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  • Tuning down

    I've been experimenting with tuning down a whole tone, using medium strings and using a capo to bring the guitar back to standard tuning.

    Tone-wise I'm very happy with this system, and I also like the looser feel of the strings. The problem is that my intonation now seems way off. I have to retune the guitar every time I move the capo, and the adjustments are not minor.

    Is this just the price one pays for tuning down or might something be wrong?
    Jersey Jack

    Gibson J45 & Hummingbird
    Martin 000-28
    Deering Sierra Banjo

    "If you don’t like Springsteen that means you don’t like Woody Guthrie, which means you don’t like songs." Justin Townes Earle

  • #2
    Yeah, when you're not using the guitar for what it's designed for, it's not going to perform well. It also makes a terrible canoe paddle.
    Jukejoint Handmedowns (my band)

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    • #3
      I'm not sure what CM is trying to say, but there are several things at work here.

      First, if you go to mediums and tune down one semitone (to D#) you will have almost exactly the same tension as lights at concert (163 vs 168). If you tune the mediums down to D you will have about 150 pounds so they will feel easier to fret. You can get the same results with lights at D#.

      Intonation is a function of several factors including vibrating length of the string and the diameter (of the core wire for wound strings). You are shortening the vibrating length (really, the scale length with the capo) and you are going to fatter strings - both will case them to go sharper when fretted. You also will be playing up the neck farther where the action is higher so you will be stretching the string even more.

      The last factor is that most capos "fret" the strings much harder than you do with your fingers, they really stretch those puppies. Stretching the string is what makes it sharpen so many people report that they have to retune when they put a capo on. Some capos seem to sharpen more than others, since I rarely use one I can't comment here.

      The last question is why do you down tune only to put the capo on? If it is only to get lower tension, why not drop a string gauge and not use the capo? Or down tune one semitone and capo at one instead of 2. If you want the other advantages of a capo (including shorter reaches) they you may have to deal with retuning when you put it on.

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      • #4
        Yes. Down tuned guitars are fun. I keep 3 guitars permanently in standard D: one steel string, one classical and my 12 string. I generally play them all in that tuning without using a capo. I often do so when playing with friends because the different chord and note fingerings adds some nice "colour" to whatever we are playing. For example, if a friend is playing a standard tuned guitar in C, I will play D type chords on my down-tuned guitars.

        I suspect that the problems you are having with intonation are due, like Freeman says, to the capo. You really should retune if you use a capo - I sometimes use a capo at the 2nd fret on my 12 string to bring it to standard E and I always adjust the tuning,
        Howard

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        • #5
          Interesting...I thought it was a common practice to tune down and then capo back to standard tuning. I was under the impression that people did this because of the somewhat different tone. I've seen several posts that advocate this practice for relieving neck tension on 12-strings.

          But if there's no difference between tuning down and using lighter strings, I may as well go back to lighter strings.
          Jersey Jack

          Gibson J45 & Hummingbird
          Martin 000-28
          Deering Sierra Banjo

          "If you don’t like Springsteen that means you don’t like Woody Guthrie, which means you don’t like songs." Justin Townes Earle

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          • #6
            Interesting...I thought it was a common practice to tune down and then capo back to standard tuning. I was under the impression that people did this because of the somewhat different tone. I've seen several posts that advocate this practice for relieving neck tension on 12-strings.

            But if there's no difference between tuning down and using lighter strings, I may as well go back to lighter strings.


            Jack, there are two reasons to tune down. The first is by staying with the same guage string, you can reduce the tension - that is common with twelve strings. Putting a capo on brings you back into "standard" but with a lower tension.

            The second is to get a different sound - down tuned guitars without the capo have much deeper bass and on a 12 string it helps kill some of the jangle. Listen to Leo Kottke - he is down at least 3 semi tones and his guitars just growl. If you are going to do that and you want to maintain stock tension then you have to increase the string gauge. You need a certain amount of tension to drive the top - too little and the strings are really floppy.

            It is interesting that lights at concert, mediums at D# and "heavies" at D have almost exactly the same tension. For most people who are used to lights, using medius at D as you are doing is an acceptable compromise.

            Lots of people (like me) tune down regularly and keep the capo off. If I have to play with something in concert pitch I can throw one on, but then I start getting all the issues that you are describing. Again, this is pretty common with 12 string players, but remember that very few people play high enough on a 12 to get into their intonation problems. Simple fact is that by putting a capo on you are shortening the scale and that means the intonation will be worse.

            I like this chart for a quick reference on string gauges and tensions, for more details you can go to D'Addario's web site and get their tension pdf.

            http://theunofficialmartinguitarforum.yuku.com/topic/5339/String-Tension

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            • #7
              Currently using mediums and tuned down to D with perfect intonation (as has always been the case) on my Yamaha.

              My action was fairly low to begin with and adjusted to next to no relief.

              Using a Dunlop capo.
              "Plunk your Magic Twanger, Froggy". Andy Devine

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              • #8
                Jack,

                Put the capo as close to the upper fret, the one closest to the body, as you can and parallel to it. Reduces the effect of the pressure on the strings, think lever,and it also restricts the downward movement of the string, which increases tension. Also use a capo that has adjustable tension, such as a Shubb, Paige or some such and set it so it just does the job. I'm not saying the retuning and intonation issues will go away, but I think you will find them pleasantly reduced.

                Best of the season to you and good luck.

                Clif

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                • #9
                  I've got a couple of guitars with 14/68 string sets, tuned to D std.
                  I know how to transpose from one key to another, so don't need a capo.
                  don;t always remember this so...best to all!
                  education...how ya gonna know what to do...'less ya know what to do
                  people will not always believe what you say
                  but they have no choice but to believe what you do
                  studied as a science...practiced as an art

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                  archtop #1 mahogany/maccasar ebony
                  archtop #2 maple/brazilian ebony
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                  • #10
                    hi Jack, what ever works for you is ok, live dangerous I say

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