1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Never really in tune?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by millard, Sep 10, 2005.

  1. millard


    Jul 27, 2004
    I don't ususally watch my tuner while I play, but last night I was a little early and everyone else was a little late, so I setup and tuned and then ran through some of the harder riffs, watching the tuner in my floor unit instead of looking into the bar.

    Lo and behold, most of what I was playing was sharp. In most cases, the center light and the one to its right (the sharp side) were on, in some parts the center light was not lit at all, in the most agressive parts, both lights to the right were on (meaning I was really sharp).

    Having noticed this and having some time on my hands, I started playing around a bit. When playing over the bridge pickup, this is exacerbated slightly. When using a pick aggressively and playing over the bridge pickup, this is exacerbated more than slightly.

    Now, I tend to tune with a relatively light touch over the neck pickup, so I can change my habits regarding that. But I play over both pickups and play with pick or fingers depending on the song. I'm now a little freaked out that no matter where I play or how I do it, I'll be a bit out of tune most of the time.

    On a song where I'm hammering the E string with the pick over the bridge pickup, I'll be wildly out of tune. This is a song that the bass starts and we typically roll right into it as our second song, so there is no time to tune down. We're a rock band, so standing still and using a light touch isn't a workable answer -- it also doesn't sound the same unless you play it aggressively.

    Anyone else notice this? Note that this isn't visible on a normal tuner as they don't tend to continuously regsiter -- you need to use a stage tuner (which I'm guessing has a higher sample rate).

    I'm a bit freaked out to notice this. I realize that it is hard to notice subtle differences in tuning at lower frequencies, but now that I know that it is going on, it bums me out a bit.

  2. I'm sorry if I'm asking something stupid, but have you set up your bass for intonation?
  3. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Unless you are "bending" notes sharp which can sometimes happen when playing aggressively or you have an intonation problem in which your open notes are in tune but your fretted notes are out of tune, I would not worry about it. What you are describing is fairly normal. When you really bang an open string it's going to read sharp on most tuners, trust your ears on this one, not your eyes!
  4. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
  5. millard


    Jul 27, 2004
    I should have covered the intonation thing -- that isn't it. The open strings, tuned with simple finger plucks over the bridge pickup read sharp when played more aggressively, particularly over different spots.

    Because the frets have height, it can also be caused by pressing too hard between the frets, but since I was able to reproduce the results with open strings alone, that too that out of the equation also.

    lowphatbass is probably right -- we were told by people we trust to be honest about such things that we've never sounded better. I think I will start tuning with a more aggressive string strike, though, so that it better represents the way the bass will be played.

    This is one of those weird "problems" in that I'm not sure that is anything you can do about it (other than go fretless).

  6. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Maybe when you play aggresively you scrape the strings differently or the fretbuzz makes it appear sharper.
  7. It could very well be an intonation problem with your instrument. It could also be that you are bending the strings or pressing too hard because your playing aggressively, and making the note sharp. It's most likely a combination of the two.

    I'd recommend you have your bass professionally set up. You could try to set it up yourself, but seeing as it's not set up properly now, you might want to just have someone else do it for you. If you do want to try it yourself, there's plenty of support on here.
  8. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    Don't tune your bass using aggressive strikes unless you really think that the notes are TRULY sharp when you are playing them. When you strike a string the initial attack will appear sharp on most tuners, then things will sort of even out a bit. I have absolutely NO technical knowlege about anything but I know that tuners will show you sharp initially in many situations, it may have something to do with the overtones the note is throwing-off bieng sharp because the string is vibrating alot and doing it over a wide area which increases tension, I don't know. But please...use your ears on this one, don't trust a tuner unless it's in a controlled situation..
  9. millard


    Jul 27, 2004
    I appreciate everyone's replies, but to stop the flood of intonation and setup suggestions, I'm not a newbie and I play an excellently built and well-setup instrument. Since I can repeat the issue with an open string, these can't really be issues anyway. Trust me, I'm a bit of an egg-head and a very technically-oriented person -- if I had intonation issues I would know.

    I'm sure there is a physicist in the crowd who can explain this in terms of vibrational length issues caused both by where the string is struck and how hard. The string vibrates in 3 dimension and the stretching of the string when plucked undoubtedly causes some of the effect as the "equal and opposite reaction" stuff will cause it to remain stretched somewhat until the vibrational energy is sufficiently released and it returns to a steady state (if I were to wait that long before hitting it again).

    I trust the Boss tuner. If it says that it hears E+25 cents, I'm guessing that is what the crowd is hearing. They seem to respond well, so mine is more of a "scientific inquiry" than an "I sound bad, please help me" one.

    Sue me, but I find the physics of the instrument and sound in general interesting.

    Millard (who is really a repeat supporting member and is trying to figure out what happened to his account)
  10. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Birdsong Cortobass?
  11. Blues Cat

    Blues Cat Payson Fanned Bass Strings Owner Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 28, 2005
    Katy, Tx
    Payson Fanned Bass Strings Owner
    The guitar & bass are the most imperfect instruments made. It is immpossible to get a bass neck to play "perfectly" in tune all the way up the neck. When I read the article w/ Berkely's bass tech Wolf Ginandes-Ed Friedland on setup tips, I was relieved that I didn't have to keep trying to perfectly intonate my bass all the way up the neck.

    The good news is is that you can hear it's out of intonation, alot of people can't tell & maybe that's why they are so happy.

    Assuming somebody intonated you bass w/12th fret/12th fret harmonic. When you intonate this way you are leaving out the whole area between the higher frets & the bridge.

    You should consider intonating your bass w/a "compromise" between the 3rd fret-15th fret, 5th fret-17th fret & 7th fret-19th fret. Basically start w/5th fret, tune it w/ your tuner then go up to the 17th fret & see if it is sharp or flat. Restrobe it if neccessary. Check the 3rd & 7th fret after that & split the difference in strobe accuracy between the 6 frets (3rd-7th).

    The Buzz Feiten system & the Bongo nut tries to address the intonation issues of fretted instruments.

    I'm not sure if the Dingwall's fanned frets are for intonation or tension only. LowPhatBass has a Dingwall & even though his bass dosen't have very many knobs, he still might be qualified to comment on the fanned fret system :rolleyes: ;) :) .
  12. I am a fellow TU2 owner and certainly have no axe to grind BUT you should bear in mind that, by Boss's own admission, it is "only" accurate to + or - 3%, so I heartily endorse the "trust your ears" comments which have already been made. ;)

    Oh, and for the record, I find the physics of the instrument about as fascinating as watching paint dry. :D :D
  13. lowphatbass

    lowphatbass ****

    Feb 25, 2005
    west coast
    HA!! Got me there!!
    I'm fairly certain that millard's issue has little or nothing to do with intonation. I think that he's getting ALOT of articulation on his strings which is causing the tension to increase so much that it's either causing them to register sharp on his tuner, actually be sharp, or both. I've been at this a very long time and can will offer the following information:
    If dig into an open string really hard and play one note it initially registers sharp on any tuner, but falls into tune. If I continually pick an open string quickly and VERY, VERY aggressively it will actually sound, and therefore be a bit sharp because the string can never relax enough to fall back into tune. This is true on ANY bass, and even more pronounced on an open E string of a guitar. I've got good ears, trust me on this one. Millard's comment regarding the pitch variance changing depending on how close to the bridge he's attacking the string is because when you play farther back tward the bridge the wave forms of the string can "split" into smaller increments(which is why the tone is more "trebly" and the overtones and harmonics are more pronounced. I think(so don't trust me on THIS one) that the overtones are actually what are more out of tune than the fundamental which is why he is experiencing more pitch variance(actual or percieved) when playing further back.
    I think the solution(compromise)here is going to be figuring out how to play aggressively, or sound aggressive, without getting so much excursion or articulation on the strings. This can be done by changing to a different gauge string which will change the string tension, and perhaps in some cases, lowering the action and lightening up the technique a bit and adding some EQ, the combination of the lower action and enhanced EQ can add some aggression and balls to the sound to make up for the lighter touch. Some sort of combination is probably going to be the answer for you millard.
    I think the challenge is going to be getting your same feel without digging in so hard. I know it sounds frustrating but from what I can tell my experience says a compromise is going to be neccessary.
    Good Luck, and keep us, or at least me posted, I'm quite curious to see how this turns out.
  14. lamborghini98

    lamborghini98 The Aristocrats

    May 1, 2005
    NYC; Portland, OR
    It sounds to me like his problem is with his strings (perhaps). If youre pounding on your strings, of course theyre going to go sharp. As the string vibrates up and down the tension changes slightly. If you hammer the strings, then its going to get worse.
    Get new strings?
  15. millard


    Jul 27, 2004
    While I have a TU-2, it won't show this. The tuner in question is also a Boss, but in my ME-50B effects unit.

    Since I haven't yet sold my Sabine rack mount tuner, I pulled it out of the box and hooked it up. It gives a pretty good reading with indicators at 3, 6, 12, 18, 24, ... cents from the note.

    In general, an aggressive pluck will initially register at +6 cents sharp and settle back to +3 cents in "1-mississippi" and to in-tune at "2-mississippi". A firm strike may register at +3 cents initially and settle back to in-tune in under a second. There is some delay in when the tuner grabs the initial sample and probably some delay as it resamples.

    This seems to make intiuitive sense to me in that the more the string is caused to vibrate, the more the mass of the moving string causes it to lengthen, slowly setting back to a "resting" or near resting state. It is probably in this near-resting state where I typically tune. Though it is definitely not in this resting state where I typically play. I also don't often let notes ring for long enough that they would return to the near-resting state.

    I guess the good news is that 6 cents off isn't very far off (not as far as the fewer number of lights on my Boss had me fearing I was off) and that's in only the most aggressive playing. And the guitar player is doing the same thing (tuning softer, playing harder), so it probably mostly washes out.

  16. I remember reading an interview with Tom Morello from RATM a few years back where he was talking about the distinctive guitar sound he had. He mentioned that part of his "sound" was due to his very agressive picking (or "slamming on the strings", as he put it), which pushed his chords about a quarter tone sharp as they first sounded out before they fell into normal tuning. And plenty of wind instruments go sharp if the player is playing too loud. Maybe try playing with a lighter touch?

    Also, if your guitarist/s are also playing fairly agressively they may be pushing sharp as well, in which case your sharpness may actually be more "in tune" sounding than playing the technically correct pitch. I wouldn't screw with my intonation until I checked how in tune I sounded with those I were playing with.
  17. millard


    Jul 27, 2004
    Intellectually, I've always understood this, but it wasn't until last night that I experienced it in a fashion that made me more curious. I assume new strings makes it worse as they tend to play a little looser.

    LOWPHATBASS: I appreciate you sharing your experience and it is completely in line with my more recent experimentation. I guess the question is that if you are playing aggressively at a reasonable clip, do the strings ever settle back to in-tune or are you just consistently 3% out of tune? Remember, it takes the tuner a moment to interpret the signal, so it has already started to settle from its peak before the first reading comes in.

    I don't have as good an ear as I wish I did, particularly for absolute pitch. I need to hook up in the garage where I can make some real noise and test some more.
  18. pickles

    pickles Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2000
    Ventura, CA
    Notes always play sharp on the attack when you pluck hard, due to the tension increase you are causing before you release the string. Its natural, and its fine.
  19. cdef


    Jul 18, 2003
    Don't worry about it too much. If your band as a whole sounds to be in tune while playing, it's OK. Sure, if you tune up with a plucking touch and then, on count-off, start banging on the string, the attack is gonna register sharp on the meter. But rock music was never a scientific proposition anyhow, and as long as your audience is not yelling "TUNE THAT BASS!" (which they never will) you can concentrate on grooving instead.
  20. Every insturment I own tunes sharp on the attack and settles into tune.

    The sound of agressive playing is the sound of your strings going sharp on the attack. Sure, you could learn to correct that and always play in tune.....but then you won't have that sound, now will you?