True temperament fret system: tell me all about it!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Draculea, Feb 7, 2013.

  1. Draculea


    Oct 2, 2011
    Mexico City
    Hello fellow bassists,

    I was wondering if any of you could enlighten me on the true temperament fret system I've seen on some basses and guitars. I haven't found a lot of information on the web, so I decided to come here to see if I could find some answers. What exactly is it used for? How does it improve intonation? What are the pros/cons, especially in playing bass? Thanks in advance for your replies, and for all the information you can provide me with, which doesn't have to stick strictly to my questions.

  2. Shardik


    May 24, 2011
    Halden, Norway
    I don't know it all, but temperament goes beyond intonation. It is about how notes of different frequencies work together in a chord.

    Personally, I think temperament is very difiicult, and making better temperament for one chord may make another sound worse.

    See also:
  3. ironfistx


    Feb 5, 2013

    Apparently they can be done for different keys:


    Never seen it on a bass, though.

    I wonder if this is the kind of thing where once you notice it, regular guitars don't sound right anymore.
  4. bootsox


    Apr 28, 2012
    Biloxi, MS
    just another gimmick. pros are that chords will sound a little nicer. if you don't play chords, there are no pros. cons are that they're impossible to do fretwork on with the same tools you normally would use, so if you're one of those guys who eat through frets like nothing you'll have to send your neck off to have refretted.
  5. jsbarber


    Jun 7, 2005
    San Diego
    If I understand what you're getting at: When you play a note you don't just hear the fundamental, you hear contributions from other pitches in the overtone series. These pitches are not exactly the same as the notes in the equal temperament scale, but some are closer than others. The concept is to align the other notes with the overtone series. If this is of importance to you then you might want to play fretless. Trying to do this with frets seems like an exercise in futility to me*.



    * Because the placement of the frets will depend what scale you're playing in... (See post 8 below)
    jlo95 likes this.
  6. heavyfunkmachin


    Jan 21, 2005
    Nicest way to get there is a keyboardist with true temperament adjusted keyboard and a fretless bass!
  7. dabbler


    Aug 17, 2007
    Bowie, MD
    I think what you mean here is a keyboard with "just" temperament (see the wikipedia entry mentioned above).

    As for it making other guitars not sound right, if you have one with "true temperament", I think this is not likely. Pianos and other keyboard instruments (organ, etc) are typically "even-tempered", so you've been listening to a compromise all of your life.

    It IS true that just temperament sounds better, but since it can only be done for ONE key, it makes instruments less versatile, so it is only done occasionally (some concert pianists or maybe harpsichordists will play a piece or 2 on a piant with just temperament).
    Luigir likes this.
  8. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    The advantage is that it corrects for the errors built into the common even tempered tuning that most instruments use and it also corrects for some of the second or third order errors that all fretted instruments have. The disadvantage is that the improvements it makes for some musical keys come at the expense of making the non-favored keys sound worse. If you play in the right keys it sounds better.

    Any bass player who plays in an ensemble is playing chords by the way. You may be playing only one note at a time but that note is usually part of a chord formed in conjunction with the other instruments.

    So to make this useful you have to play with other instruments that are also playing with the same temperament. You can play with other true temperament guitars, with keyboards that have temperament adjustments or with instruments that can "bend" their notes. Examples of the latter are non-fretted stringed instruments, trombones, and some other wind instruments, especially the double reeds I hear.

    Of course you can get to the same place by playing a fretless bass....

  9. AltGrendel

    AltGrendel Squire Jag SS fan.

    May 21, 2009
    Mid-Atlantic USA.
    Yea, just about every article I've read about it makes it sound like a fretless bass would be the answer.
    Orangeclawhammr likes this.
  10. Draculea


    Oct 2, 2011
    Mexico City
    Thanks for your replies and contributions, I seem to grasp the whole concept now. It was a little bit difficult as I haven't been doing much with serious musical theory in years.
  11. Fretless is the only way to make that work in all keys and all octaves.

    If you do some research you'll find that using "pure temperament" doesn't even work in that one key over more than a few octaves. For example, if you construct an octave using pure 5th intervals (think like: G->D->A->E->B->F#, etc. until you reach G again), you end up with a octave note that's too small. If you do it with 4ths, the octave is too large. I won't go into any more detail as it's easy enough to find it written down properly elsewhere, but that's the kind of thing that equal-temperament is really meant to correct since if the octave is wrong, it's all wrong, but if it's all made wrong on purpose and the octaves are right, then it's all good... well, enough.

    If a player wants, he can check out the "tempered nut" that's patented by... I forget who, but it's on google. It's a pretty good halfway point between equal-temper and pure-temper for fretted instruments that doesn't involve staggering the frets. It staggers the nut instead. Pretty cool, but I'll never do it.
  12. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    I suspect that what you are saying above is the same thing I have seen written down elsewhere but always so deeply buried in music theory geek jargon that I have never been able to understand what the heck they were trying to say. So thanks for that! I do believe though that the various key-centric tunings are not "pure" in the sense that you describe. They all keep the octave correct, they just redistribute the note by note errors to make better fifths and thirds in some keys as compared to even tempered fifths (which are already pretty good) and thirds (which are not very good). I don't think that any of them have an "octave problem" or at least not any worse than even tempered tunings have. In fact you can even make further adjustments on an octave by octave basis if they are needed but that would require an "industry standard" approach that all instrument makers would have to follow and I doubt that piccolo builders talk to double bass builders very often!

    It is worth keeping in mind that the even tempered scale does work quite well already. The average listener isn't going to hear any issues with it, only those with very good pitch perception will notice the errors. Of course many musicians have excellent pitch perception so we are hearing things that most people either don't hear or aren't bothered by. I play in a church band and I am playing new to me songs every time I play. Sometimes when I hit a note it sounds bad enough to make me think I hit the wrong note, especially when playing against a recording. But I double check what I am playing and I am playing the right note. I am just hearing one of the larger errors in the even tempered scale, probably augmented by a fixed tuning error between the recording and my instrument since these notes never sound as bad when I play them live with the church band. So these other tuning systems can have a real effect on how clean your music sounds when you play in the keys they were designed to help. Just know that if you are already hearing the occasional errors in the even tempered scale you will hear worse errors when you play in the wrong keys on one of these key-optimized instruments.

  13. palpeter


    Apr 22, 2014
    it works in all keys as I know...