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Your Guitars Are Out Of Tune

Daily Blog - May 24th 2021

Yes, they probably are. Out of tune guitars are one of the most common problems in DIY recordings. 9/10 DIY recordings I get to mix have some sort of guitar or bass tuning issue. It's the truth. Here's why and what you can do about it.

“The Only Thing That Matters Is What Comes Out Of The Speakers”

Follow these steps to avoid guitar and bass tuning issues:

This is a short, actionable checklist that will get you very far and hopefully solve your problems. For more in-depth advice and explanation please listen to podcast episode #22 and episode #47 
  • Use fresh strings and change them often during the recording session. They die quickly and you'll need a couple of packs for a record. That's completely normal. As soon as the sound changes and the tuning stability decreases, change them!
  • Pick the right string gauge, using an online string tension calculator to figure out the proper gauge for your tuning. With the wrong gauge it's gonna be an uphill battle.
  • Set up your guitar properly and regularly (or take it to a professional to get it done). Definitely do it before every recording session and check it again whenever you switch to a new tuning or string gauge/brand. This includes action, intonation and neck relief among other things.
  • Use the same tuner for every bass, guitar and player in the band. 
  • Use a strobe tuner (Peterson tuners are highly recommended and considered the most accurate out there). Plugins, like bx_tuner can be great, too. Typical stomp boxes (except for the Peterson Strobo Stomp) are usually not accurate enough.
  • Tune the attack (pick quickly and repeatedly when tuning) or tune the sustain (let the string ring out when tuning), depending on the part. Just think about how you're going to pick in the part and do exactly that when tuning.
  • Tune exactly like you play (hard/soft, sitting/standing). Sometimes you even have to tune individual chords and punch them in, if necessary.
  • Mute unused strings and use fret wraps, if necessary.
  • Practice your technique. Much of the tuning is in your hands! Examples are fretting too hard, bending with your left hand or the position and intensity of your right hand. If you pick hard, then also do that when tuning.
  • Tune before every take but don't tune between doubles (if you're using the same guitar for that), so that main and double will be as tight and in tune as possible. This requires you to do the double immediately after the main take.
  • Use the same guitarist for both the main take and double, even if you use different rigs/guitars.
  • Use a tuning reference track (MIDI bass is great for that)
  • Consider getting an Evertune bridge if you're in the market for a new guitar
  • And finally, train your ears and learn to hear and notice tuning issues immediately. This is probably the most important part. Most people just don't realize they're having tuning issues. The best way to learn is to get feedback frequently from people with trained ears and then practice as much as possible. Using tools like Melodyne to check and analyze your tuning can also help. Don't use it for correction, just use it as a learning tool that shows you whether or not your recording is actually in tune. This plus MIDI reference tracks will quickly help you understand the whole issue better. That said, it's hard to analyze/visualize chords properly and how it sounds is always more important than how it looks in a tool like that. Most of the time the two go together, though.

-Benedikt

PS: I often post videos to these daily blog posts in my Instagram Stories: @benedikthain

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