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Band tuning issues

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by MelodicExp, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. MelodicExp


    Aug 17, 2011
    My guitarist plays an 8 string which I assume is tuned up ( to drop G ). I fell like a low g on a bass is just awful and I like to play in b standard. This of course will take some time on my part to use guitar pro to write my parts instead of simple transposing. He plays a lot of technical scales that in not familiar with is why I will need guitar pro. After rambling for 20 minutes I guess my question is have other bands tried this and if so were they successful. Any extra input would be appreciated
  2. Ant_C


    Jul 25, 2012
    Tamarac, FL
    You can just play his low G at the same octave he is at (should be your E strings 3rd fret). I know Meshuggah's bassist does that (he matches their low F with an F of the same octave, the first fret on his E string).
  3. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    Oh, guitarists. The trend in metal for some forty years has been to push tunings lower and lower, with a marked plunge into the frequency basement since around the year 2000. A few fun facts: the average frequency range that the human ear perceives is between 20hz and 20,000hz. Some people have a wider or more narrow range, depending on age, health, and whether or not they wear earplugs at rehearsal/concerts/clubs. The higher frequencies are the first to diminish. The lowest note on the piano is an A at 27Hz. The low B on a five-string bass is a major second above that, at 31.5hz. Your guitarist's low G is 49hz. If you want the same note, an octave lower (how your guitarist will inevitably want you to tune), you're looking at 24.5hz. That's grinding real close to 20hz, the lower limit of our hearing.

    Now allow me to introduce you to my friend, the harmonic series.

    Whenever a string vibrates, it does so in a number of cycles. The entire length of the string bounces back and forth as one single section. That is one cycle. While this is occurring, the string is also bouncing back and forth in two equal sections. It is vibrating two times, in the time of the the first cycle. We can represent this as a ratio of 2:1. Simultaneously, the string is vibrating in three sections (3:1), four sections (4:1), five (5:1), six (6:1), into infinity.


    Well, that's all fine and good, but what does that have to do with our inconsiderate guitarist friend? Play any fretted note at the twelfth fret. Now, play the same fret as a harmonic. Same pitch, right? Those harmonics have pitch content.


    The difference is that when you play a note as a harmonic, you are isolating one of the harmonics out of that series. When you play a fretted or open note, ALL of those harmonics are sounding at the same time. This means that when you play that low 24.5Hz G, you're also getting 49Hz, 74Hz, 98Hz, 124hz, 147Hz, 175Hz, 196Hz, 220Hz, 247Hz, 277Hz, 293Hz... Those aren't the exact numbers, but have a look at what's going on: at the bottom of the series, the space between the notes is rather wide. Go up a few steps in the series, and the space between those harmonics gets smaller. It's logarithmic. And look at those numbers - we're only at the twelfth partial, not even above 300Hz, and the range of human hearing extends up to 20,000Hz. That's a lot of frequencies crowding the space that could be used for other instruments. Higher tessitura instruments don't need to worry about that so much, because an instrument that plays A440 is off the keyboard in ten partials. The good news is that the relative volume of each overtone decreases each time you go up in the series.

    Ready for the bad news? Our ears don't hear all frequencies with the same clarity at the same volume. Grab a good set of cans (headphones), and check out the following link. Be sure to read the warnings before proceeding, unless you don't like hearing things.


    The short of it: we can hear mid-range frequencies (300Hz-8000Hz) pretty well at and below 10dB SPL. For reference, Wikipedia says that 10dB SPL is as loud as "Light leaf rustling, calm breathing", and I think my acoustic physics book says something like "cat purring". That's decent sensitivity. Our ear is less sensitive to bass frequencies; we need more sound pressure (SPL) to hear those frequencies. We can hear 20Hz at 70 dB SPL. Here's what Wikipedia says for 70 dB SPL:

    "EPA-identified maximum to protect against hearing loss and other disruptive effects from noise, such as sleep disturbance, stress, learning detriment, etc."

    Remember, to double that guitarist's low, low G an octave down, you have to tune to 24.5Hz. Their G is 49Hz, which we can hear at around 40-50 dB SPL, about the volume of a washing machine (Wikipedia again). And this is the volume at which you can sort of hear these frequencies. In a band with a drummer, trust that those decibels are going to climb up.

    Let's put that information together. In tuning down, guitarists step on the frequencies that are normally reserved for bassists. By having so much happening in that register, you end up with mud. And it has to be loud mud, too, or we don't even hear it. Meanwhile, the midrange (the register that we hear much more clearly and easily) is neglected, except maybe for weedly-weedlies. You're pretty much forced to double the guitar at the unison when they get down to the bass register. Makes you wonder why they don't give all the low-frequency riffs to the bassists. Frequency envy, perhaps.
  4. You could play the G on the E string and use a Contour or Octave function/effect to add some undertones (not sure that's the right word).

    I would even try to play the high G on bass, since he's got the low G on guitar :)
  5. Excellent explanation! Thanks for that.