Garage band guitar tuner is just plain wrong?

June 12, 2011 4:20 PM

I thought it would be fun to try our garage band's lessons, and see what they're like. But the built in guitar tuner is just... wrong. So wrong. In order to get Garage band to play nice and give me lots of green lights I'm playing something like a whole tone out with the recorded music I'm supposed to be playing along with and it sounds dreadful. What gives? Fresh install, by the way.
posted by aesop (22 comments total)

We typically tune guitars using "Equal Temperament" which means that the frequency difference between all notes is constant. Unfortunately if we use our ears, we begin to notice that some notes aren't quite right.

When I was in the studio, the engineer sometimes got me to make adjustments to my tuning the further up the neck I was playing. For example, for a sequence that had this D chord ringing out, I had to adjust my G string quite significantly:

E - X
B - 10
G - 11
D - 0
A - 9
E - 10

It's possible that the music you're playing along to used a different tuning system.
posted by dobie at 6:35 PM on June 12, 2011

I appreciate your reply dobie. However the music I'm playing along to is part of the lesson - part of the same system (ie Garage Band) that the tuner is part of. One would think that they'd use a consistent tuning with what they were asking people to tune to, and what they were expected to play along to. So I don't think that there should be an inconsistency in tuning method.

Other than that, mostly I just tune to a tone and I can play along with most things (very badly, but in the correct tuning, at least).
posted by aesop at 4:28 AM on June 13, 2011

um Dobie I think you will find that its the western scale itself that is "Equal Temperament" and all instruments playing in that scale are tuned to this system.

The downside being that in the equal temperament some of the intervals don't quite work. (that means the frequencies of particular pairs are not in quite the mathematical ratio they 'should' be in.)

What you seem to be eferring to is guitar Intonation problems - that up the neck they can get 'out of tune' this can generally be adjusted using the bridge.

to the OP - i've never used the Garage Band tuner so sorry I can't help. have you tried verifying the notes using another tuner?

I'd compare with the results of a pedal tuner or other tuner.
posted by mary8nne at 6:24 AM on June 13, 2011

Sorry to belabour my point, but the intonation problems happen because our scale and guitar frets are an imperfect match. That was my point that I didn't make.

Why don't you try a couple of online tuners. You generally have to tune by ear:
posted by dobie at 6:32 AM on June 13, 2011

Why don't you post a recording of your six guitar strings, played open, once they have been tuned to the Garage Band tuner?

I don't like the GB tuner but it is not inaccurate, just finicky.
posted by unSane at 7:26 PM on June 13, 2011

This is a fascinating topic. Given my musical illiteracy, I had no idea about it until quite recently when I was talking about music with a colleague who's a graduate in it. It explains a lot about why sometimes it seems almost impossible to get the guitar perfectly in tune, and why sometimes using a tuner kind of makes it worse.

There seems to my ignorant mind to be an element of "square peg, round hole" in trying to get instruments to attain an equality of temperament that in reality doesn't and cannot exist on a fretted or fixed-tuning instrument (e.g. a piano). It seems more to me to be about achieving a temperament where the sharps and/or flats are tolerably inaccurate. I suspect too that those of us who play stringed instruments probably subconsciously compensate for minute pitch problems by increasing or decreasing finger pressure etc. Perhaps violinists etc are more able to deal with equality of temperament than anyone else, but that won't be much help to them in an orchestral setting.

There's also the interesting notion that equal temperament is not the same as the 12-note "well" temparament favoured by Bach ("The Well-Tempered Clavier") at a time when competing conventions - such as the meantone temperament - were equally popular. Some of these other temperaments may be more valid than equal temperament depending on circumstances, I suppose. Conventions, conventions....

I have no idea what I'm talking about here really, so apologies if none of that makes any sense at all....:-)
posted by MajorDundee at 12:02 PM on June 14, 2011

MajorDundee, I'm with you all the way (especially about having no idea what I'm talking about). Apparently back in the day, orchestras would all tune to each other for each song. It probably explains why so many of those old songs were like 40 minutes long for all the movements.
posted by dobie at 1:17 PM on June 14, 2011

Major, I had to relearn to tune a guitar and when I did, it was a revelation. If you don't already do it this way, try it at least once. There are lots of ways of doing it but you'll get the idea once you try it.

1. Tune your bottom E to a reference pitch.

2. Tune your top E to the harmonic of the bottom E at the 12th fret.

3. Fret your B string at the fifth fret and tune it to the top E. Now

4. Fret your G string at the ninth fret and tune it to the top E.

5. Fret your D string at the second fret and tune it to the harmonic of the bottom E at the 12th fret.

6. Tune your A string to the bottom E fretted at the fifth

The idea behind this (and several other similar methods) is that every string is tuned in unison to one of the E strings so you don't get any accumulated errors. By fretting instead of using harmonics (except the octave at the 12th) you don't end up trying to put an equal temperament instrument into perfect fourths and fifths, which will really fuck up your thirds -- people always think their G string is out of tune because the third on the E chord sounds out of tune when they tune to perfect fifths. So they tune the G so the E - G# interval sounds right and then everything else sounds wrong. If you do the above, the G# sounds tolerable.
posted by unSane at 8:48 PM on June 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'll definitely give that a go unS - not come across that before. Cheers! This is the kind of thing that makes this "talk" thread so useful - finding out about new stuff when you think there's nowt left to learn. Excellent.

I suppose everyone knows how to string a guitar up properly so you minimise string slippage? I'm not taking the piss here btw. Just inspired by the back-to- basics nature of the tuning discussion.
posted by MajorDundee at 1:07 AM on June 15, 2011

I do that thing where you wrap the string under itself and then kink it back I don't think the purists do it this way (at least high end guitars never ship like this) but if you're changing strings in a hurry on-stage it's a god-send and it also minimizes the amount of string-winding you have to do.

I used to break strings ALL the time (people have referred to my guitar playing as 'chopping wood') and my string would be covered with crusted gunk after a single rehearsal so I ended up changing them every time I played. For some reason they no longer do that -- either the strings got better or I got less sweaty -- I'm still a wood-chopper.

I like D'Addario XLs on everything, flatwound except on the Tele. Martins on the acoustic.
posted by unSane at 3:50 AM on June 15, 2011

I've been insanely busy, music-wise, lately, and I feel as though I've spent half my time tuning. I'm going to get a good, loving setup (my poor SG needs one desparately), and then try tuning the way unSane suggested. Certainly can't get any worse.

Apropos of the thread's topic, I don't know if the Garageband tuner is the same as the Logic one (I suspect it's the same under the hood, but maybe not in the GUI), but the "Precision" mode is the only one where I can really get myself in tune.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:53 AM on June 15, 2011

Check the D'Addarios on electrics (9 - 42) and Martin for acoustics. Roundwounds not flats though. I seem to be gradually heading heavier. The new SG* shipped with 10s and I quite like 'em - there's less uncertainty over tuning with heavier strings. I used to use Rotosound on electrics and Ernie Ball on acoustics but switched to the ones above years and years ago. I rarely break strings though. Of course, I'll do just that next time I pick a guitar up now I've said that.

String up is as you describe - that's the correct way to do it unless you have locking tuners. That's the purist way too actually - recommended by CF Martin, and that's good enough for me. I've had factory-fresh Gibbos that were strung that way too.

*One point to note re the new SG and the "brother" Les Pauls. The bodies are not made from single pieces of mahogany (at the price, that shouldn't really surprise). They can comprise anything up to four pieces. If you want a natural finish (or one of the sunburst finishes on the LPs) I'd strongly advise not buying blind. Some of them look great (luckily mine is quite a good one). But some of them are vile and look like they've been knocked together in Grandpa's shed by an inept but enthusiastic 12-year old.
posted by MajorDundee at 6:47 AM on June 15, 2011

10s on the electrics and 12s on the acoustic for me... anything less feels like a rubber band to my big paws.
posted by unSane at 8:33 AM on June 15, 2011

PS that method shown on linked upthread is guaranteed to produce an out of tune guitar, even though it is the way 9/10 guitarists tune. What happens is that as you use the harmonics to tune you get further and further away from equal temperament.

This describes a system similar to mine which may be better as it uses a 440Hz tone as the starting point. This has a much more detailed explanation.

I can't tell you how much my life improved when I started tuning this way (and fixed my intonation). Twenty years of futzing about with G-strings (and not in the fun way) gone overnight.

The only other device I really trust to tune with is my trust Boss TU-3 stompbox tuner which is an absolutely essential piece of kit as you can also use it to silence your rig when you are changing guitars etc. But it's deadly accurate and stable to tune with too. I have a couple of those Fishman-style headstock tuners, mostly for the kids or to throw in a gig bag, but they always seem to have problems with ghost notes on the low E.
posted by unSane at 8:57 AM on June 15, 2011

I use D'Adarrio 11s on my SG (I go back and forth between the wound and unwound G), but I have a solid SG from a few years back. The TU-3 is crucial. I just tune my acoustic to the piano, which I suppose introduces opportunities for errors.
posted by dobie at 9:14 AM on June 15, 2011

Ernie Ball 10's on the electrics for me - every few years I'll try something new for a while but I always seem to come back to them. Huge fan of the TU-3 as well; used to have one of the Fender stompbox tuners but the Boss is much more solid.

I love the slotted tuners on my Tele, it makes it so much easier to change strings. I use the wrap back method on the LPs though- think I first saw that here on Mefi. I used to break a lot of strings (first or second song like clockwork), but now that I change them before every show it's a thing of the past.

What picks do people like? I'm a fan of the green Tortex sharps, thick enough so you can really dig in but the point gives it some bounce like a thinner pick. Good for a couple sessions before it starts to dull and I toss it.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:43 PM on June 15, 2011

What picks do people like?

nickels - they're only 5 cents and give a nice sharp sound

however, i'm pretty much back to fingerpicking these days, even with lead

my method of guitar tuning is to use a tuner and then kind of fudge around a little according to the song i'm playing and what guitar it is and try to be careful as to how hard i press the strings, as that can cause them to go sharp

i use 9s on all my guitars except the baritone, which i think has 12s or 13s

i prefer flatwounds on bass
posted by pyramid termite at 5:00 PM on June 15, 2011

I use the pink Dunlop Delrin picks, either the .96 or 1.14mm versions, or nickels in a pinch especially if I'm playing bass. I LOVE the sound of a nickel playing bass. I use slightly softer picks on the acoustic, especially for strummed parts, but they feel weird to me -- it's just to cut down the percussive sound.

I feel weird using anything but a pink pick these days, they're so much part of my playing.
posted by unSane at 5:06 PM on June 15, 2011

MajorDundee: knocked together in Grandpa's shed by an inept but enthusiastic 12-year old.

posted by Zenabi at 5:26 PM on June 15, 2011

What picks do people like?

I use Dunlop Gator Grip 1.14 for electrics (they're a kind of sky blue colour) and Gatorgrip .58 for acoustic strumming. I sometimes use .71 if I want things to sound a little harder on the acoustic. The 1.14's are just too inflexible to get a nice acoustic sound, but I've used them now and again for acoustic soloing.

I used to use Dunlop Tortex - the purple ones - but switched to that Gators several years ago now and I'm happy with them. I like the slightly grainy/gritty sound of them, and they mould to shape after a little while and get nicely comfortable and worn-in.

I knew a guy years ago who swore by real tortoiseshell for picks. I think he thought it'd make him sound like Django Reinhart. He didn't. He sounded like Groucho Marx with haemorrhoids. And Brian May, legend has it, uses a sixpence. I am, gentlemen, a veritable mine of useless information.....
posted by MajorDundee at 7:29 AM on June 16, 2011

And Brian May, legend has it, uses a sixpence

Which is, I guess, a bit like a nickel but because it's British has just a little more class.

that's a joke, honest!!
posted by MajorDundee at 7:35 AM on June 16, 2011

well i never.
posted by peterkins at 5:31 AM on June 17, 2011

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