Sunday, January 10, 2010

Guitar Trick

This post over on Horn Matters reminded me I've never posted a guitar trick that's wonderfully helpful when looking at instruments to buy. On lots and lots of guitars in lots of price ranges, the frets are incorrectly placed in relationship to the strings, so you can never really play them in tune. 

First, learn how to make the first harmonic on a string. That means very lightly touching the string at its mid-point and then with the other hand, plucking it halfway between that point and where the string comes over the bridge. Then immediately lift the finger touching the string at the mid-point. Once you get the hang of it it's not hard to do. This sets the string vibrating in halves, with one half going up while the other goes down, and remaining still where your finger was (a node).

A string vibrating in halves sounds the octave, which should match the pitch when the string is fretted on the twelfth fret. If you listen as you go back and forth between pitches of the 1st harmonic and of the twelfth fret and they aren't the same, or at least very, very close, the guitar will never play in tune.

Other factors such as the action (how far the strings are from the fret-board) and the gage of the strings play into this, but will never really correct the problem.

As a rule, the price of the instrument will not tell you how well the frets are placed. This simple test can save you a lot of aggravation, and perhaps money as well.

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