July 2008 Archives

Out of Tune

When you first learn to play guitar, one of the first things that you must perfect is tuning your guitar. I remember when I first studied Classical Guitar, I used a tuning fork and harmonics to carefully tune each string. But that was before digital guitar tuners were invented. I've used digital guitar tuners for years, ever since the first one was released for Mac. I just plug my electric guitar into my Mac audio in port, and I can tune each string with digital precision. But for my little acoustic guitar, I still use my tuning fork.
When I bought my new Gibson Deluxe in 1976, it came with cheap tuning pegs and it would never stay in tune. I upgraded to some expensive Schaller tuning pegs, they're much more accurate. Since I started using digital tuning, I noticed my bridge was out of adjustment a bit, so I took it to the shop to be optimized, it was a huge improvement. Now my guitar stays pretty much in tune forever.. or until I break a string. And the other day I broke a string.
I restrung my guitar and tuned up. Lately I use Guitar Rig, it has a tuner in its big bank of effects. I went back to playing along to some iTunes, doing my guitar effects in Guitar Rig. I'm playing along to tunes I've played a hundred times, my guitar is perfectly in tune, but suddenly my guitar is one note too low. What the hell?
I thought maybe it was some freak software glitch, some system update to the CPU timing made iTunes play back too fast, exactly one note too high? It took me a while to notice that I'd bumped a switch in Guitar Rig, I changed to a Chromatic Tuning. My guitar was perfectly tuned to a different tuning than I've ever used. I didn't recognize it, I never use alternate tunings. I have enough problems playing the standard tuning.
So I set Guitar Rig back to standard tuning, retuned, and now those Ramones songs are the same tuning as my guitar again. I can rock on. Well that's a relief, I was playing the same old notes and different notes were coming out, I thought I was going crazy. Now that's a mistake I never would have made with a tuning fork.