Glen Gould's Tuner


I saw a good film about another good tuner…but I still can’t fully imagine the relevance of individual tunings.

It is a fascinating story.

What are you asking about tunings?

What a wonderful story. I enjoy hearing about talent and Verne Edquist certainly was one.

A good story indeed! He left a good mark.

I’m asking myself how all those relevances get together…the tuning towards the individual instrument, the hall, the artists preference, the work played…and which are the main dependencies and priorities.

In my experience the individual instrument and the artist are paramount. The pieces to be played can be a factor as well as tuning can be dependent on the key(s) of the works; i.e., a tuning for one key can be dreadful when a piece in a different key is played.

Another variable is the voicing if the piano preferred by the artist. The technician can change how hard or soft the hammers are. This has a tremendous influence on the sound.

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Yes, that with the hammers makes sense…but initially one would think tuning is an absolute matter…digital so to say…0 or 1…right or wrong. an a is an a :wink:

I would say - just from guitars (though I play piano, I can’t recall the last time it was a real one) they are physical instruments made of different materials, and arguably even the best are not “perfect” from some imagined POV of ability to have some ideal intonation.

Even guitars with individually adjustable bridge saddles for each string can’t guarantee that every note in every key will be perfect. It is not digital.

Also, beyond that, there are ways that notes interact within a given key that seem to beg for some degree of detuning or other. It ends up being what sound right to you as well as suits your style. If your hands tend to cause the strings to be pushed “out of tune” in various ways, you may need to compensate for that. If you bash the keyboard vs. a light touch, etc.

@Elk - great article, BTW. Anyone read the author’s “musical version of Seabiscuit”?

One would think tuning is an absolute, but it is not. One can mathematically make the intervals perfect for one key such as G major, but than they are off for another key, such as d minor.

The most popular way around this is equal temperament (as advocated by Bach) where each key is off be the same amount. (Bach demonstrated this system with the Well Tempered Clavier which contains pieces in each key, major and minor, to be played on an equal tempered keyboard.)

There are however many turnings which can be used with various distance between the intervals. They all sound different.

Another issue is metal strings are, of course, physical. They do not vibrate as theory would predict. This can mean the fundamentals are in tune (such as octaves) but the harmonics clash. One can stretch or compress the octaves a little bit to bring the overall sound into tune.

It is fascinating stuff.

Makes sense yes…so a piano tuned perfectly for one player might be a bit out of tune for another…

Another issue with guitars is compensating for pushing the strings down to the frets. This raise the pitch. Thus the frets are foreshortened from their mathematical locations so that the notes stay in tune when fretted, rather than going sharp.

Of course, this only works for one height. Change the action to higher or lower (distance of the strings from the frets) and the notes go out of key a bit. And, as Mr. Beef notes (pun intended), it is never perfect.

Those of us who do not play keyboards or fretted instruments are able to adjust pitch and play in any tuning we would like. We typically play in absolute tuning/pitch, making every interval as perfect as we can. As a trumpet player I know which pitches which are always out of tune and adjust. As a physical instrument based on harmonics there are always issues that no one can build out of the instrument.

Another aspect/example I’ve run into lately is that late in life I’ve discovered Nashville tuning, which is putting lighter-gauge strings on the lower four strings of the guitar and tuning them up an octave. The top two remain the same. Somewhat like the high half of the strings on a 12-string guitar.

If you really want to go there (dedicate an instument to it) you have to have it set up for these lighter strings, replacing and/or tweaking both the bridge and nut to be in proper intonation. Then it requires also a very different touch than you’re used to.

Interesting. I did not know of this.

No, the piano will be in or out of tune the same for each player; tuning is not dependent on the touch of a given player. But one player may prefer a given tuning over another.

Used to have a Martin 12-string back in the day, and wow, what a PITA to keep in tune! So with a regular six and a Nashville six, you get easier-to-tune and two guitars halping make that “jingle jangle” sound (among other things).

Makes sense.

I have always been amazed with the acceptance by harp players and harpsichordists that they need to re-tune the entire instrument every time it is moved. Bring your harp to rehearsal, re-tune (46 strings). Go on break, re-tune.

It must get exhausting.

I understood Beef‘s post about guitars a bit like that…
…and maybe have the wind instruments in mind a bit where playing lout often can mean a slight lift up in tune…that’s what I assumed similar with a piano when hit hard…but probably that’s exactly what makes a good piano…not to have this variance.

I would hazard that that is a compromise between the instrument allowing as much dynamic range as possible and tuning/intonation. You’re still hitting strings with a hammer, or plucking/picking them in one way or another on the guitar. If you really get the string going, it is going to oscillate more wildly (exciting neighboring strings more, BTW) than if you hit it gently.

Like life itself - a sometimes inconveniently organic process :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: