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Tuning using harmonics?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by mcblahflooper94, Feb 20, 2014.

  1. mcblahflooper94


    Aug 31, 2011
    Apparently, it's a no no.

    I know this guys a little eccentric and not always all that correct, but he does demonstrate that harmonic tuning is ineffective... is this correct? Should we all just stop harmonic tuning? Or, is his intonation off or something, and this is not true?
  2. HaphAsSard


    Dec 1, 2013
    I have a date with the pillow in a couple minutes and don't have time to watch the video, but I'll go out on a limb and say that, if the gentleman refers to natural fifths being different to tempered ones he's right, and there's bound to be a little cumulative error. I'll still use harmonics in a (loud, hasty, electronic tuner-less) pinch and give a final seat-of-the-ear tweak.
  3. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Harmonics are not affected by intonation. If the bass is badly set up, it won't be in tune, no matter which way you choose to tune.
    I think I learnt how to tune with harmonics on my 2nd or 3rd bass lesson, have been doing it since.
  4. DannyBob


    Aug 28, 2013
    The guy in the video is WEIRD. Like, every one of his videos he is......

    And Jazz Ad put it perfectly, it doesn't work if the guitar is set up badly. However if it is, it works fine. Okay, their might be subtle differences, but nothing you will be able to pick up by ear.
  5. M0ses


    Sep 11, 2009
    Los Angeles
    Harmonics are 100% dependent on string speaking length, which is determined by intonation.

    And no, because we us equal temperament, you don't want to use harmonics to tune intervals perfect when they technically shouldn't be perfect.
    Using the twelfth fret harmonic (octave) will not create any problems, but any others probably will.
  6. Interesting.
  7. It's just as accurate as using a Boss tuner, sorry guys. At a gig on a well setup bass - no issue. But an acoustic guitar, esp B string, in a solo studio recording.... No way.

    A good strobe tuner will reveal how almost every note fretted along a string is slightly off. And we haven't even started talking about stretch tuning yet.....
  8. TexasTodd


    Jan 10, 2013
    I just tested it myself and found the 7th fret harmonic on the A string to be the only one off -- and just barely. Close enough for gov't work.
  9. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    The reason he is correct is that harmonics will tune based on Just Intonation, but instruments like guitars and pianos use Equal Temperament.


    If you tune a guitar using harmonics of adjacent strings, starting with a single string, then the guitar will not even be in tune with itself. From the page on Just Intonation, you can get the ratios that would be found in harmonics:

    5:4 = Tt (major third)
    4:3 = Tts (perfect fourth)

    So if you tune to A=440 on the second string of the guitar (which is two octaves below A4, and therefore 110Hz), using harmonics, you'll get this (rounded to 3 digits after the decimal):

    E 82.5
    A 110
    D 146.667
    G 195.556
    B 244.444
    E 325.925

    Notice that the low E and high E are not even multiples of each other (2 octaves above should be 4x, or in this case, 82.5 x 4 = 330) The two E strings will be out of tune with each other (and so will the other non-adjacent strings, but by different amounts).

    People still teach and use the harmonic method for tuning, as well as the 5th fret (or 4th fret, for G-B). It is certainly better than not tuning, and it's probably close enough most of the time. But it won't be as accurate as a quality chromatic tuner that works with Equal Temperament.

    Now I wonder how long before I regret posting this... :)
  10. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    rude video, but he's exactly right.

    the upshot is that the harmonics other than octaves are inherently mathematically off, and the higher octaves are often mechanically off too, due to quirks in the string thickness or flexibility or whatever.

    intonation has nothing to do with it, notice that at no time does he fret any notes while tuning.

    the 5th/7th chime thing will get you in the ballpark, but will not get you onto the field, much less over the plate.
  11. zontar


    Feb 19, 2014
    How did I know it would be him before I clicked on the link?

    He's been banned on a forum I used to go to.
    Sometimes he's right, sometimes he's wrong, but he's almost always abrasive.
    I can't watch his stuff.

    And I don't tune with harmonics.
    I heard how they can be misleading years ago--but it was said in a nice way.

    But I know people who tune by harmonics, and they make it work.
  12. Duckwater


    May 10, 2010
    USA, Washington
    You guys are taking his shtick too seriously

    I used to use harmonics until I finally noticed that some of the high register 4 note chords I love to play were often a little out of tune. Now I always make sure my bass is in tune all over the fretboard when tuning.
  13. zontar


    Feb 19, 2014
    But he's not funny either.

    Not intentionally or unintentionally.
  14. Duckwater


    May 10, 2010
    USA, Washington
    I don't find him funny either, but he's gotten over 9 million hits on the Tube. Something about it obviously works.
  15. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Now I guess. :)
    This is not how you tune a guitar with harmonics. You tune the first 4 strings, then the high E to the low E then the B based on the high E, using only 5th and 7th fret harmonics.

    The ratio to use is not between open strings and harmonics, it is between harmonics themselves that are a straight 4th apart. Do your calculation again using a 1.5 ratio and you will reach goal frequencies, on a bass at least.

    The main downside to open string tuning is that people have to rely on their ears. Oh, the horror.

    Note that the 12th square root of 2, which is the ratio used to position the frets on the board is based on tempered intonation, rather than the system our notation is based upon.

    Nothing is in tune on a fretted bass. At the tritone (6th fret), the note you get on the neck is a comma (1/9th of a note) apart from the theorical frequency.

    The reason of this is to avoid having to use a different fretting for every tuning, which is the basis and beauty of tempered systems.
  16. tobias3469

    tobias3469 Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2013
    West Los Angeles
    guess i've been playing out of key for 20 years...
  17. Sartori

    Sartori Supporting Member

    I just use a tuner when I'm at the gig... at home playing unplugged, I usually use octaves.
  18. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    He is technically correct, but it's sort of splitting hairs. Half the electronic tuners on the market are less accurate than what he demonstrates using harmonics.
  19. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Exactly. Tuning is overrated.
  20. Howlin' Hanson

    Howlin' Hanson Lighter cabs, please. Supporting Member

    Sep 3, 2007
    Austin TX
    True that. Our guitarist doesn't believe in tuning..