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#1January 31st, 2011 · 04:36 AM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
B string mystery
Here's an interesting topic for you guitarists out there.

I would say I have a pretty good ear for tuning. Sometimes when I tune my guitars precisely with a tuner it still sounds out of tune, even with new strings.

Here is one of the reasons.

Try this experiment. Tune your guitar with a tuner as best as you can, best that you use new or relatively new strings. Play a standard A major chord, listen to it, does it sound in tune?, then play a standard E major chord, does this sound in tune? does the E chord sound more in tune than the A?

Now the interesting part,  play open G & B strings, do they sound in tune? Now play the open B & G string one after the other and at the same time down tune the B string and listen out for the harmonies between them, you will notice it sounds more harmonic as you down tune the B string, NOTE there is only a slight down tuning, if you have a good ear, you will hear the harmonic change.

Now you have got the B & G string to play more in harmony play a  standard A chord again, how does it sound, sounds better, IN TUNE. now try playing a standard E chord, how does that sound, sounds worse now, OUT of TUNE.

Down tuning the B string also effects standard C, D and G chords, (NOTE G chord with open B)

Can anyone solve this mystery? I think it has something to do with the fact the B & G strings are 4th note Harmony, apposed to the others which are 5ths.

MYSTERIES OF THE STRING 
#2January 31st, 2011 · 12:05 PM
38 threads / 11 songs
278 posts
Canada
To be honest I have no idea, but I do find that some chords sound more out of tune than others, or are more prone to sounding out of tune if your guitar is even just slightly off.
#3January 31st, 2011 · 12:49 PM
117 threads / 27 songs
1,057 posts
Germany
Mmmmmm???? Really dunno  this phenomenon on my git . But when a git isnt in tune allover the fretboard
mostly its something wrong about intonation or the wood might be buckled.
Happens sometimes with very old instruments . What does a gitbuilder say ?
U.L.I.
#4January 31st, 2011 · 01:14 PM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
ULI wrote…
Mmmmmm???? Really dunno  this phenomenon on my git . But when a git isn�t in tune allover the fretboard
mostly it�s something wrong about intonation or the wood might be buckled.
Happens sometimes with very old instruments . What does a gitbuilder say ?
U.L.I.

This B string mystery is applicable on any 6 string guitar, hence it's a mystery
Try it out and you will hear where I'm coming from.
MYSTERIES OF THE B STRING 
#5January 31st, 2011 · 01:16 PM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
thebigguyconnor wrote…
To be honest I have no idea, but I do find that some chords sound more out of tune than others, or are more prone to sounding out of tune if your guitar is even just slightly off.

Hmm, it might have something to do with the B string mystery, try it out on any of your guitars, probably an acoustic to start 
#6February 3rd, 2011 · 07:43 PM
4 posts
United States of America
You've got your intervals a bit backwards, the rest of the strings on a guitar are tuned to a perfect 4th interval, the only exception is this the G to the B string which is a major third interval.
Anyway, here's what I think! Consider this.. When you play the G and B, there's a slight dissonance. It may sound somewhat as a consonance but truly in actuality a dissonant interval. Therefore, there's room for in your ears in what distance between small microtones would be acceptable to your ear. When you play the A major chord, you're holding down the second fret on the B string. This note is a C#. In relation to the chord you're playing the C# is the major third of the chord, and in fact, the only note that gives a distinction between what type of chord it is. This is the same exact interval between B and G, which you were playing earlier.  The C# might not necessarily sound better, but it'll probably still fit in context to the chord you're playing.
But, if you play the E major chord, the note you'll be playing is a B, on the open B string, that's slightly down tuned. The interval between a E and a B is a perfect 5th. One half step lower, or higher, and the interval of the simultaneous notes will result in a completely different sound and generally regarded as absolutely dissonant (diminished/augmented chords).. The interval between and tuning these two notes has to be pretty darn accurate for it to sound like the right interval.
If you've ever harmonized in singing, or in a group, you'll see what I mean. When you sing in only perfect fifths with another singer, or play, it has an almost perfect, as it implies, sound. It's kind of weird, and hard to explain but that's just how it is. When you hit perfect intervals above another note, it's spot on, and they just fit together. With the major intervals, there's a little bit of room to float around, and kind of settle in somewhere that sounds correct. I'm not completely sure if this is what it is, but it's just a speculation, because I find it harder to tune the G and B strings by just listening to the interval between the strings, than the other strings.
#7February 3rd, 2011 · 10:56 PM
102 threads / 59 songs
204 posts
Canada
I've always noticed that these two are the hardest to tune. I've generally attributed it to the a difference in timbre that comes from the G string being made of a core with a wound wire and the B string just having the core but it might also be an intonation issue that arises on thirds and might be particularly prevalent on guitar. I don't remember the full story but I had a lecture on intonation in a counterpoint class and the prof spent a while discussing thirds.

Some background: All instruments naturally have some built in dissonance. This is a function of how music works scientifically, it has nothing to do with the instrument - no matter how good the thing is it'll still have to handle this dissonance. Modern instruments are designed so that every note is equally out of tune with each other (called Equal Temperament) but have been other ways of dealing with this throughout history (Just Intonation, Well-Temperament, etc.) I remember the prof mentioning that under certain temperaments this effect was particularly highlighted on the major third, so much so that early musicians actually wanted to have two major thirds, depending on whether the melody was descending or ascending. It never got popular because of the nightmare it would have been to score and play but relics of this are present in modern music. Certain enharmonic notes are not the same on certain instruments. For example, C# might not mean the same thing as Db to a violinist.

What you might be noticing is this effect. There is actually a range of pitches that will sound in tune relative to each other. My guess is that what you are noticing is the combination of an intonation issue and a timbre issue. I'm glad you brought this up. The truth is that because of intonation, you might want to retune your instrument depending on the key you're playing in and how you will use certain strings. I can tell you that I have to retune between playing in G and E major just a little bit to tweak things (though it might just be that I get things wrong the first time).

Cheers.
#8February 4th, 2011 · 03:10 AM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
DTF wrote…
I've always noticed that these two are the hardest to tune. I've generally attributed it to the a difference in timbre that comes from the G string being made of a core with a wound wire and the B string just having the core but it might also be an intonation issue that arises on thirds and might be particularly prevalent on guitar. I don't remember the full story but I had a lecture on intonation in a counterpoint class and the prof spent a while discussing thirds.

Some background: All instruments naturally have some built in dissonance. This is a function of how music works scientifically, it has nothing to do with the instrument - no matter how good the thing is it'll still have to handle this dissonance. Modern instruments are designed so that every note is equally out of tune with each other (called Equal Temperament) but have been other ways of dealing with this throughout history (Just Intonation, Well-Temperament, etc.) I remember the prof mentioning that under certain temperaments this effect was particularly highlighted on the major third, so much so that early musicians actually wanted to have two major thirds, depending on whether the melody was descending or ascending. It never got popular because of the nightmare it would have been to score and play but relics of this are present in modern music. Certain enharmonic notes are not the same on certain instruments. For example, C# might not mean the same thing as Db to a violinist.

What you might be noticing is this effect. There is actually a range of pitches that will sound in tune relative to each other. My guess is that what you are noticing is the combination of an intonation issue and a timbre issue. I'm glad you brought this up. The truth is that because of intonation, you might want to retune your instrument depending on the key you're playing in and how you will use certain strings. I can tell you that I have to retune between playing in G and E major just a little bit to tweak things (though it might just be that I get things wrong the first time).

Cheers.

Yep, The next time I record something in A Major or G Major, I'll down tune the B string.
There will still be issues with other chords, but it will be interesting how it will sound overall.

One positive aspect is if you are playing a full rhythm in A after down tuning the B string, the chord rings beautifully, which in turn makes me play better. If I'm playing lead or picking style tuned perfectly to a tuner, the guitar sounds in tune.

It will be interesting to try this out on a Piano?

MYSTERIES OF THE B STRING 

I would love for members to try this out and upload - We could perhaps play a song in standard tuning for one verse/chorus and the other with B string down tuned. It will be interesting to hear comments from members.
#9February 4th, 2011 · 03:26 AM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
thymurdock wrote…
You've got your intervals a bit backwards, the rest of the strings on a guitar are tuned to a perfect 4th interval, the only exception is this the G to the B string which is a major third interval.
Anyway, here's what I think! Consider this.. When you play the G and B, there's a slight dissonance. It may sound somewhat as a consonance but truly in actuality a dissonant interval. Therefore, there's room for in your ears in what distance between small microtones would be acceptable to your ear. When you play the A major chord, you're holding down the second fret on the B string. This note is a C#. In relation to the chord you're playing the C# is the major third of the chord, and in fact, the only note that gives a distinction between what type of chord it is. This is the same exact interval between B and G, which you were playing earlier.  The C# might not necessarily sound better, but it'll probably still fit in context to the chord you're playing.
But, if you play the E major chord, the note you'll be playing is a B, on the open B string, that's slightly down tuned. The interval between a E and a B is a perfect 5th. One half step lower, or higher, and the interval of the simultaneous notes will result in a completely different sound and generally regarded as absolutely dissonant (diminished/augmented chords).. The interval between and tuning these two notes has to be pretty darn accurate for it to sound like the right interval.
If you've ever harmonized in singing, or in a group, you'll see what I mean. When you sing in only perfect fifths with another singer, or play, it has an almost perfect, as it implies, sound. It's kind of weird, and hard to explain but that's just how it is. When you hit perfect intervals above another note, it's spot on, and they just fit together. With the major intervals, there's a little bit of room to float around, and kind of settle in somewhere that sounds correct. I'm not completely sure if this is what it is, but it's just a speculation, because I find it harder to tune the G and B strings by just listening to the interval between the strings, than the other strings.

Thanks for pointing out the major 3rds and 4ths.
Yes, I understand the harmony feel and sound between 3rd and 4ths.
I suppose when they are combined like in the A major chord, there is some conflict, as if one is trying to dominate the other The 4ths are more dominant.

One of of my favorite chords on the guitar is A9, basically it's an A chord with open B. Interestingly, this chord sounds better with the guitar tuned perfectly to a tuner, it sound completely out of tune when down tuning the B string. I recorded one of my first songs here on the AMP with this chord being the main,  The song is called 'Alpha Nine'.
#10April 18th, 2011 · 08:44 AM
5 threads
24 posts
United Kingdom
It mostly comes down to the equal temperament thing that DTF mentioned. Two notes generally sound consonant when the fundamentals are an exact whole-number ratio apart. For example, you probably know that two notes an octave apart have a frequency ratio of 2:1.  A perfect fifth is 3:2, a fourth is 4:3 and a major third is 4:5. The reason these sound good together is that a lot of their harmonics are exactly in tune and reinforce each other.

The trouble is, when you stack 12 fifths together to cycle round the scale, multiplying by 3/2 twelve times gives you a note which is a little bit sharper than seven octaves. To deal with this, from Bach's time on, each fifth has been tuned ever so slightly flat in order to keep the octaves exact. A semitone in equal temperament has a note ratio of 1:(twelfth root of 2). In other words all the semitones are equal, and if you multiply that ratio twelve times you get 1:2 to give you an octave.

Five equal semitones give you 1:1.3348, which is very close to the 1.33334 needed for a 3:4 harmonic 4th.
Four equal semitones give you 1:1.25992, which is quite a bit sharper than the 1.25 for a harmonic M3rd.

If you tune the B string fractionally sharp, and the G and D fractionally flat then you can avoid the problem, but a C chord is then distinctly wrong. There are a lot of variant tunings which can help with one key at the expense of others, but no way to get rid of the problem altogether. The standard tuning is the best compromise, which is why it's standard.
#11April 18th, 2011 · 03:37 PM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
TheUrbanBassman wrote…
It mostly comes down to the equal temperament thing that DTF mentioned. Two notes generally sound consonant when the fundamentals are an exact whole-number ratio apart. For example, you probably know that two notes an octave apart have a frequency ratio of 2:1.  A perfect fifth is 3:2, a fourth is 4:3 and a major third is 4:5. The reason these sound good together is that a lot of their harmonics are exactly in tune and reinforce each other.

The trouble is, when you stack 12 fifths together to cycle round the scale, multiplying by 3/2 twelve times gives you a note which is a little bit sharper than seven octaves. To deal with this, from Bach's time on, each fifth has been tuned ever so slightly flat in order to keep the octaves exact. A semitone in equal temperament has a note ratio of 1:(twelfth root of 2). In other words all the semitones are equal, and if you multiply that ratio twelve times you get 1:2 to give you an octave.

Five equal semitones give you 1:1.3348, which is very close to the 1.33334 needed for a 3:4 harmonic 4th.
Four equal semitones give you 1:1.25992, which is quite a bit sharper than the 1.25 for a harmonic M3rd.

If you tune the B string fractionally sharp, and the G and D fractionally flat then you can avoid the problem, but a C chord is then distinctly wrong. There are a lot of variant tunings which can help with one key at the expense of others, but no way to get rid of the problem altogether. The standard tuning is the best compromise, which is why it's standard.

Superb post, where in Gods name did you learn this?
I've yet to record something in A with the B string flatened, I've experimented and found some nice chords to go with it.
I think you are right though best to stick to standard tuning, or down tune the B string as you are playing when needed.
#12April 18th, 2011 · 06:17 PM
5 threads
24 posts
United Kingdom
where in Gods name did you learn this?

The wonders of the Scottish education system.   I think it was part of the music O-Grade course, but it might have been the start of Higher.
#13April 19th, 2011 · 03:20 AM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
TheUrbanBassman wrote…
where in Gods name did you learn this?

The wonders of the Scottish education system.   I think it was part of the music O-Grade course, but it might have been the start of Higher.


Cool and you can still remember it.

It's quite interesting, I just wonder if our subconscious can detect these tuning issues and whether it effects our likes and dislikes in any particular piece of music.

It would be interesting to do a case study of say three popular pieces of music and three not so popular pieces of music and compare their musical structure.

If there is somehow similar structure to popular music, you could increase your chances of creating something that the majority would like. Of course there are many other factor like how well you perform, the sound in general and feel.

Cheers
#14April 19th, 2011 · 04:52 AM
185 threads / 27 songs
2,768 posts
Germany
I remember a discussion a few years ago how Fender solved this problem.
Here is a link of a strato-talk which can be adapted to all guitars somehow

http://www.strat-talk.com/forum/stratocaster-discussion-forum/62529-b-string-intonation.html
#15April 19th, 2011 · 07:02 AM
368 threads / 186 songs
3,308 posts
United Kingdom
The Perfect Tuned Guitar

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