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  #1  
Old 07-09-2003, 01:47 AM
LtningBug LtningBug is offline
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Guitar tuning problem with low E string

So, I'm trying to get my guitar in tune, but I'm having a problem with my low E string. There's as much as an eighth-step difference from when it's open to when it's fretted. This is quite frustrating since I can't play an E chord and a G chord and have them both in tune.

The facts:
  • The guitar is a steel string acoustic Tacoma DM18
  • The strings are light gauge Elixers
  • It's only the low E string that is giving me problems
  • The guitar originally had D'Addario strings
  • The action is a bit high (perhaps)
  • The strings are only about three weeks old

The questions:[list=1][*]Why is this only happening with the low E string? (According to my tuner all the other strings go a tiny bit out of tune, as I expect)[*]What might be causing this?[*]How can I fix this?[/list=1]

Thanks!
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  #2  
Old 07-09-2003, 02:07 AM
vertigo vertigo is offline
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Not sure how that is possible. Are you sure that you have it tuned to an open E correctly? I can only imagine that you have it tuned to a note that works in a G chord and not in a E chord, thus it seems to be way out of whack between the 2 chords. What are you tuning your E string to(pitch fork, another string, piano key, electronic tuner, etc.)?
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  #3  
Old 07-09-2003, 02:19 AM
coffeecat coffeecat is offline
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Is the neck straight? Could the neck rod need adjusting?
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  #4  
Old 07-09-2003, 02:22 AM
Tedster Tedster is offline
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To sound right, the low E isn't tuned exactly dead on, believe it or not. It's far too complicated for me to explain from memory, but is related to how guitars are constructed. In general, start tuning the guitar from the high E and work back. Every string gets tuned to perfect pitch except the low E. You'll want it slightly flat, in fact.
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  #5  
Old 07-09-2003, 04:41 AM
Xerxes Xerxes is offline
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How much of a difference is there between the fretted octave (fret 12) on the E string and the octave harmonic (where you just touch the E string at the twelfth fret and pluck the string)? There should be very little, ideally none.

I'm not familiar with the guitar you cite, but on my electrics the bridge saddles are individually adjustable so you can sort this problem out on a string by string basis.

I've often found that a high action can make a guitar untunable (ymmv, however). Is there a local music shop who will set it up for you? Even though I'm comfortable mucking about with saddle adjustments and truss rods etc, the guy in my local store does a much better job.
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  #6  
Old 07-09-2003, 05:08 AM
capnfutile capnfutile is offline
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Could be:
- Poor intonation
- Poorly cut nut slot - ie, the string isn't resting right at the edge of the slot.
- Dud string - rare, but it happens.

Xerxes has the right idea, check the relationship of the string fretted at the 12th fret to the harmonic at the same place.

Tedster brings up a good point, the fret spacings on a guitar are a compromise, and you should tune the guitar to a chord of the key you are playing in, though it sounds like that isn't going to help you since the E and G are that out. Can you "split the difference"?

I'm guessing you're not a rank beginner, but many learners fret too hard, drawing the fretted strings sharp.

Try another E string first, if your local music emporium stocks singles. Failing that, look around for a good repairman (or woman, there are more than you'd think). Beware, there are a lot of hacks in the repair industry. Ask musicians who they use rather than going for the nicest looking yellow pages ad. The local butcher where I was from always had the spiff ads. Washington State is loaded with talented guitar folk, BTW.

Good luck,
capnfutile
former guitar tech
one fret job too many
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  #7  
Old 07-09-2003, 05:29 AM
The Great Unwashed The Great Unwashed is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by capnfutile
Tedster brings up a good point, the fret spacings on a guitar are a compromise, and you should tune the guitar to a chord of the key you are playing in, though it sounds like that isn't going to help you since the E and G are that out. Can you "split the difference"?
LtningBug,
No, do not tune your guitar to a particular key -- the guitar is an even-tempered instrument (like the modern piano), so though it is true that every note is a compromise in terms of "pure" intervals , the "compromise" cannot be "compensated out" by tuning to a particular key (and nor would you want to compensate it out).

My guess is, if all the other strings intone well enough you have a dud string.

A less likely possibility is your guitar has a high fret or two causing the wrong note to sound (but I think that you'd notice that).

No offence, but we must consider the possibility that you are not tuning your guitar correctly -- how are you tuning your guitar? You know not to compare 7th fret harmonics with either open or fretted notes, right?

When you say "There's as much as an eighth-step difference from when it's open to when it's fretted" are you saying a fretted G is sounding as a G# (or F#), but that the open E sounds correctly? Need more info.
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  #8  
Old 07-09-2003, 05:33 AM
The Great Unwashed The Great Unwashed is offline
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In fact, I know see your OP says you use a tuner (sorry, took a third reading to spot that), it seems very likely that it is a dud string. And your last set, was that okay? That's be the clincher.
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  #9  
Old 07-09-2003, 06:02 AM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by The Great Unwashed
LtningBug,
No, do not tune your guitar to a particular key
I guess Joni Mitchell, John Martyn and Nick Drake might disagree with you there.
Quote:
You know not to compare 7th fret harmonics with either open or fretted notes, right?
Hmm... I always do this and don't have any problems - what's the reason not to do this?
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  #10  
Old 07-09-2003, 06:34 AM
The Great Unwashed The Great Unwashed is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by jjimm
I guess Joni Mitchell, John Martyn and Nick Drake might disagree with you there. Hmm... I always do this and don't have any problems - what's the reason not to do this?
Are you talking about "open" tunings (tuning the open strings to a given chord)? Open tunings are still generally tuned to even-tempered intervals.

Open tunings and tuning "to a particular key" are NOT the same thing. If you tune your G and B to a perfect (or Pythagorean)interval, your G-chord will sound pretty bright, but play an E-chord (with a fretted G#) and you'll hear the problem.

Specifically, while you can tune your strings to give perfect intervals in a particular chord, every other shape of chord will be out.

Nothing in LtningBug's post makes me think that (s)he's interested in some esoteric tuning system that sounds great in one key using one chord shape.

The interval between an open string an its 7th-fret harmonic is a perfect interval. If you tune (say) the 5th-fret harmonic on E to the 7th-fret harmonic on A (both sounding Es) none of the fretted intervals between the strings will be correct. You can hear the "difference" if you play the 7th-fret harmonic and then the 7th-fretted note, they are not the same note.

Music though, can be forgiving, and you may well make tweaky micro-adjustments afterwards that allow the error to be tolerable.

I had a great link to a non-7th-fret-harmonic method for tuning that I appear to have lost, I'll be back. But this is something to be going on with.
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  #11  
Old 07-09-2003, 10:19 AM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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Ah, I getcha re. "tuning to a key". Misinterpreted what was being said.
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  #12  
Old 07-10-2003, 01:30 AM
LtningBug LtningBug is offline
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Thanks for all the suggestions. I think the first step is to go pick up some light-gauge D'Addario strings and see if that helps. If not, I'll ask around for a good guitar repairperson.

The note at the 12th fret is noticeably higher than the 12th fret harmonic (and as bad as my ear is, noticeable is a big difference). Not too surprisingly, when I play a G, the tone is off by quite a bit more than when I play the 12th fret E. It looks to me as though the action is too high for the low E string (there is a difference of between a quarter and an eight inch height between the 12th fret and the string from the low E to the high E).

And my Olympia guitar, at a fifth the cost, hasn't given me any problems .
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  #13  
Old 07-10-2003, 02:30 AM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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Quote:
To sound right, the low E isn't tuned exactly dead on, believe it or not. It's far too complicated for me to explain from memory, but is related to how guitars are constructed. In general, start tuning the guitar from the high E and work back. Every string gets tuned to perfect pitch except the low E. You'll want it slightly flat, in fact.
Tedster, I'm pretty sure this is only true of classical guitars. I've never tuned my guitar from high e down - indeed, I've never met anyone who does so. (It'd also be inconvenient.) If you tune it flat, it'll sound flat.

Quote:
Are you sure that you have it tuned to an open E correctly?
He doesn't seem to want Open E. He appears to be talking about standard tuning (E A D G B e). Open E is (E B E G# B e).

LtningBug, if new strings don't solve your problem, I think you'd want to have your guitar taken in to a shop for a set-up.
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  #14  
Old 07-10-2003, 02:31 AM
Marley23 Marley23 is offline
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The action shouldn't be causing this problem, although if things are screwed up I don't know what would happen. A problem with the neck or truss rod might.
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  #15  
Old 07-10-2003, 06:05 AM
electricblunkett electricblunkett is offline
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I'll also add that it's important to STRETCH THE HELL out of strings when you put them on. This will lead to more stable tuning (as long as you don't stretch them to the extent that they break...)
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  #16  
Old 07-10-2003, 07:13 AM
The Great Unwashed The Great Unwashed is offline
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Action and Intonation

There should be a slightly higher action on the bass side, but 1/4 inch sounds excessive.

A very high action will cause intonation problems, this should be obvious because in depressing the string you are stretching it (or "bending" it, if you prefer) -- the higher the action the greater the stretch.

However, if the action is high on low-E, it'll be just about as high on A, if A intones correctly then a dud string is indicated.

Tuning

Tuning the guitar from the high end might be unusual, but is not in itself bad practice, however, tuning from high to low, or, from low to high, can allow errors between strings to "multply" -- a small, "acceptable" error between low-E and A when repeated across all the strings (A-D, D-G, etc) can become unacceptable.

If you do not have a great ear (that's most of us), it is good practice to tune distant strings. The following string order is taken from The Link I Cannot Find.

Somehow tune low-E to pitch.
Tune 2nd-fret D to 12th-fret harmonic on low-E
Tune 3rd-fret B to 12th-fret harmonic on D.
Tune high-E to low-E (open, or, 5th-fret/12th fret harmonics)
Tune G to 3rd-fret low-E
Tune A to 2nd-fret G or 5th-fret high-E

It is not a bad idea to double check as you go along, so when tuning the G, say, it is worth checking against the 5th-fret D, etc.

There are two chord shapes that serve as a shibboleth, if these don't both sound equally "right", you ain't in tune:

"E5" 022450
and
"A5" 002255

Tedster's Overtone Compensation

The overtones of stringed instruments tend to be a little sharp, this phenomenon is more exaggerated in heavier strings. HOWEVER, this effect is small on all instruments except the piano, if you're flattening your low-E any more than the bearest creak of the tuning peg you are not compensating for overtone sharpness but some other "fault" in the guitar.
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  #17  
Old 07-10-2003, 08:04 AM
Gary T Gary T is offline
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It looks to me as though the action is too high for the low E string (there is a difference of between a quarter and an eight inch height between the 12th fret and the string from the low E to the high E).
OUCH! A distance of 8/64" (1/8") between the bass E string and the 12th fret is considered a high action. The treble E is usually set 2/64" lower. It sounds like your action is beyond high and at the ridiculous stage. I'm surprised it's playable at all. I'd guess that it's way too far gone for simple adjustment to fix it--it may well need a neck set. Sounds like this is definitely in need of a luthier.
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  #18  
Old 07-10-2003, 10:35 AM
The Great Unwashed The Great Unwashed is offline
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I have found my mythical link on Equal Temperament Tuning. Alas! it is no more. It has moved on to that great web-server in the sky.

However, this article from the Guild of American Luthiers gives the same technique (and some "background" explanation).
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  #19  
Old 07-10-2003, 10:47 AM
Tedster Tedster is offline
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B]Tedster, I'm pretty sure this is only true of classical guitars. I've never tuned my guitar from high e down - indeed, I've never met anyone who does so. (It'd also be inconvenient.) If you tune it flat, it'll sound flat. [/B][/QUOTE]

Hm, I only have experience with acoustic guitars, 'tis true. Tuning the guitar from the high E first and working down is easiest of course when using a pitch pipe or electronic tuner. Mechanically it makes sense, since the high strings are lighter/thinner than the double wound, thick strings. There's a fair bit of tension on a guitar neck. It's said to help the guitar hold/stay in tune better. For this discussion, it's probably irrelevant though.

Now - for years, I could never understand why, when I tuned each guitar string perfectly (open), the damn low E always sounded sharp when playing cords. I always attributed this to my ears, the guitar, or whatever. But, when tuned just slightly flat (not much) everything drops into place chordwise and open tuning. It's so slight, tone deaf people might not even notice. There is nothing more annoying than an out of tune guitarist to my ears, but that's another thread. Years later, perusing a rather involved guitar construction book, they spent several paragraphs explaining why this is so from a mathematical standpoint. If anyone *really* wants to know why this is so, I'll make a trip to the library and paste the applicable paragraph here.
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  #20  
Old 07-10-2003, 10:57 AM
KidCharlemagne KidCharlemagne is offline
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If this is a recent phenomenom then:

1. Dud string

2. Weather/humidity related problems causing bad intonation

3. Dud Fret

4. Intonation problems that you just have recently stumbed upon.

Has the weather changed recently where you live. Alot more humidity perhaps? Or worse yet, changes in humidity like moving from air conditioned to non airconditioned environments?

Recommendation:

Just go get your guitar setup for 50 bucks. Setting up my guitar provides the same satisfaction as cleaning up temp/obsolete files and defragging my computer. Ahhhhh fresh!
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  #21  
Old 07-13-2003, 01:22 AM
LtningBug LtningBug is offline
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Thanks for all the great suggestions! I believe I might have been overreacting. I will still keep the guitar setup in mind, though.
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