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Artist Vs Entertainer

I’ve had a few interesting conversations with people in the last week, and I thought I would make a quick post about it because I think it’s relevant to everyone.

I’ve always said; any practitioner of an artform must understand that there are elements of ‘the true artist’ and ‘the entertainer’ in everything they do. An animator who is paid to draw the same character 40,000 times is more of an entertainer, the rock band that adds a few covers to their set in order to engage an alien audience, are more like entertainers.

The ‘true artist’ aspect is normally found in things like the painting thats not for sale and the solo that will never be like the one on the album, but it’s also found in the art (photography, mostly) that goes straight on to facebook for free consumption by friends and family.

I believe that it’s the entertainer side of your art that gets bogged down in all the shit of ‘the business’ or ‘the industry’ (and hopefully we all know what complete piles of shite the ‘music industry’ and the ‘art industry’ are).

There are plenty of ways to make a living through music; teaching, composing commissions, instrument construction or repair, sheet music retail, artist merchandising etc etc but for me, my guitar playing is my true art, the voice that i’ve grown, the language i’ve learnt. It’s true purpose is the same as that which comes out of my mouth; to speak to people. Hearing it should cost as much as it does to listen to my voice in the street.

It has nothing to do with business, nothing at all, yet it’s a key element in lots of the businessey/money-making things i do; film composition, function gigs etc, but I think all artists know full well that the amount of money made, and the degree of artistic satisfaction, are nearly always inversely proportional:

pop music Vs jazz or prog

hollywood Vs independent film

‘wedding’ photography Vs ‘artistic’ photography

cover bands Vs original band

art gallery art Vs street art

sheet music readers Vs improvisers

Basically:
‘corporate function’ art Vs ‘done for the sake of art’ art.

Obviously, this is by no means black and white. All the things in column A can be artistically satisfying, and all the things in column B have can make money but I think it’s an interesting point when contemplating what it is to be an artist, how artistic our art actually is, and how much art suffers at the hands of dickhead business types.

What do you think?

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The Measurement Problem

Hello again folks. I wanted to try and make a comprehensive list of all the things that can contribute to guitar tone in a live setting. I’ve decided not to go into specifics about pedals and amps because we all know how much variation there is in that department already. However, I have included a few things that aren’t strictly about tone, such as break angle, but i think anything that effects how and what you play should be included.

I’ve put these in the order you experience them, from your fingers to your ears. If you think i’ve missed something please post below and i’ll stick it in. lets see how many we can find.

finger/hand size – bigger fingers make a more positive connection with strings

nail length/style – finger pads produce a more mellow sound with less attack than nails

pick thickness

pick material – tortoise shell/nylon/ultex/metal/i even saw a felt one once

pick condition – rough edge produces a more noisy attack

pick angle – picks get chamfered when played a lot, which helps your speed, but also effects tone

pick position – near bridge is brighter, near neck is more mellow (side note: most mellow place is 12 frets higher than fretted note)

string material/style – nickel, steel & nickel, stainless steel, flat wound (chrome)

string gauge – higher gauges produce a more rounded, balanced sound. plus they stay in tune better!

tuning – it might not be distinguishable with singles notes, but equally tempered power chords will break up an amp more so than perfectly tuned power chords

action – higher action produces louder clearer notes with better sustain

fret shape/condition – worn frets can produce more noise from bending

break angle – the angle that the string leaves the nut and bridge affects tension

nut – locking/graphite/zero fret etc

scale length – 25.5 = strat/ibanez solid bodies, 24.75 = les paul/ibanez hollow bodies – lower scale length = lower tension

neck/fingerboard wood – lots of variables here

neck join – bolt-on/thru-neck/set-neck

body wood – lots of variables here too!

body style – solid/chambered/semi-hollow/archtop

bridge style – strat/tele/jag/LP/floydrose/ZR/archtop/bigsby

pickup style – SC/HB/P90, active/passive, high gain/low gain

pickup position

pickup height – correctly adjusted pole pieces give a more even balance between strings

pickup EQ – more appropriate for active pickups

pickup phase

tone knobs –  passive tone knobs can only ‘cut’ things from the sound, active systems can boost as well

vol knobs – different ohmages and tapers allow different variations on tone

(possible wireless system)

cable quality – thinner = less bass, longer = less treble (only really appropriate for LONG cables)

pedals – infinite possible variations on tone here that i just wont go into!

amp stuff (preamp)

clean/drive/overdrive/distortion/fuzz

valve/solid state

EQ/scoop

effects loop – more pedals etc

more amp stuff (power amp)

valve bias

transients

(more cables)

speaker cone size/quantity

speaker cabinet style/size/tuning

room size/material

body count – people absorb sound

mic style – dynamic/condenser/ribbon etc

mic positioning

mic phase

(more cables)

desk stuff – EQ etc

(more cables)

FOH/foldback – speaker size/quantity/positioning

room again

bodies again – including yours

earplugs?

which of these are constants in your playing?

which are variables that you have a degree of control over?

which are variables that you have no control over?

String Theory : IV : Modal Pentatonics

This article is more about actual music theory, rather than guitar string theory but as you will see, it’s also about how the properties of strings can in fact influence how we construct tunings etc.

Modal pentatonics are formed when you remove two of the seven notes from a scale/mode that DOESN’T leave you with one the traditional western pentatonics. For the sake of simplicity, I will keep all examples in C.

C D E F G A B (MAJOR SCALE) minus F (IV) & B (VII)

= C D E G A (MAJOR PENTATONIC)

C D Eb F G Ab Bb (MINOR SCALE) minus D (II) & Ab (VI)

= C Eb F G Bb (MINOR PENTATONIC)

These scales are the bare essentials (or vitals) of the parent scales. they often work so well because they avoid notes that are particular to certain modes. take this for example:

If you have a C minor chord in isolation, you cannot tell if the most logical minor mode is Aeolian, Dorian, or Phrygian. However, you can feel safe playing the C minor pentatonic because it contains none of the interesting notes that differentiate these three modes. On the other hand, you may want to imply a particular mode, so you can alter the C minor pentatonic to contain one of the notes you would have taken out (called ‘auxiliary notes’ in Chinese music theory, but I’ll get to that):

C MINOR PENTATONIC

C Eb F G Bb

Aeolian aux notes: D & Ab

Dorian aux notes: D & A

Phrygian aux notes: Db & Ab

So by substituting one or both of the auxiliary notes into the pentatonic scale, we can imply a particular mode, whilst still only using five notes:

AEOLIAN MODAL PENTATONICS

C Eb F G Ab

C D Eb G Bb

C D Eb G Ab

DORIAN MODAL PENTATONICS

C Eb F G A

C D Eb G Bb

C D Eb G A

PHRYGIAN MODAL PENTATONICS

C Eb F G Ab

C Db Eb G Bb

C Db Eb G Ab

These are just some written examples, you will hear for yourself which ones sound good or at least work in certain contexts. now on to another source for interesting pentatonics: Japan.

JAPANESE ‘MODES’

I have seen so much wrong information on the Internet about these scales that I’m going to attempt to settle a few things once and for all. First things first there are many types of ‘authentic Japanese scales’, and by that I mean ‘scales used in different parts of Japan at different periods in time’. The musical note system, which came from China (like at least 1200 years ago), is not unlike the western equivalent:

The twelve note chromatic scale

Of which, seven notes are used

Of which, five are considered ‘vital’

Of which, three are considered ‘more vital’ (1, 4 & 5)

Of which, one is fundamental

The Chinese system allows one to construct scales from any of the 12 chromatic notes (which were calculated in a similar fashion to Pythagoras’ system), whereas the Japanese system only constructs scales starting on the notes G, D, A, E or B. However in Japan there are different pentatonic formulae called Ryo Sen and Ritsu Sen, which are MODAL PENTATONICS of the same parent scale:

RYO (sen) – degrees IV and VII are omitted

C D E G A

[1 2 3 5 6]

RITSU (sen) – degrees III and VI are omitted

C D F G Bb

[1 2 4 5 b7]

There is also another pentatonic formula which i will introduce here that has a slightly different history, but I will include it here because it’s another modal pentatonic:

YO (sen)

C D F G A

[1 2 4 5 6]

This pentatonic formula is normally associated with minor scales and therefore is sometimes written from the second degree (D F G A C).

Here are the scales that came from China, as found in Japanese court music (Gagaku). The notes in parenthesis are the auxiliary tones, which make the full seven-note scale. I have included western names along with which pentatonic formula they use. As you can see, only one scale actually listed has having both Ryo and Ritsu versions, but to be honest I have NO idea why.

TOGAKU SCALES
D E F# (G) A B (C) Ichikotsu Cho (Mixolydian) Ryo
G A B (C) D E (F#) Sojo (Ionian) Ryo
A B (C) D E F# (G) Oshiki Cho (Dorian) Yo
A B C# (D) E F# (G) Suicho (Mixolydian) Ryo
E F# (G) A B C# (D) Hyojo (Dorian) Yo
E F# G# (A) B C# (D) Taishiki Cho (Ryo) (Mixolydian) Ryo
E F# (G#) A B (C#) D Taishiki Cho (Ritsu) (Mixolydian) Ritsu
B C# (D) E F# G# (A) Banshiki Cho (Dorian) Yo

THE NEW WAY

You will notice that some of these scales are followed by the word ‘Cho’ and some are not. My Japanese is rubbish (Big up to my mate Anna who helped with translations for this article) but basically this is one of these words that come at the end of names that can, but doesn’t necessarily, mean ‘scale’ in the traditional western sense. ‘Sen’ is another one that you will have seen above. Understanding these is far from essential so feel free to ignore it; I wish I had.

If you play through the above scales, you will notice that they don’t sound intrinsically Japanese. Like I said, these are scales of a particular origin and date (very old), and in the 17th century, Yatsuhashi Kengyo introduced the ‘Insen’ or ‘In scale’ to his koto (Japanese zither) playing, which was adapted from shamisen music. This scale marked the growth of ‘Zokuso’ or popular (not court) koto music in Japan and therefore is sometimes also called the Zokuso scale. I’ve also seen ‘Kokin’ as a name for this scale but as yet am unable to solidify its origins.

IN (sen) ascending

C Db F G Bb

[1 b2 4 5 b7]

IN (sen) decending

C Db F G Ab

[1 b2 4 5 b6]

It seems to me that all this guy has done is make modal pentatonics out of the Phrygian mode instead of Mixolydian, Dorian or Ionian, but I guess that’s in hindsight.

The tuning that Yatsuhashi used to play this scale became known as ‘Hira Joshi’, which translates as ‘normal tuning’ or ‘regular pitch’ or something along those lines. It was tuned to the descending version of the scale because in koto playing it’s much easier to bend a note a few semitones higher than to lower it (though lowering is possible through a technique called ‘Hiki Iro’ or ‘pull timbre’), so the Ab can be bent to up to B, Bb etc. In Japanese, ‘osu’ or ‘ni osu’ are used to mean ‘sharp’ or ‘double sharp’, but the direct translation is more like ‘pressure’ and ‘double pressure’ because you physically push the string like in guitar string bending. Here is the Hira Joshi tuning:

Hira Joshi tuning low to high (koto has 13 strings)

C’ F G Ab C’ Db F G Ab C Db F G

I say low to high but actually the first F is the lowest note, the first C is the same at the next C. Joshi is another one of those words that i told you not to worry about but let me just say that it’s kind of inaccurate to use ‘joshi’ or ‘choshi’ when referring to playing a scale on guitar, because it doesn’t mean ‘scale’, it means ‘tuning’. You wouldn’t say you tune your guitar to standard guitar scale would you? So from now on I will be using just ‘Hira’ to refer to the scale formula of [1 b2 4 5 b6] and ‘Kokin’ (In sen ascending) to refer to the formula of [1 b2 4 5 b7], so C Hira would be [C Db F G Ab] and C Kokin would be [C Db F G Bb]. The other popular tunings used in traditional koto playing vary by region (or by school) so i have included formulas from three sources. Notes in parenthesis show the Hira scale formula:

Taken from ‘Music of Japan’ (available HERE for JStore users)

C’ F G Ab (C Db F G Ab) C Db F G Hira Joshi
C’ (F Gb Bb C Db) (F Gb Bb C Db) F Gb Kumoi
C’ F Gb (Bb Cb Eb F Gb) Bb Cb Eb F Bb Iwato

Taken from ‘The kumiuta and danmono traditions of Japanese koto music’ (available HERE)

C’ F G Ab (C Db F G Ab) C Db F G Hira Joshi
C’ (F Gb Bb C Db) (F Gb Bb C Db) F Gb Hon Kumoi Joshi
C’ F (G Ab C D Eb) (G Ab C D Eb) G Nakazora
C’ F G A Bb (D Eb G A C) D Eb G Akebono

Taken from ‘Harvard dictionary of music’ (available HERE)

C’ F G Ab (C Db F G Ab) C Db F G Hira Joshi
C’ (F Gb Bb C Db) (F Gb Bb C Db) F Gb Kumoi Joshi
C’ F G Bb C Db F G Bb C Db F G Kokin Joshi

As you can see, the C and F are constants. Here are some pentatonic scales that can be constructed from these tunings. Notice that with Nakazora, Akebono and Iwato, we drift away from purely pentatonic tunings so we have different possible modal pentatonics that can be constructed. These seem to be the most logical ones, and have a fair amount of back up online:

KUMOI

C Db F Gb Bb

IWATO

C Eb F Gb Bb

NAKAZORA

C D Eb G Ab

AKEBONO

C D Eb G A

I must stress that these tunings are in order of decreasing frequency of use, there are very few traditional pieces in Akebono for example. So anyway, here’s a slightly more comprehensive (but by no means exhaustive) list of tunings in case you really care, most of which I got from book 2, you can see some of our new scale formulas are present:

LIST OF KOTO TUNINGS
HIRA
C’ F G Ab (C Db F G Ab) C Db F G Hira Joshi
C, F G Ab (C Db F G Ab) C F G C Kin-uwa Joshi
C’ F Gb (Bb Cb Eb F Gb) Bb Cb Eb F Gb Iwato Joshi
KUMOI
C’ F Gb Bb (C Db F Gb Bb) C Db F Gb Hon Kumoi Joshi
Db, F Gb Bb (C Db F Gb Bb) C Db F Gb Shimo Chidori
C, F Gb Bb (C Db F Gb Bb) C Db F G Kumoi Joshi
C’ F G Ab (C Db F Gb Bb) C Db F G Han Kumoi Joshi
NAKAZORA
C’ F G Ab (C D Eb G Ab ) C D Eb G Nakazora Joshi
D, Eb G Ab (C D Eb G Ab ) C D Eb G Ura Chidori
C’ F G Ab (C D Eb G Ab ) C Db F G Han Nakazora Joshi
C’ F G Ab (C D Eb G Ab ) C D F G Nakazora Joshi II
       AKEBONO
C’ F G A Bb (D Eb G A C) D Eb G Akebono Joshi
D, Eb G A Bb (D Eb G A C) D Eb G Karigane Joshi
KOKIN
C’ F G Bb (C Db F G Bb) C Db F G Kokin Joshi
C’ F G Bb C D F G Bb C D F G Gaku Joshi
C’ F G A C D F G A C D F G Nogi Joshi
C’ C, F G Ab C D F G A C D F Akikaze Joshi

So anyway, like i said I’ve seen so many guitar and piano websites mis-labeling these scales that i just had to get a system straight for my own peace of mind. Here it is then in all its glory. As I said, all these pentatonics are descended from seven note scales, but I’ll leave that to you:

JAPANESE MODAL PENTATONICS
C D E G A RYO (sen)
C D F G A RITSU (sen) / GAKU (joshi)
C Eb F G Bb YO (sen) / NOGI (joshi)
C Db F G (Ab Bb) IN (sen) / ZOKUSO
C Db F G Ab HIRA (joshi)
C Db F G Bb KOKIN (joshi)
C Db F Gb Bb KUMOI (joshi) (F HIRA over C)
C D Eb G Ab NAKAZORA (G HIRA over C)
C D Eb G A AKEBONO (D KOKIN over C)
C Eb F Gb Bb IWATO (joshi) (F KOKIN over C)

DOMINANT PENTATONIC

There’s just one other scale that i need to put in this post, which is descended from the mixolydian and/or dominant phrygian scale:

MIXOLYDIAN

C D E F G A Bb

[1 2 3 4 5 6 b7]

DOMINANT PHRYGIAN

C Db E F G Ab Bb

[1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7]

DOMINANT PENTATONIC

C E F G Bb

[1 3 4 5 b7]

I don’t know what it is about this scale but it just sounds immense. It’s used to great effect in traditional Irish folk (such as this tune), Indian fusion (such as this tune), and some styles of African music.

There are so many combinations of modal pentatonics (considering that you have all the church modes, plus melodic minor and harmonic minor modes as starting scales) that listing them is pointless but I thought you’d like the ones in this post because they have some particular qualities.

comments, suggestions & improvements welcome

peace,
Scuz

INTONATION

Intonation refers to the ‘intuneness’ of an individual pitch or the balance of ‘intuneness’ over a whole instrument. Violin intonation centers around accurate finger placement, where as saxophone intonation is more about compensating for the natural ‘outoftuneness’ of the high and low registers. Guitar intonation specifically refers to the act of adjusting the length of each string so the frets produce maximum ‘intuneness’. Before I go any further, you should know that even with perfect intonation, most guitars will fret slightly sharp on lower frets (1-7) and slightly flat on the higher frets (15+). This is just the way it is, it’s always been like that, it’s no different from the saxophone case really. There have been some crazy ways of trying to get better intonation in guitars in recent years, detailed here for your amusement:

BASIC INTONATION

There are loads of online tutorials of how to do this so I’ll just skip to saying:

If your 12th fret its is sharper than the harmonic at that fret the string is too short,
And likewise if the fretted note is flatter than the harmonic, the string is too long.

Or ‘if it’s sharp, it’s short’ for short.

This guy goes into MASSIVE detail about intonation if you’re interested:
http://www.doolinguitars.com/intonation/intonation1.html

NASTY G STRINGS

Now, you will see the obvious trend in any guitar that has had its intonation set at some point. The thicker the string, the longer it has to be. But you should also note that there is a different scale for plain strings than for wound strings. This is single-handedly responsible for the Great G String Catastrophe (good idea for song title) that arose some time in electric guitar’s early history. In a nutshell, a wound G would normally be the shortest string on a guitar; a plain G would be the longest. If you put the wrong string on the wrong bridge it will be horrible (this is a sad tale for acoustic guitars, which can do virtually nothing to adjust intonation). Nowadays, 3 wound and 3 plain is the absolute norm for electric strings and all electric guitars come set up for 3 & 3 string sets (except things like archtops). This is fine of course, but I urge you to see that the G string’s wound/plain duality shows that:

  • Both these methods of representing G are at the limit of their range.
  • You cannot really make a (good sounding) wound B string, or a plain D string.
  • The G wound plain duality is the natural limit.

However, one of these boundaries is being broken on the sly, by guitar companies catering to the drop-tune market.

DROP TUNE MARKET

First off, I’m not bashing drop tuning, I think it’s quality but we have to be sensible. Think about this:

I tend to advise going up one gauge for every tone you go down. These tension readings are from the d’addario string tension chart:

Note of 1st String Gauge Tension
E 10s 16.2
D 11s 15.6
C 12s 14.7
B/Bb 13s 15.4
A/Ab 14s 14.1

D’addario doesn’t provide readings for flat notes but you can work them out, see below.

As you can see, the tension drops slightly but trust me this is NOTHING when you consider that high E on 9 gauge string is just 13.1lb. These are sensible averages; I personally still keep it a little tighter when I’m right down there. My Jackson is set up for ADGCEA and that’s gauges 15-74! Most people however may prefer them a little slacker. In which case just use 12s for B/Bb and 13s for A/Ab.

But here’s the problem. As we go lower, the strings get thicker. So what about the ol’ G string? Surely if we make him any thicker, we should just switch to a wound string shouldn’t we? Well that makes sense to me, but not string manufacturers it seems. Guys like Ernie Ball have been selling strings that are branded as ‘optimised for detuning’ for years now, but they’re WRONG I TELL YOU! The problem is that they cling to the fact that electric guitars should have 3 wound & 3 plain strings. This results in ludicrously thick 3rd strings. Check this out:

Normal String Tension
String Gauge Tension
E 10 16.2
B 13 15.4
G 17 16.6
D 26 18.4
A 36 19.5
E 46 17.5

Tensions using ‘not even’ slinkys:

Not Even Slinky in C Standard
String Gauge Tension
C 12 14.7
G 16 14.7
Eb 24 20.2<
Bb 32 16.8
F 44 18.0
C 56 16.6

Not Even Slinky in B Standard
String Gauge Tension
B 12 13.1
F# 16 12.9
D 24 18.5<
A 32 15.8
E 34 16.1
B 36 14.1

Why would your G sting be your stiffest string? Why not just use a wound 22 or 24 (giving 13.3 or 15.8 lb receptively). Not only this, but having a string that thick means you have to pull your bridge saddle SOOO far back, it may not even go back far enough. Plus on top of all this you have to consider the mass, length, tension equation from the first of these blogs about inharmonicity, you have a ridiculous amount of tension and mass here.

GAUGE OPTIMISATION

Don’t let me stop you from using your favorite sets of strings, just be aware that its really quite easy to calculate custom string gauges that can feel like your usual strings as usual tension. Lets take Drop D as an example; I have never seen a sensible set of strings for this single-most-common of drop tunings. Say you want to detune to D but you don’t like it when that string is floppier than the rest, lets look at some string sets you might consider using:

Regular Slinky
String Gauge Tension
E 10 16.2
B 13 15.4
G 17 16.6
D 26 18.4
A 36 19.5
D 46 13.9<

Slinky Top Heavy Bottom
String Gauge Tension
E 10 16.2
B 13 15.4
G 17 16.6
D 30 25.0
A 42 26.3
D 52 17.4<

Beefy Slinky
String Gauge Tension
E 11 19.6
B 15 20.5
G 22 27.7
D 30 25.0
A 42 26.3
D 54 19.5<

Anyone can see that the tensions of these sets are stupid. no one wants strings that are wildly stiffer than others. It seems obvious to me that the ideal string set for drop D would be something like this:

Scuz’ Slinky
String Gauge Tension
E 10 16.2
B 13 15.4
G 17 16.6
D 26 18.4
A 36 19.5
D 52 17.4

Now doesn’t that just make SOOO much sense?

Here’s the tensions for some bottom string gauges, that show how you can find a gauge for a low B that will play more like a normal low E:

Low E String Low B String
Gauge Tension Gauge Tension
42 14.8 52 13.1
46 17.5< 56 14.8
52 22.0 60 17.1<
56 26.3 64 19.2

You can see here that a 60 gauge will make B feel like your normal E.

Like I said earlier, D’addario’s reference PDF (available here) is all you need to work out which gauges will be right for a particular tuning (I only just looked at their website and they also suggest using 52 gauge for drop D). they only provide readings for natural notes, so no flats or sharps but their formula allows you to work out what ever you need to. This is what I did when calculating the values for the flat (Eb and Bb) notes in the ‘not even’ strings in C Standard tuning. Take Eb for example:

D’addario says you need the length, pitch and the mass to calculate the tension, and they’re right!
L – length – 25.5 in (scale length for most modern electric guitars)
F – pitch – 155.6 Hz (Eb)
UW – unit weight 0.00012760 (shown next to your chosen string gauge in the table)

T (tension) = (UW x (2 x L x F)²) / 386.4

(0.00012760 x (2 x 25.5 x 155.6)²) / 386.4 = 20.7 lb
(I assume you have to take this ‘exact’ measurement with a pinch of salt)

That was definitely too much math for a guitarist (like, I have no idea what the 386.4 thing is all about), so you’ll be happy to know that I’m done now.

BTW if you want to re-read some of what you just read whilst being called an idiot every other sentence, you might want to check out Zachary’s page (here). He says basically the same thing without providing any actual gauge recommendations (on the assumption that you will be so dazzled by his professionalism that you will be left with no choice but to buy his own brand of strings). Fair credit though, he does make nice axes!

comments, suggestions & improvements welcome

peace,
Scuz

String Theory : II : Bending Dynamics

TENSION DISTRIBUTION

When we, as guitarists bend a string, the tension increases right? But how much of the string is this force distributed across? It’s different in different styles of guitar. Normally the area between the nut and the machine head accepts a portion of this and area between the bridge and the tailpiece too (like in jags). The longer this ‘bend absorption length’ is, the more the string will compensate for our efforts, and therefore the further we will have to physically move the string. Double locking bridge/nut guitars (never say tremolo in this instance, because whammy bars are produce vibrato, not tremolo 🙂 ) have the smallest length (literally just the sounding length), and jazz boxes with bigsby systems or tailpieces have the longest. Strat style heads have more on the high E than the low E (unless the nut’s locked), and les paul style heads have a more even distribution.

The degree to which these extra lengths share the tension is determined by the break angle – the angle of the strings once they pass over the bridge or nut. The little T’s that you sometimes see on strat style heads are to increase the break angle on the high strings, which also makes them less likely to vacate the nut.

I don’t know what the equation is for that one but i do know that in les paul style bridges (with a bridge and a tailpiece close behind), raising the height of the tailpiece will decrease the break angle and make the strings SEEM like they are less tense. If you have a locking nut system you can experiment by seeing how high you can bend a string at your 3rd and 15th fret with the nut locked and then unlocked. You will find that you will be able to bend the string a bit higher at the 3rd fret, and you should also find that although you reach about the same pitch at the 15th, you finger has actually moved further up the fingerboard. This is what i mean when i say the strings SEEM less tense, they are at the same tension across the vibrating length, and the bend absorption length only factors in when you’re actually bending. Be warned that spring loaded bridges (like floyd rose systems) also compensate for bend tension so you have to bend further and may not get good results from the above experiment.

BEND PARTIALS

As you bend a string, the fret rubs against the string, which causes vibration in a similar way to a violin bow. However the stimulation is happening right at the node (in this case the fret, but bridges and nuts and slides are also nodes). Think about the sound of using a bow right over the bridge, very high-pitched but still largely related to the fundamental. Though not as apparent as in the violin example, these frequencies are generated as you bend, depending on the shape/height of your frets as well as the condition of them. The extra frequencies (as well as the physical friction) help sustain in overdriven sounds but are not always as useful with a clean sound.

Bend partials add extra depth to the sound that you can’t get with a whammy bar. As pick a note and bend up, you hear them creep in after the attack of the note has passed. This can sound like wah pedal moving to the open ‘aahh’ sound when done properly. If your looking to master this technique, try slightly palm muting as you pick, and release as you bend up. This will remove some of the original high frequencies, so the bend frequencies are more apparent.

FORCE BENDING (or ANTI-BENDING)

I’ve developed a technique in which you alter the distribution of tension on the string without adding an additional ‘bend’ force. ‘Bend’ force and ‘tension’ force are the two main forces acting on the string in this scenario. Think of it like tension force being the one you increase by turning the machine head, and the bend force being the one that that you apply (sideways) with your fingers. this is also the force present when you pluck a string and it periodically moves from a ‘ | ‘ shape to a ‘ S ‘ shape to produce sound. This is the force we normally use to bend our strings but there’s another way…

That’s right; I submit to you that we can become guitar Jedi by directly using the tension force to ‘bend’ our strings down in pitch (classical guitarists have been channeling small amounts of this force in secret for years). This technique builds on the principal used by classical guitar vibrato (where your finger moves back and forward instead of up and down), combined with a similar technique used by virtuoso koto for hundreds of years.

Fret a note with your pinky, then line up your other three fingers close behind it, all touching. Play the note, tense your fingers and pull your fingers towards the bridge without actually moving them. You hear that? Cool isn’t it? What’s happening is you are raising/adding the tension of the string before your fingers, in order to lower/release the tension after your fingers.

For those of you who didn’t hear anything, at this point i should let you know that there are some limitations. First things first, it won’t work on plain (unwound) strings, sorry. This is because your fingers need the windings to grip the string properly (same problem with flat wounds, but you can do it a bit). It also works better on higher gauges and longer strings (and therefore works well on bass guitar). The most important thing this that it works better in higher frets (9/10 + ), this is because at lower frets, you have to pull tension from a very small amount of string (back of your fingers to the machine heads), but in higher frets, this distance is longer, meaning there’s more string to stretch.

This technique does not have a large range (i can get about a semitone) and is pretty physically demanding, but I just think its really neat for getting quarter tones in licks without awkward mini pre-bends all the time.

Comments, suggestions & improvements welcome

Peace,

Scuz

String Theory : I : String Inharmonicity

Music sits perfectly between science and art but many musicians pay little attention to the physics of their instrument. I have decided to catalogue my experience with different aspects of the theory of vibrating strings, both for myself and anyone else who is interested in how their instrument works. Through an understanding of the basics, nearly any problem you encounter can be reasoned out, and you can begin to see how many compromises are made for the guitar to exist.

INHARMONICITY

String inharmonicity is caused when the balance between mass, length and tension is too far out of equilibrium. Getting these three elements in the right proportions will cause a string to resonate very closely to the way an ‘ideal string’ would resonate. The truth is that in the real world, nearly all harmonics of musical strings will be sharp to some degree, but pushing the relationship between mass, length and tension severely out of proportion causes the harmonics or partials to be noticeably (or uncomfortably) out of tune. Just for the record, this doesn’t apply to bowed strings for some reason, only when strings are plucked. It’s something to do with the interaction between the tension force and the bend force but im not quite sure how yet. 😦

IN PIANOS

To increase the pitch of a piano note, you can decrease the length, decrease the mass, or increase the tension. The reverse is also true. Doing all three will help you maintain the balance and have nice consonant strings 🙂 Pianos work like this:

Mass (gauge of wire) increases/decreases in increments of about 0.04 inches every 10 notes or so.

Length decreases/increases gradually using the curve that you can see on the pianos iron frame.

Tension is varied to give the correct pitch. It varies from about 8 – 23 kgf (kilogram force) over the whole range but about 0.5 – 4.0 kgf between semitones.

At the high end of the range, you find that you cannot decrease the mass any further (because it would have to effectively be nothing) and you cannot increase the tension any further (because the string will break) so you must only decrease the length of the string. Doing this without the other two causes the harmonics to be out of tune.

Likewise in the bass strings of upright pianos, there isn’t enough space to make the vibrating length long enough to reach the low notes, so piano makers use thicker string gauges to lower the pitch. As the gauge (mass) increases too far, the upper harmonics wont line up.

Piano tuners have invented a system called stretch tuning, where the bass register is tuned slightly lower and the treble register slightly higher, which reduces the impact of the out of tune harmonics. For example:

Note A2 is 110 Hz in equal temperament

Note A1 is 55 Hz in equal temperament

Note A1 may experience some inharmonicity that causes its first harmonic to read 113 Hz,

Stretch tuning may suggest tuning A1 to 54Hz so that it’s first harmonic reads 111 Hz.

This means that the maximum deviation from the correct frequencies 55 and 110 is 1 Hz instead of 3 Hz

IN GUITARS

The properties of string inharmonicity can be easily observed in the guitar. Like on the piano, to increase the pitch of a guitar string, we can do three things:

Decrease the length (stop the string at a fret or have a smaller scale length neck)

Increase the tension (bend the string or tighten the machine head)

Decrease the mass (put a lighter string gauge on)

Looking at this we can see that we only do one of these things at a time, meaning that we are upsetting the balance between the three. This means we are altering the degree of string inharmonicity much more than a piano in its middle range. On top of this, we have to use more extreme differences in string gauge to compensate for the fact that all strings are the same length. The main problems that occur from inharmonicity in guitar are as follows:

Guitarists who wish to play in lower tunings must increase mass to compensate for the fact that they can’t make their neck any longer. Although decreasing tension will also produce lower notes, it leads to other problems such as low volume and poor tone. This is why pianos increase mass instead of decreasing tension 😛 there is also the danger of accidentally bending notes sharp by fretting if the tension is too low.

Guitarists who prefer the tone of higher gauge strings (jazz guys) can experience inharmonicity in the highest frets because of the same problem that pianos have in their top register.

Inharmonicity is also part of the problem behind using fretted notes to tune open notes. Using your 5th fret to tune an open note is problematic because 5th fret A on your low E string has a lower length and higher mass than your open A string, meaning a different degree of inharmonicity. Other elements of this problem include string intonation, temperament and accidentally bending frets sharp.

CONCLUSION

The effects of inharmonicity in guitars is not often discussed because guitarists have too many other variables to think about as it is (picks, fret shape, neck shape, action, relief, intonation, string gauge, pickups, cables, pedals, amps, valves, speakers, rooms etc etc etc), but the fact of the matter is that having this knowledge helps me make informed decisions about tuning methods, string gauge choice, and general attitude towards guitar tone.

Comments, suggestions & improvements welcome

Peace,

Scuz

Egeszsegedre Sopron

Well I’m back from the Volt Festival in Sopron, Hungary. It’s quite easy for me to admit that it was definitely the best week in my whole life!

The Main Festival

Having been to many metal festivals, i was keen to experience something a little different and i wasn’t disappointed! Aside from the large acts (Sum 41, Moby, 30 Seconds to Mars) which didn’t interest me in the slightest, there were some amazing examples of Balkan and Romani Gypsy music such as Emir Kusturica’s No Smoking Orchestra (SRB) and Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra (HUN). On the electronic side of things; wicked sets from Asian Dub Foundation (UK) and DubFX (AUS) but definitely the highlight in this area was realising how much the Hungarians (and many other Europeans) love DUBSTEP. It went on till 6am every night, just in case you found yourself with nothing to do.

People & the EU Camp

I’ve never met such an amazing group of like minded people. Just hanging out chatting, playing music etc, it was easy to forget just how varied the participants backgrounds were. cultures mixed seamlessly, with no language barriers to speak of (apart from the Italians lol). massive shouts go out to the Danish, Greek, Luxembourger, Dutch, Slovakian, Swedish, German, Latvian, Portuguese, Finnish, Slovenian, Estonian, Bulgarian and (last but not least) Hungarian friends i have made during this special time. There were folk fiddles, brass bands, rock bands, beatboxers, singer-songwriters, dancers, and all out jammers. Everyone was supportive and enthusiastic for the event, (probably because for us… it was FREE!).

We had our own stage at the entrance of the festival ground where pre-existing bands could rip up, or collaborations could be arranged. after worrying a bit about finding people to play with, I ended up doing three 1 hour sets. the first was a jazz jam with too many countries to name. after that we decided to do an hour of funk with the guys from a Luxembourg Jazz Conservatoire. That proved to be the most fun I’ve ever had on stage, especially with guest appearances from Danish Ben on clarinet, and then the rest of the Danes for a bit of a boogie. Afterwords the Luxembourgers said “same time tomorrow?” which i later found out was exactly what they meant, as they had booked time to do their own tunes and invited me to sit in for that. the highlight of that gig was the interaction between all the players, letting me know exactly what was happening all the time, even in their own compositions!

Facilities

We were incredibly lucky at the EU camp, 10 showers and 10 ‘real’ toilets for under 200 people (as compared to the more usual 100 showers for 10o,000 people). beer and food was cheap and tasty (there was a European cuisine corner etc) only spent £70 over 5 days. The weather was incredibly good. 25-30 degrees everyday, with one storm that didn’t really give up much rain. Oh, we also did a bungee Jump from 100 something feet, bloody good crack actually. The Organisers of the camp (a group of Hungarian students who did a really good job) set up a facebook group for EU Camp members before the festival, which meant no-one had to stress about getting peoples numbers, spelling their names correctly, righting down songs or bands or other cool information. It could all be sorted out afterwords, my friend list has never been so diverse!

that’s about all I can recount right now,

end.

European Gipsy Rocks!

Well, it appears im off on a ludicrous journey to Hungary along side my good friend Geoff Williams, and 1,000 others from 27 European countries. the aim of this is for us to make music on the fringe of the Volt Festival, and experience some wicked Hungarian culture and stuff.

http://www.xpatloop.com/news/volt_festival_is_going_to_be_the_official_eu-closing_party

This briefly explains the project, I’m really looking forward to it, and will report back in full at a later date

peace

String Theorists

this past week i’ve been recording some demos for my new band Scuz & the String Theorists.

there are four tunes:

The Measurement Problem

Zink

Neutrino Oscillation

Phlogiston

we’ll do some mixing on sunday, then i’ll load some up some samples. looking forward to it.

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