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That Buzz Feiten thing ... full employment contract for luthiers?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by westland, May 27, 2005.

  1. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    I’m skeptical. Do bass players actually hear any difference?

    This ‘system’ costs a luthier $3000 up front, then $35-50 per instrument – depending on the instrument's value. I’m curious as to what you are paying for.

    The Buzz Feiten setup goes roughly like this: decide on string gauge, set string height (nut & bridge), neck relief; lower pickups away from the strings to avoid "doubling" and electromagnetic pull, set your tuner away from standard intonation in the following amounts (I pulled this off the Peterson tuner’s site for the P-1 tuner).

    Note________Open String Offsets

    After fiddling around depressing the string and adjusting the nut, bridge, etc. by Buzz’s formula, you get the BF intonated bass guitar. But, I don’t get it …even if the bass were theoretically in tune at all positions, many (if not most) players don't use the technique required – proper finger position and even, light pressure – to make the guitar play in tune anyway. That is, if you can hear such microtonal subtleties in the first place.

    I can see worrying about the minutia of tuning for instruments that play chords (within limits) such as piano or guitar, but how can this make any difference on a bass which plays linear bass lines?

    Experiment: I ran the tone from plucking my ‘E’ string on my Steinberger-Yo bass into a frequency-time chart, and got this (it actually varies each time, due to neck-body wood / pup / string interaction, but you get the idea of magnitudes). Most of the first 20 seconds, the actual tone is 5-20 cents off of standard intonation. How could the small changes from using BF intonation even be noticed with all this variation?

    See the 'Estring.jpg' file attached

    I was even more surprised by the justification for the superiority of the Buzz Feiten system on the BF website. Their claim was that piano and high end violin makers had long understood intonation, but bass players had to wait for BF. Hmm.

    Here are Buzz Feiten's words on several justifications for using his system:

    1. Pianists do it (so it must be right): "The tempered tuning system is made up of two parts: the first involves moving the nut slightly closer to the bridge. The second deals with intonating each string to a precise pitch-offset formula, which is similar to the way pianos are tuned. Piano tuners have known for 400 years that in order for a piano to sound pleasant, the tuning must be "tempered" by adjusting it slightly out of tune to a very precise formula."

    My comments: pianists actually didn’t take well to tempered tuning at first, because it just ‘spread the pain’ of dissonance over 24 key centers … early pianos sounded decidedly less pleasant with tempered tuning … at least in C.

    2. Pianos are inharmonic, and so are basses (well sort of): “If notes played together are to sound consonant, their overtones must be in tune. This is because many times some of the harmonics of a note can have as much or more volume than the fundamental. The high overtones of the lower notes in a chord should not clash with the low overtones of the higher notes. On pianos, therefore, the octaves are tuned progressively flatter starting an octave below Middle C, and progressively sharper starting an octave above Middle C. Piano tuners "stretch" the tuning of the piano +/- 50 cents or more across 7 octaves on smaller instruments. Inharmonicity is minimized on grand pianos by lengthening the lower strings as much as possible, but even the largest concert grands are normally "stretched" at least +/- 25 cents across 8 octaves”

    My comments: this inharmonicity – the fact that the overtones get sharper, and thus the piano itself over 7 octaves also needs to be tuned substantially sharper as you go up – is the result of there being nearly 20 tons of pressure on the sound board (this is why they are cast iron). This same pressure (plus all the wood of the sounding board) give the piano it’s warmth and character. The bass, with its diminished range and low tension hardly compares (it’s got a different warmth and character). Here is a map of tuning for an old Rhodes piano which mimics a grand’s tuning.

    See the 'I1.jpg' file attached

    3. Stradivarius and Pythagoras did it (so it must be right): “A few years ago, the secret was out. For centuries, Stradivarius copiers had been carefully carving their tops symmetrically. But Stradivarius tops were carved asymmetrically, thickest over the sound post… You would think that after centuries of study, the masters of the violin would have noticed that. But it took an amateur violinist with a Strad, a pair of calipers, and a healthy curiosity to figure it out. It took Buzz Feiten, a guitarist with an out-of-tune guitar and a healthy curiosity, to figure out what's wrong with guitars and basses.

    My comments: Actually, I think the biggest reason for the Strad sound was the wood, which had floated for six months from the German forests to Cremona, Italy and had had various compounds leached from them. That's one reason Cremona became a violin center. Violinists can now duplicate this ‘aging’ with vacuum aging, and silica baths (and other stuff I don’t understand).

    4. Pythagoras correlated pitch with the stopped length of a tensioned string, establishing the ratios that put our frets where they are today, 2500 years later. But one important thing wasn't taken into account: the tension of the string changes when a note is fretted. Buzz noticed something we all notice – it's easier to press a string down at the octave, smack in the middle of the length, than it is to press it down at the first fret. Feiten's "offsets" build a carefully balanced "stretch" into the guitar's tuning, and also make some subtle modifications to the intervals between certain adjacent pairs of strings. As Buzz puts it, "I have learned just how much pitch I can borrow from one string and give back to another to make them sound in tune."

    My comments: Well “duh-uuuuh” isn’t this what tempered intonation is about? In ‘just intonation’ —in which, when singing or playing on a fretless stringed instrument such as the violin—the enharmonic equivalents actually do differ slightly in pitch. For example, consider G sharp and A flat. Call middle C's frequency x. Then high C has a frequency of 2x. Perfect major thirds need to have frequency ratios of exactly 4 to 5. You can only get these exact intervals for one key center.

    If you want to play in all 24 key centers (think Das wohltemperirte Clavier) you’ve got to decide how to share the pain – and there are an infinite number of ways to do this. There is no one tempered intonation; in twelve-tone western equal temperament the notes C sharp and D flat are enharmonically equivalent - that is, they are represented by the same key (on a musical keyboard or fretboard). But there are lots of theories about how to ‘share the pain’ of dissonance – J.S. Bach was the most influential early proponent of tempered intonations, using Andreas Werckmeister's (1691) system for keyboards that were around 4-5 octave range and which had much less string tension today. It was the system prescribed by Das wohltemperirte Clavier. It was specified via the fundamental C-major triad, the sharpened third c-e of which beats at the same rate as the flattened welltempered fifth c-g in optimum mutual adaptation. The second octave of the third is made up by four such welltempered fifths c-g-d-a-e. The fifth e-b is perfect. From c descend six perfect fifths until g-flat (f-sharp) is reached, including octave transpositions where necessary, upon tuning a harpsichord. The chromatic scale wohltemperirt. ascending successively from c. reads in cent: 0.0; 90.2; 194.6; 294.1; 389.1; 498.0; 588.3; 697.3; 792.2; 891.8; 996.1; 1091.1; 1200.0.

    Anyway, I just thought I'd share some skepticism ... anyone else thought about this (e.g., those who own BF basses like the MTDs)

    Attached Files:

  2. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
  3. burk48237

    burk48237 Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2004
    Oak Park, MI
    I know a few guys who are into chordal playing, our own Mike Dinman being one, and for that type of playing I can really see it. If your playing complex harmonies lots of chords, double stops and tapping it makes sense. But If your banging 1-5 on "Brown Eyed Girl" in a cover band I wouldn't worry about it.
  4. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Retired Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    So we all sounded like ass, then along came Buzz. I don't think I'm going to sweat it.
  5. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    Well, these responses seem to agree on an emphatic 'No'

    If you are chordal playing, then your standard fret setup gives you all the equal temperment you need ... there's no indication by anyone who responded that the BF system improves on the equal temperment of the standard frets ... and secretdonkey (love the name) thinks it's a step backwards.
  6. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    You're confusing two different things. You're referring to Equal Temperament, a tuning system which most all modern Western instruments use (including, already, guitars).

    BF is referring to "stretching" the tuning of a piano so that the lowest notes are a little lower, and the highest notes a little higher, than Equal Temperament normally calls for. Supposedly (I'm not saying either way) that is necessary because of the nonlinearities of an actual vibrating string (versus the ideal) causing the overtones to deviate from the expected pitches, in an amount that varies depending on the length and stiffness of the string.

    edit: reading your post further, I see that you've simply separated the "point 1" text from the "point 2" text. The former is simply preface to the latter, not a separate point.

    Finally, with point 4, you're mixing things up again. BF's point has to do with fretting notes changing the string tension differently at different points on the neck; the frets are laid out in the theoretical positions that assume the tension is always the same (and only the vibrating length will change). Again I'm not saying I agree or disagree; but this has nothing to do with your "duuuuh" about Equal Temperament.
  7. Mike N

    Mike N Missing the old TB Staff Member Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2001
    Spencerport, New York
    My thoughts exactly.
  8. Buzz Feiten is usually totally unnecessary. If you hear something out of tune, slap the guitar player. That fixes it 99% of the time.

  9. BassFelt


    Mar 26, 2002

    Not when I saw him live with James Taylor :)
  10. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong

    Ahem... you're right ...

    So the 'stretch' matches the increase in sharpness of bass overtones, as with the piano. This effect must be pretty small, though, and I would think would easily be washed out by other factors.
  11. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    I generally agree - though I'm not sold either way. I've always found even well-tuned and set up guitars in standard tuning to sound a little out-of-tune -- and I don't think it's just the downside of equal temperament, since I've heard plenty of pianos that sounded just fine over the same pitch range as a guitar. But I haven't spent much time with a BF-equipped guitar either.

    For electric bass I've had almost no problems except due to bad strings (and ill-fitted taper-wounds), so I don't really have any inclination to bother with a BF setup there.

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