Google Analytics

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Tuning Gadget

This is my old guitar tuner from the nineteen-seventies. It works by resonance: when an in-tune guitar string is played, the matching part of the tuner will vibrate in sympathy. In the photograph the E indicator on the left is vibrating, showing that the lower E-string is tuned to the correct pitch.

I never used it much. I usually found it easier to tune by ear, by tuning one string against a piano or tuning fork and then resonating the other strings against each other at the fifth fret, or by oscillating the harmonics at the fifth and seventh frets (either you’ll know what I’m talking about or you won’t).  

However, I do now use an electronic tuner which works in much the same way as the older one, by sensing the frequency of vibrations in the wood of the guitar, working out what note it makes and displaying it digitally. Here it shows the lower E-string is slightly sharp, vibrating a little more rapidly than it should. The string needs to be slightly less tight. 

The electronic tuner is better in noisy concert settings when everyone else is trying to tune their instruments at the same time and you can’t hear your own. It is more accurate: with the old tuner you had to judge the indicators by eye. It is also chromatic: it detects and indicates any note in the 12-note chromatic scale (including semitones) whereas the old tuner only picks up the six notes of standard guitar tuning. So you can use it to tune a ukulele which has a C-string, or change your guitar to DADGAD tuning. 

It will measure the pitch of almost anything. Our central heater boiler is an A-sharp. My electronically adjustable standing desk motor is between an E and an F. My beard trimmer seems to be a two-note mixture of C and G. And my nose and ear hair trimmer (ugh!) starts off at E and rises to G-sharp as it picks up speed. I haven’t yet measured Phoebe’s purr, though.

You can even measure your own voice. When you sing or speak it causes your whole skull to resonate, so by clipping the tuner to the end of a ruler held at the other end in your teeth, you can see the frequency. For example, you can test how accurately you can sing a musical scale or arpeggio, such as the C-E-G-C of a C-major chord: 

Not very in my case. Sorry about the horrible noise. Well, you try singing with a ruler clamped between your teeth. That’s my excuse, anyway.

22 comments:

  1. I used one of those when complaining about an adverse vibration set off by the reggae bass in the roof of a local bar. It was too low to register on the tuner, so I memorised it then whistled into the tuner a few octaves higher. The sound engineers told me I was spot on!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sets me off all kinds of images. How did the sound engineers measure it?

      Delete
    2. They had a lot of sophisticated equipment, including graphic equalisers. You know, the sort of stuff that sound engineers use all the time.

      Delete
    3. I was thinking they were measuring the roof vibration, but then realised it was probably the bass.

      Delete
  2. I have never used the ruler technique but in the days when we gave early music concerts We always took my virginals several hours early, let them sit quietly for an hour and then tuned them with an electronic tuner. My hearing, which is now profound loss, was never sharp enough to do it 'by ear' alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find it it has to be quiet for me to do it by ear. I'm in awe of people who can hear something like a dog bark and immediately say "A sharp".

      Delete
  3. So you don't embrace new technology but pick and choose what works for you. That is pretty well how it is for most of us. I bet the device can't tune a banjo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it can. I have a tenor guitar (GDAE - same as an Irish banjo).

      Delete
  4. Singing with a ruler between my teeth? I have never tried that, but I wonder how accurate my singing would be nowadays, decades after I have stopped singing in choirs (first in our school's choir and later, until I was about 18, in church).
    When I still played the guitar, I always only tuned it by ear against a tuning fork. But I never played in a group with others, let alone a concert, and could always hear my own instrument very clearly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found it difficult. Watching the video I see I was more accurate on the descending scale than on the ascending one.

      Delete
  5. I had a violin teacher who used her synaesthesia to tune. As I played the open strings she'd tell me when say F was the perfect shade of blue, no mud. Compared against an electronic tuner she was dead on. I have relative pitch, not absolute pitch as in identifying a freestanding sound. Relative pitch is very useful when you sang solo, no place to hide, back then. As long as I was given the first pitch, I was good to go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried to learn perfect pitch. First thing in the morning I could sing Bb and check it spot on against the piano, and then other notes associated with it such as F. But once I heard other sounds later it became more of a guess. It was probably Bb because I used to play clarinet which is a Bb instrument.

      Delete
  6. I love that you used it to measure the pitch of various items around the house!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can't add anything to the real musical comments of others but it all reminded me of my Dad who played/strummed the ukulele and sang 'My Dog's Got Fleas' to 'tune' it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have a guitar tuner but not as super-duper as the one you illustrated here. Is this blog sponsored by Snark digital tuners? I guess I bought my tuner twenty five years ago. Perhaps it is time for an upgrade.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Now we want to know about Phoebe's purr and it has made F decide to use her ukulele tuner on me... bother. Mr T.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry Tigger. She won't let me press it with sufficient force on either her teeth or her skull, and says if I do she definitely will not be purring, so the only way to find out would be to record it and measure it with the computer.

      Delete
  10. My oldest granddaughter was gifted an expensive guitar, which interested her not at all. She gave it to her youngest sister, who was thrilled beyond measure. Laura, the last giftee, was not well at the time, and spent hours cross legged on her bed, trying to learn. One day I took her to a music store with a crochety old owner with no customers that afternoon. Eventually he struck up a real musician conversation with Laura, who did play in the marching band and the jazz band. I found a seat and looked on at the magic when he decided she was a genuine musician. It took a couple of hours before an adult customer came in, and by that time I had accumulated a bag of things she would "need", for which I paid no more than ten dollars. One thing was an electronic tuner, over which she was so excited!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. when you first start, if you've never played a stringed instrument before, tuning is one of the things you have difficulty with. It would have helped enormously if I'd had one at the beginning when I was 14 or 15.

      Delete

I welcome comments and usually respond the same day (unless it looks like you are trying to advertise something).