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Thread: Musicians "out of tune"..

  1. #1

    Musicians "out of tune"..

    Listening to a show from '73 Jim Croce solo.. you know the deal.. stool, acoustic guitar small intimate setting... and an very out of tune guitar! He makes reference to it several times during the show and makes several failed attempts to get it in tune but finally gives up and says.. "one of the pitfalls to my career in construction running jackhammers... you go deaf".. Every attended a show where the artist is so out of tune it's either irritating (because you spent big $'s for tickets and you fell like you aren't getting your moneys worth due to what appears to be an artists lack of basic professionalism.." or.. you feel so sorry for the guy (which in my case once seeing Stanly Jordan.. he apologized and made at least 1/2 dozen attempts to get his guitar in tune and finally got it in tune ..) at least he was honest but it was frustrating.. his playing was so amazing but he kept telling us.. "I put new strings on today just for you my fans"..

  2. #2
    Member Emeritus (A.M.P.) rcarlberg's Avatar
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    In his early shows, before he could afford some good guitars -- and while he was still beating the hell out of his guitars -- Leo Kottke used to tune between almost every song. Sometimes he'd slow down a tune and kind of play the same phrase over and over while adjusting the tuning pegs until it sounded right to him. Luckily he was pretty quick at it. Unfortunately he used to use a lot of nonstandard tunings, so if he played his songs in the wrong order he had to retune. As he became better known he started touring with multiple guitars, tuned to different scales.

  3. #3
    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    I've seen Robyn Hitchcock spend ages repeatedly trying to tune up between songs. Maybe he knew what he was doing, but he sure didn't give that impression.

  4. #4
    Page and Plant in '95(?). Page was horribly out of tune (or out of key, perhaps). Of course, most of the crowd didn't even know it.

    Free tickets though. Plant, surprisingly, was in real good form and carried the show.

  5. #5
    Ten Years After - I Can'T Keep From Crying Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970

    Out of tune purposely,starting from 01:40 -

    Last edited by Modry Effekt; 06-15-2013 at 06:05 PM.

  6. #6
    When I saw Rik Emmett, he was performing in a duo with another guitarist. At one point in the show, the other guitarist leaves the stage and Rik does some of his solo guitar pieces from the Triumph days. When the backup guitarist came back onstage, they started playing the next song, and it was clear they weren't tuned up to each other. Apparently, while he was backstage, the backup guy had retuned his guitar, presumably to an electronic tuner, which put off pitch from Rik. So they stopped the piece they were playing after a few bars, tuned up, and then restarted it.

    I've got a bootleg of Jimi Hendrix where he has an organist sit in on a few songs. The thing is, when the organist came onstage, Jimi and Noel didn't bother tuning to him, so for the entire duration of the part of the set the organist played on, he's just out of tune enough for it to be noticeable.

    As I understand it, if you're playing an open air venue, the weather can affect tuning pretty badlly. You go onstage and the heat causes the wood on the guitars to expand or contract (I forget which), and it causes the guitar to go out of tune. If it starts raining, the change in humidity will cause the guitar to go out of tune. There's a video of ELP playing a stadium show in Japan (Tokyo or Osaka, I forget which) where it started raining during the show, and I think that not only caused Greg Lake's guitar to go out of tune, I think it also caused problems for the Moog (which was difficult to keep in tune to begin with).

    If you're lucky enough to have an air conditioned dressing room, and you tuned up there, then went onstage (indoor or outdoor), the change in temperature can cause the guitar to go out of tune. I think Jake E. Lee said the first time he played onstage with Ozzy, that last one happened, he tuned up backstage, then during the first number of the show, his guitar went out of tune.

    And sometimes, somebody sits in for a song or two who doesn't bother tuning up (as with the above cited Hendrix example). When I met Percy Jones I asked him about playing at NEARfest, and he said it was a disaster, in part because John Goodsall didn't bother tuning to Percy or Marc Wagnon. I think Percy said before he had a chance to even think, John had already counted in the song and they went into it, and he thought "Oh dear".

    The funny thing is, due to the nature of amplified music and the vagaries of room acoustics, often times, if the venue is big enough, the audience won't even notice. I'm sure Mick Jagger has sung more than a few songs off key, the way he runs around onstage, but you typically never hear people who've seen The Stones comment on it.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    I've got a bootleg of Jimi Hendrix where he has an organist sit in on a few songs. The thing is, when the organist came onstage, Jimi and Noel didn't bother tuning to him, so for the entire duration of the part of the set the organist played on, he's just out of tune enough for it to be noticeable.
    Winterland '68 perhaps?

  8. #8
    Re: Hendrix with the out of tune organ
    Quote Originally Posted by ronmac View Post
    Winterland '68 perhaps?
    October 68 to be exact, second night, late show

  9. #9
    That Ten Years After bit is pretty c

  10. #10
    That Ten Years After bit is pretty cool.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by rcarlberg View Post
    In his early shows, before he could afford some good guitars -- and while he was still beating the hell out of his guitars -- Leo Kottke used to tune between almost every song. Sometimes he'd slow down a tune and kind of play the same phrase over and over while adjusting the tuning pegs until it sounded right to him. Luckily he was pretty quick at it. Unfortunately he used to use a lot of nonstandard tunings, so if he played his songs in the wrong order he had to retune. As he became better known he started touring with multiple guitars, tuned to different scales.
    It also gives him something to do while telling his long, hilarious stories. He uses various open tunings, tuned to various chords, not scales.
    I saw Jackson Brown once and he could not get his guitar in tune. Lindley finally tuned it for him. His beautiful songs and vocals made this incident a small matter.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    When I saw Rik Emmett, he was performing in a duo with another guitarist. At one point in the show, the other guitarist leaves the stage and Rik does some of his solo guitar pieces from the Triumph days. When the backup guitarist came back onstage, they started playing the next song, and it was clear they weren't tuned up to each other. Apparently, while he was backstage, the backup guy had retuned his guitar, presumably to an electronic tuner, which put off pitch from Rik. So they stopped the piece they were playing after a few bars, tuned up, and then restarted it.

    I've got a bootleg of Jimi Hendrix where he has an organist sit in on a few songs. The thing is, when the organist came onstage, Jimi and Noel didn't bother tuning to him, so for the entire duration of the part of the set the organist played on, he's just out of tune enough for it to be noticeable.

    As I understand it, if you're playing an open air venue, the weather can affect tuning pretty badlly. You go onstage and the heat causes the wood on the guitars to expand or contract (I forget which), and it causes the guitar to go out of tune. If it starts raining, the change in humidity will cause the guitar to go out of tune. There's a video of ELP playing a stadium show in Japan (Tokyo or Osaka, I forget which) where it started raining during the show, and I think that not only caused Greg Lake's guitar to go out of tune, I think it also caused problems for the Moog (which was difficult to keep in tune to begin with).

    If you're lucky enough to have an air conditioned dressing room, and you tuned up there, then went onstage (indoor or outdoor), the change in temperature can cause the guitar to go out of tune. I think Jake E. Lee said the first time he played onstage with Ozzy, that last one happened, he tuned up backstage, then during the first number of the show, his guitar went out of tune.

    And sometimes, somebody sits in for a song or two who doesn't bother tuning up (as with the above cited Hendrix example). When I met Percy Jones I asked him about playing at NEARfest, and he said it was a disaster, in part because John Goodsall didn't bother tuning to Percy or Marc Wagnon. I think Percy said before he had a chance to even think, John had already counted in the song and they went into it, and he thought "Oh dear".

    The funny thing is, due to the nature of amplified music and the vagaries of room acoustics, often times, if the venue is big enough, the audience won't even notice. I'm sure Mick Jagger has sung more than a few songs off key, the way he runs around onstage, but you typically never hear people who've seen The Stones comment on it.
    As most everyone is aware, Jimi tuned down a half step, so it would sound kind of funky, in a bad way, if an organist sat in and started playing.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by rapidfirerob View Post
    As most everyone is aware, Jimi tuned down a half step, so it would sound kind of funky, in a bad way, if an organist sat in and started playing.
    I don't see what tuning down has to do with the organ being out of tune on the Hendrix recording. Regardless of how Jimi has the guitar tuned, the organist could simply play in whatever key Jimi is. A good professional musician should be able to at least locate the key the rest of the band is playing in at least "fake" his way through it. This was a loose jam session, it's not like Greg Lake suddenly turning around to Keith Emerson and saying "Tonight, I want to play Tarkus in a different key" or whatever.

    I don't think the organist playing in the wrong key is what's happening on the Winterland recording. Instruments can be minutely off pitch, even if you've got them tuned so that when you strum a chord it sounds in tune. You can tune your guitar by ear, but if you check against an electronic tuner, you might find you're slightly sharp or slightly flat. If you play an A above middle C, it might not sound exactly at 440 hertz or whatever. But if your guitar is tuned relative to itself, and the other instruments are tuned to you, it won't matter.

    When you're playing with a piano, organ or other instrument where the musician can't tune to you, you have to tune to it. That's just the way it is. And I think that's what didn't happen on the Winterland recording I'm talking about, ie Jimi and Noel didn't tune to the organ, so when they started playing, you ended up with this slightly off pitch organ. It kinda sounds like a Hammond organ version of a saloon or "honky tonk" piano.

    I remember Rick Wakeman telling me that pipe organ at Radio City Music Hall (which he used for his keyboard cadenza when Yes played there in 2002, a show I was at btw) sounded slightly flat or sharp, I think he said it was quarter step off, which was one of the reasons he couldn't actually play it during any of the band's actual songs, because all the melodic instruments would have had to be tuned to the organ.

    I also remember Frank Zappa saying that when he toured in the early 80s, all the band's tuning devices were calibrated to the vibraphone. Actually, again that's probably because you can't tune a vibraphone (or can you), but also because the vibraphone's pitch doesn't drift, so it set the band's "concert pitch". Frank explained that's why he was able to cut together songs from so many different performances on his "studio" albums without there being any tuning problems.

  14. #14
    Of course you're right. Doh. Our keyboard player has an electric piano which is slightly flat. He never bothers to bring it to 440, so he only uses it without the band.

  15. #15
    The example I can think of is a studio recording; on one side of Clearlight’s Forever Blowing Bubbles, the grand piano that Cyrille Verdeaux is playing is noticeably out of tune!

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  16. #16
    Most of the Fat Possum artists that play Mississippi hill country blues do it with out-of-tune guitars or are out of tune with another guitar in the band. RL Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, etc. Both live and on the studio recordings. That's part of the magic, part of the sound. Wouldn't sound quite as gnarly if everything was perfectly tuned I supposed.
    "Moustache stays right where it's at" - Clutch

  17. #17
    Member No Pride's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    As I understand it, if you're playing an open air venue, the weather can affect tuning pretty badlly. You go onstage and the heat causes the wood on the guitars to expand or contract (I forget which), and it causes the guitar to go out of tune. If it starts raining, the change in humidity will cause the guitar to go out of tune. There's a video of ELP playing a stadium show in Japan (Tokyo or Osaka, I forget which) where it started raining during the show, and I think that not only caused Greg Lake's guitar to go out of tune, I think it also caused problems for the Moog (which was difficult to keep in tune to begin with).

    If you're lucky enough to have an air conditioned dressing room, and you tuned up there, then went onstage (indoor or outdoor), the change in temperature can cause the guitar to go out of tune.
    I play lots of outdoor gigs (especially in the summer) and I deal with that kind of stuff all the time. I often have an air conditioned dressing room or trailer and I take the guitar outside an hour before the show to let it get used to the weather. Then 20 minutes before the show, I adjust the truss rod and tune the guitar a couple of times because it has to get used to the neck adjustment. Intonation isn't the only problem; the action gets lower in humid weather and if I don't go through this routine, sometimes the strings will just be sitting on the neck towards the end of our two hour + shows, and I have trouble bending strings. There are times when I set the action too high on purpose just so it doesn't get too low towards the end of the show. And whenever there's a couple of bars where I don't play, I'm always checking the tuning. It's all a bit of a pain in the ass! At times, I envy the keyboard player, who's digital axe stays in tune and feels the same no matter what.

    As for Hendrix, I'm under the impression that he tuned his guitar to itself; in other words, he didn't use another instrument as a frame of reference and of course, that was before digital tuners were invented. And then Noel tuned to him. I got that impression because on some of the tunes on the first two albums, the pitch is "in the cracks;" it's somewhere inbetween standard tuning and half step down tuning. When I learned all of those tunes, I had to retune my guitar to those aforementioned tracks. So if he didn't tune to a keyboard that would appear later in the set, there was bound to be trouble.

  18. #18
    Member Digital_Man's Avatar
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    I don't know if this is actually true or not but I heard that the Gratefully Dead were often out of tune. They were all probably too high to care anyway.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Digital_Man View Post
    I don't know if this is actually true or not but I heard that the Gratefully Dead were often out of tune. They were all probably too high to care anyway.
    Their vocals ranged from wonderful to cringe-worthy, but regardless, their playing was, based on all the shows I'm listening to in my current discovery that I am, indeed, a Deadhead at 57, just fine. The occasional instrument a tad out of tune but nothing unusual for live, and the performances always outweigh the minor tuning issues. Personally my biggest beef was their having Donna Godchaux in the '70s. Her husband, Keith,was a good keyboardist but she was, well, just plain bad imo.

    I'm currently reading Dennis McNally's terrific Long Strange Trip bio, and while Garcia would have substance issues for his entire, sadly short life, the band, once past the acid era of the '60s and cocaine era of the '70s, got a lot straighter....and Garcia was one of these guys who could just play well no matter what shape he was in (like Lenny Breau). I only say this to balance your comment about them being too high to care....actually, they did care, but they simply weren't strong enough singers to be able to sustain (not unlike Gabriel) themselves every show and especially on a longer tour like Europe '72. But for those nights where the vocals were a little far from "on," their playing more than made up for it. In spades.

    If you want to talk about San Francisco bands, Jefferson Airplane was often way out. And they weren't as collectively strong a group of players, so couldn't get away with it.

    But heck, when I saw Yes in the Close to the Edge and Topographic tours, their vocals were rarely in tune.

    But we need to give bands something of a pass in the late '60s/'70s, as onstage monitoring really varied from place to place, and if you can't hear yourself sing well, then it's hard for many people to sing in tune. Nowadays there's less excuse, since both onstage and in-ear monitoring has essentially removed that excuse - at least for the big bands on the big stages (small clubs are another thing entirely; you're lucky if you get monitors, and separate monitor mixes are an absolute surprise and luxury, most of the time).

    As for instrumental tuning, yes, outdoors is a challenge, but with modern tuners, and care as per GuitarGeek, you should be able to mitigate serious problems most of the time.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Modry Effekt View Post
    Ten Years After - I Can'T Keep From Crying Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970

    Out of tune purposely,starting from 01:40 -

    Actually not purposely out of tune...he was trying to play detuned and retuned lines on his low "E" and, well, didn't always quite make it But it was a most valiant effort!
    But worse than the guitar was when he comes in singing...now that was out of tune!

    ...but it was nice to see them using the two microphones to phase out the near-jet plane level decibels coming from the amplifiers, so that Lee's voice could actually be heard....something, btw, innovated by the Dead's sound folks (might have been at Alembic), based on the bio I'm currently reading. Quite amazed at how much innovation in sound systems, amplification and instruments for which the Dead and surrounding family were responsible.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Digital_Man View Post
    I don't know if this is actually true or not but I heard that the Gratefully Dead were often out of tune. They were all probably too high to care anyway.
    We used to have a running joke in one of my bands about the Dead and tuning up. Not that they were out of tune, but that they spent so much time between songs tuning up. I never saw them live, wasn't a fan, but heard a live simulcast on the radio once and every time they finished a song there was a 5-minute pause while you heard guitars being tuned.
    "Moustache stays right where it's at" - Clutch

  22. #22
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    Hot Rats - Peaches en Regalia - the saxplayers first entrance.
    Always wondered why he didn't retake it.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Garden Dreamer View Post
    We used to have a running joke in one of my bands about the Dead and tuning up. Not that they were out of tune, but that they spent so much time between songs tuning up. I never saw them live, wasn't a fan, but heard a live simulcast on the radio once and every time they finished a song there was a 5-minute pause while you heard guitars being tuned.
    I've never been able to figure out exactly what they were doing between songs, but they weren't tuning up. I've got a fair amount of video footage of the band from the late 80's and 90's, and during those long stretches between songs, you never actually see them touch the machine heads. You just hear them doing a lot of futzing around. Sometimes you hear Jerry or Weir play a snatch of the next song, sometimes you hear that go on for like a minute, like trying to get the rest of the band's attention or something.

    Sometimes you hear mention of "technical problems" onstage (or as Weir put it one night, "It's technical problem time here onstage, which is sort of like Grateful Dead Standard Time"). I seem to recall reading once where one of the band members said that "We're just making sure everything works before we commit ourselves to something lengthy" or whatever, but that doesn't explain doing it after every song or two during the first set of a show.

    And the Dead didn't always stop and futz around after every single song. There were long stretches of virtually every show they did that had them going for as much as 80 or 90 minutes of continuous tuning, with several songs segued together into a continuous suite. This usually occurred during the second set of the show, but sometimes the end of the first set could feature something epic, like the Playin' In The Band/Scarlet Begonias/Playin" suite that ended the first set of the Roosevelt Stadium show that's on Dick's Picks Vol. 31.

    And while the vocalists were sometimes a bit rusty, the band wasn't anymore out of tune than any other rock group typically is. Besides which, technically speaking, all western music is out of tune, thanks to the equal tempered tuning system.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    ...but it was nice to see them using the two microphones to phase out the near-jet plane level decibels coming from the amplifiers, so that Lee's voice could actually be heard....something, btw, innovated by the Dead's sound folks (might have been at Alembic), based on the bio I'm currently reading. Quite amazed at how much innovation in sound systems, amplification and instruments for which the Dead and surrounding family were responsible.
    There was one major drawback to that dual mic system, and you can hear it on every soundboard tape of the Dead from 73-74. You see, the idea is that you've got two microphones wired out of phase. Anything that gets picked up by both mics gets cancelled out. No leakage from the instruments into vocal mics, and no feedback problems. The catch is, the mics have to be placed close enough to each that, although the singer is theoretically only singing into one of them, the second mic is actually also picking up the voice. The result is that thin vocal sound you hear on those live tapes from the above stated era. If you're recording on multi-track you can always add a little bottom end via EQ (or simply overdub a new vocal track after the fact), but on a two track tape, not so much.

    That's probably why the Dead stopped using that system after 74.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    I've never been able to figure out exactly what they were doing between songs, but they weren't tuning up. I've got a fair amount of video footage of the band from the late 80's and 90's, and during those long stretches between songs, you never actually see them touch the machine heads. You just hear them doing a lot of futzing around. Sometimes you hear Jerry or Weir play a snatch of the next song, sometimes you hear that go on for like a minute, like trying to get the rest of the band's attention or something.
    Well, these guys were just jamming, like any other band. They just happened to be on stage with people watching. They certainly never felt like any clock was running.

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