz Tuning blog post to refute concepts like this in the past. But that being said, my blog post examines a lot of the actual math behind these sorts of silly ideas, and they just don't stand up to scrutiny. Oh sure, there's a bunch of purported facts in the article that my friend posted, (once you get past the gooey new age crap). But as I said earlier, people will believe just about anything.

Here's a case in point: when I visited Machu Picchu I was assured by my tour guide that one of the stones in one of the walls had been certified by NASA as the harmonic center point of all nature. I didn't believe my guide, but in hindsight her statement seems considerably more plausible than anything that was presented in the "Magic 528Hz" article. (Note: I meant that humorously; you can't trust NASA to find the harmonic center point of anything.)

In any event - let's take a look at some of the math from the 528Hz article, shall we?

If you use A=444Hz as the article suggests, that does NOT make the frequency for C fall on an even interval - it's off by a diminutive fraction:

Note Frequency
A 444.00 Hz
Bb 470.40 Hz
B 498.37 Hz
C 528.01 Hz
C# 559.40 Hz
D 592.67 Hz
Eb 627.91 Hz
E 665.25 Hz
F 704.81 Hz
F# 746.72 Hz
G 791.12 Hz
G# 838.16 Hz
A 888.00 Hz

As you can see, the frequency for C falls pretty close to 528Hz. But as I mentioned in my blog, what your ear actually wants to hear are frequencies which harmonically-derived perfect intervals across the scale. However, the frequencies in the tuning scale that the article's author is using are based on equal-temperament, which is a harmonically imperfect standard. Because of this fact, you would not use equal-tempered tuning if you were actually trying to calculate harmonically-perfect intervals, so the 528Hz article is completely busted right there. (On a side note, even frequencies in a full scale like this do not matter to your ear - because they just don't. Period. You can have uneven decimal points for perfect intervals in a harmonically-derived scale if you do your math correctly; arguing about decimal points is just stupid.)

That being said, the author spends a great deal of time rambling on and on about Fibonacci sequences, (which are really cool by the way). However, the author completely fails to mention (or perhaps to even notice) that 528 doesn't fall in the standard Fibonacci sequence:

1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, etc.

Now, if the number 528 had actually fallen inside the standard Fibonacci sequence, that would have been a pretty cool factoid for the article. But that being said, it still wouldn't mean anything.

Just for the fun of it, let's see how we can manipulate the math a little, shall we?

For example, if you use A=431.33333Hz as your base frequency, then the frequency for Eb will be 610.00Hz, which is actually a valid number in a standard Fibonacci sequence. That's kind of amusing, but it doesn't mean anything useful. All that means is that I spent a lot of time in Excel typing in random base frequencies until I bumped into a number that worked. Likewise, if you use A=443.99Hz as your base frequency, then your C will actually be 528Hz, but that's just as useless. (And good luck trying to find a tuner that will let you use A=443.99Hz as your base frequency.)

In the end, the article which my friend posted to Facebook is an amusing work of fiction, although reading it will waste several minutes of your life which could have been spent doing something considerably more productive.

Posted: Jun 02 2014, 08:22 by Bob | Comments (0)
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A=432Hz Tuning versus A=440Hz Tuning

A coworker recently pointed me to the following blog post, and he asked if it had any basis in reality: 432Hz: Crazy Theory Or Crazy Fact. After looking at that blog, I think a better title for it would be "432Hz: Misinterpreted Theory and Misconstrued Facts." I honestly mean no disrespect to the author by my suggestion; but the blog's author clearly does not understand the theory behind what he is discussing. And because he misunderstands some basic concepts, his discussion on this subject offers little by way of practical information. As such, I thought that I would set the record straight on a few things and offer some useful information on the subject.

First of all, the author's suggestion that using A=432Hz for a reference when tuning will put your guitar in Pythagorean Tuning is completely false; all you are doing is changing the base frequency that you are using, but your guitar will still be in Standard Tuning.

Discussing the base frequency is about as effective as discussing the merits of an E-Flat Tuning versus Standard-E Tuning; either one is fine, and it just comes down to user preference as to which one is better. The same thing holds true for choosing A=432Hz over A=440Hz - it's a preference choice. (Unless you have Perfect Pitch, in which case  A=432Hz is probably going to annoy you more than words can say.)

However, there is one major difference: if you choose to record music by using an other-than-normal base frequency, you'll frustrate the heck out of someone who just tuned their guitar with a standard tuner and attempts to sit down and learn your music. ("Hmm... this just doesn't sound right.") And you could retune just to annoy them for fun, of course. ;-]

That being said, any discussion of Pythagorean Tuning and the guitar is utterly useless, because a guitar is not fretted for Pythagorean Tuning. Here is where the real confusion lies, because the author of that blog is confusing changing the base frequency with somehow putting the guitar into a different temperament, which is not possible without re-fretting your instrument. Here's what I mean by that:

The physical interval between the frets on a guitar neck is based on Equal Temperament, which is a constant that is defined as the 12th root of 2. In Microsoft Excel that formula would be 10^(LOG(2)/12), which comes to 1.0594630944. We all know that an octave is double the frequency of the base pitch, so with A=440Hz you would get A=880Hz for the next higher octave. By using the above constant, you can create the following scale from an A to an A in the next higher octave by multiplying each frequency in the scale by the constant in order to derive the resultant frequency for each successive note:

Note Frequency
A = 440.00Hz
Bb = 466.16Hz
B = 493.88Hz
C = 523.25Hz
C# = 554.37Hz
D = 587.33Hz
D# = 622.25Hz
E = 659.26Hz
F = 698.46Hz
F# = 739.99Hz
G = 783.99Hz
Ab = 830.61Hz
A = 880.00Hz

In contrast to the claims that were made by the blog's author, you do not magically get whole-number frequencies (e.g. with no decimal points) if you change the base frequency to A=432Hz; the math just doesn't support that. Here is the list of resulting frequencies for an octave if you start with a base frequency of A=432Hz, and I have included a comparison with a base frequency of A=440Hz:

Note Frequency 1 Frequency 2
A = 432.00Hz <-> 440.00Hz
Bb = 457.69Hz <-> 466.16Hz
B = 484.90Hz <-> 493.88Hz
C = 513.74Hz <-> 523.25Hz
C# = 544.29Hz <-> 554.37Hz
D = 576.65Hz <-> 587.33Hz
D# = 610.94Hz <-> 622.25Hz
E = 647.27Hz <-> 659.26Hz
F = 685.76Hz <-> 698.46Hz
F# = 726.53Hz <-> 739.99Hz
G = 769.74Hz <-> 783.99Hz
Ab = 815.51Hz <-> 830.61Hz
A = 864.00Hz <-> 880.00Hz

When you look at the two sets of frequencies side-by-side, you see that tuning with either base frequency yields only two even frequencies - one for each of the A notes. However, when you use the standard A=440Hz tuning, you have two frequencies (the F# and G) that almost fall on even frequencies (at 739.99Hz and 783.99Hz respectively). Not that this really matters - your ear is not going to care whether a frequency falls on an even number. (Although it might look nice on paper if you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and you rounded every frequency to the nearest whole number.)

Since the frets on the guitar are based on this temperament, that's all you get - period. You can fudge your base frequency up or down all you want, but in the end you're still going to be using Equal Temperament, unless you completely re-fret your guitar as I already mentioned. (Note: See the FreeNotes website for guitar necks that are fretted for alternate temperaments.)

If you had a background that included synthesizers, (and as a guitar player I must apologize for my side hobby on keyboards), you might remember that back in the 1980s there was a passing phase with microtonality on keyboards. If you had a keyboard that supported this technology, you were able to play your keyboard by using intonation that was different than the Equal Temperament, which was sometimes pretty cool.

Why would someone want to do this? Because many of the old composers never used Equal Temperament; that's a fairly recent invention. So if you want to hear what a piece of piano music sounded like for the original composer, you might want to set up your keyboard to use the same microtonality temperament that the composer actually used.

But that being said, before the invention of Equal Temperament, there were several competing temperaments, and each was usually based on tuning some interval like the fourth or fifth by ear, and then finding intervals in-between those other intervals that sounded acceptable. What this resulted in, however, were a plethora of tunings/temperaments that sounded great in some keys and terrible in others. More than that, if you continue to work your way up a scale based on intervals based on sound, you will eventually introduce errors. Using the actual Pythagorean Tuning suffers from this problem, so if you put a microtonal keyboard into Pythagorean Tuning and attempted to play a piece of music that extended past a couple of octaves, it sounded terrible. (See Pythagorean Tuning for an explanation.)

But on that note, almost every guitarist suffers from this same problem, but you just don't know it. Have you ever tuned your guitar by using the 5th fret and 7th frets harmonics? Of course you have, and so have I. But here's a side point that most guitarists don't know - when you tune your guitar by using those harmonics, you slowly introduce errors across the guitar, and as a result it will seldom seem completely in tune with itself.

Here's an excerpt from a write-up that I did for the Christian Guitar website a while ago that describes what I mean:


There have been many different temperaments used in the Western Hemisphere, and many of these centered around specific intervals. For example, start with a C note, then find the perfect octave above; you now have the starting and ending points for your scale. Next, find the harmonically perfect 5th of G by tuning and listening to pitches, then use these intervals to find E, which is the major 3rd. Once done, you now have three notes of your scale and the octave. If you jump up to G and use the same process to find the 3rd and 5th, you get the B and D notes. If you keep repeating the process, you eventually derive all of the diatonic notes for your major scale. On a piano that would be just the white keys.

Leaving sharps and flats out of this example, (the piano's black keys), the problem is that if you keep using the perfect 5th for a reference, you gradually find that the notes in your scale are not lining up as you travel around the circle of 5ths. This occurs because using perfect 5ths will eventually introduce slight errors on other intervals, and the result will be that your scale works great in one or two keys, but other keys sound noticeably awful.

Here's why this happens: after having gone around the entire circle using perfect 5ths as a tuning guide, by the time you get to the octave above your starting note, the physical frequency for the octave is not the same as the last pitch that you derived from tuning based on the perfect 5ths. This is especially problematic when you use one particular note/key to tune an instrument, and then try to play in another key. For example, if you tune an instrument using perfect 5ths and start on a C note, the key of C# will sound distinctively out-of-tune.

The only trouble that some people might have with equal-temperament is that the intervals within the octave are not based on perfect intervals, but rather intervals based on the constant. This causes a lot of problems with people who tune by ear using perfect 5ths, which many guitarists do without realizing when they tune their guitars using harmonics over the 7th fret.

For example, if you were to tune an E note using an A note as a reference point, your ear would want to hear the perfect 5th for E which is 660.00Hz, not the equal-tempered E that is 659.26Hz. Although the difference is very small, it is compounded over time as you tune the other notes within the scale. If you continued to tune using 5ths, your next note higher would be the B that is a 5th over E. Your ear would want to hear the perfect 5th again, so you would wind up with 990.00Hz for B instead of the equal-tempered 987.77Hz. Another perfect 5th would be 1485Hz instead of the equal-tempered 1479.98Hz, then 2227.50Hz instead of 2217.46Hz, etc.


I personally find the math part of music fascinating, and I've obviously spent a bunch of time (perhaps too much time  ;-]) studying notes, scales and tunings from a mathematical perspective. Because of that, I view the whole guitar neck as a numerical system and all chords/scales as algorithms. I know that's really geeky, but it's still pretty cool. In the end, I think that math might be my 2nd-favorite part of music. (My favorite part is turning the amps up to 11 and feeling the actual notes as they tangibly pass through my body - it's like a physical feedback loop. Very cool...)

The net result of this discussion is - use a tuner when you are tuning your guitar, not your ear. And it doesn't matter what your base frequency is when you are tuning your guitar - you are still using Equal Temperament because that's the way that your guitar is made. ;-]

Posted: Apr 22 2013, 12:45 by Bob | Comments (0)
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