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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Music General Discussion »

Permalink Detuned G string

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Today I was experimenting with the compromises embodied in the typical guitar tuning prescription and sought to make the E chord sound better by slightly dropping the pitch of the G string.

I saw this trick mentioned most recently in a video about EVH. It really does work. An E chord sounds noticeably richer. However, there are tradeoffs. A C chord, for instance, sounds awful.

I'm curious if anyone happens to drop their G as standard practice? If so, do you attempt to make compensations elsewhere somehow?

It is the nature of the guitar and the G string. There really isn’t a way to tune the instrument so that all chords are perfectly in tune (though I suspect guitars with fanned frets might be a solution). I set my intonation as best as I can, and detune the G string a couple of cents to find an acceptable medium. After years of playing I suspect my fretting hand is also slightly bending certain notes in a chord, and using different pressures on the strings to play more in tune.


Home of Surf & Twang

Fascinating! I read this:

But you probably have too? After reading this I decided to tune my wound strings slightly flat, because when I pick I do so rigorously, sharpening the notes. This worked very well! But that’s it, I don’t really play too many chords so I can’t help you there. But that fellow talks all about the G string in that article.

Daniel Deathtide

I own an Evertune bridge equipped guitar. It doesn't have a floating tremolo, but all the strings stay perfectly in tune with all chords, all fretted notes, before and after string bending/vibrato.

For strictly rhythm guitar playing, it's the most perfect instrument. Even with solos, it's an incredible instrument. Yes, the G string stays in perfect pitch, too.

Gellert (my first name)

Guitarist for The Fintastics

Tune the G to pitch and the A two frets up is sharp. So, I do flatten the G a bit. I tried wound G strings, and that help the A pitch a lot, but I couldn't stand the reduced volume of this string.

Likewise, if the low E is to pitch, the G three frets up is sharp. I'll flatten the E a little, too.

If I'd stop buying old guitars to fix, I might actually learn to play.
Bringing instruments back to life since 2013.

When the G string went to grade school, its report card always mentioned that it didn’t play well with others. Smile No matter what you do, the G is always the troublemaker, and it’s usually the first string to go out of tune and require attention, at a gig.

A very good player once told me that he always used wound G strings, because plain Gs always intimated sharp. He’s right, but then you end up with a G which doesn’t bend very well.

No real solutions to offer, except that every compromise has its own set of benefits and its own set of shortcomings.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

Yep, the G! But there are more. Here is a quote from the article I linked to:

The western musical scale is made of 12 notes per octave that are equally spaced apart. This allows you to play in any key without having to stop and adjust your tuning for each key (this will become clearer in a moment). Each of the 12 notes is about 5.946% higher in frequency than the one below it. If you take A 440, and multiply it by exactly 1.05946, you get the frequency of A sharp, which is 466.162 Hz. Multiply that again by 1.05946 eleven more times, and you reach 880 Hz, the A an octave higher. In the studio, where sometimes you have to change tape speeds for tuning purposes, you can just remember it as "6% speed change equals one half-step" (or one fret on the guitar). Six percent is ballpark... then finetune by ear. (Also... each of the 12 notes in an octave is divided into 100 tiny intervals called "cents". So... one "cent" is about .06%. An octave is 1200 cents. Hey, I didn't invent this stuff...)

So far so good? Get out your old TI calculator and try multiplying anything by 1.05946, 12 times, and watch the number end up doubled. It happens that 1.05946 is the "twelfth root of two". This evil number, which we are stuck with, has caused tuning nightmares for entire civilizations.

The G (and B) string drives people crazy on the guitar. They tune it, then play a C chord or A minor chord, but the G string sounds wrong. Fuzz and distortion makes the wrongness even more apparent. So they tune the G string by ear so that chord is in tune... and then all the other chords they play sound wrong. Way down there at the first fret, all your intonation acrobatics (which mostly affect the other end of the string!) will be of little use, so what do you do? Sigh wearily... and look for another guitar, which might fix the problem... sorta.

The explanation won't make you happy. In the "first position," meaning for chord shapes that are mostly on the first couple frets on the guitar, the G string is often used for the upper part of a musical interval called a "third," either major or minor third. (This musical term is not to be confused with "third harmonics;" it's a totally different thing.) In an ideal world, a "major third" is two notes (a "diad") whose frequencies are in a ratio of 5 to 4, or 1.25, while a "minor third" is in a ratio of 6 to 5, or 1.2. If those ratios are true, these diads (note pairs) sound wonderfully in tune and harmonious.

Here's where it gets hairy. In our 12-tone Western scale, where all the notes are equally spaced, no pair of them are exactly in a 1.2 or 1.25 ratio. If you pull out your calculator and multiply 1.05946 by itself a few times, you'll land on 1.189 and, next, 1.2599! The first one is actually 15 cents flat from where your ears will want a minor third to be, and the second is 14 cents sharp from where a major third should be! So if you tune a chord that includes a major third "by ear" until it sounds perfect, that same chord with a minor third substituted in it will be 29 cents out of tune... almost a third of a half-step. (Cue: wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

For comparison, a "fourth," the frequency span from A down to E, should be in a ratio of 4 to 3, or 1.3333... and in our Western scale, it lands on 1.3348. Damn close... only 2 cents sharp. A "fifth" (E to B, the ultimate punk rock interval; one string over, 2 frets up) should be 3 to 2, or 1.5000, but it lands on 1.4983 in our scale... 2 cents flat. Fourths and fifths are definitely close enough for rock and roll.

Daniel Deathtide

And this brings us to the never-ending debate of equal temperament tunings. No matter what, there is compromise involved. I have noticed that if I play my fretless bass a lot, I start to become more sensitive to intonation and temperament and adjust accordingly. But guitars, basses, etc. are imprecise by nature. Side thrust can make notes go sharp. Pressing too hard on a fretted instrument is another way of having notes go sharp. Absolute perfection of intonation can never be achieved.

Ultimately, everyone has to choose which compromise they are willing to accept. Occasionally, I have heard commercially recorded music which was grating to the ear, because there were intonation problems, but for the most part, we accept and admire recordings as they are delivered. We have to do this with our own music as well.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

The longer I play the more I realize tuning is like the Pirates’s Code; it’s actually more like guidelines.

personal website

The "Buzz Feiten" well-tempered tuning system places the bridge and frets in slightly different positions from the usual. (The originator is named Buzz Feiten, the method is not buzz fighting). This system claims to have solved the tuning inconsistencies mentioned in this present discussion (as well as possible by making the errors equally distributed and thereby preventing larger more noticeable peculiarities in specific places). Here is an essay about it:

I have a Washburn solidbody guitar with the Buzz Feiten system. I haven't clearly noticed a difference in how well tuned recordings sound, only a slight suggestion of a small difference. I used this guitar in this recording of "Journey to the Stars" and everything does sound well tuned:

When a string is even very slightly out of tune I hear the sourness, but been oblivious to the tuning peculiarities discussed here. Frankly I'm not enthusiastic about investigating them because my perceptions may become forever soured.

The Insanitizers!

Last edited: Nov 27, 2020 15:54:39

Yes! The raging internal debates among members of The Surf Teens, The Pyramids, The Original Surfaris, The Fender IV, et al. on this point have been well documented.

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