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Thread: Vai's unusual fretboard

  1. #1
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    Vai's unusual fretboard

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJXKV...eature=related

    Starting at 0:50 Vai ist talking about a fretboard wich is designed by a guy called Paul Guy. (http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/handbo...ng/tuning.html)

    Well my thoughts are? why in the world after 60 years of building electric guitars today someone realizes that after tuining the guitar to an A chord the D Chord is a little bit out of tune.

    Did some of you guys played such a "well tempered JEM" ??? and do you think taht it is an good idea besides it looks a bit stupid?

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Close enough rules my World. I tune up just before a gig and never give it another thought until the next gig. For practice it's got to be way out before I'd tune up.

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheDaco View Post
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJXKV...eature=related

    Starting at 0:50 Vai ist talking about a fretboard wich is designed by a guy called Paul Guy. (http://www.guyguitars.com/eng/handbo...ng/tuning.html)

    Well my thoughts are? why in the world after 60 years of building electric guitars today someone realizes that after tuining the guitar to an A chord the D Chord is a little bit out of tune.

    Did some of you guys played such a "well tempered JEM" ??? and do you think taht it is an good idea besides it looks a bit stupid?
    "Looks stupid" is the least of it.

    That guitar may well play both A and D chords perfectly in tune - but any other shape will be more out of tune.

    Vai is quite right that it's the nature of our musical system ("equal temperament") that means nothing is ever equally perfectly in tune. If you get one chord sounding perfect, the others won't.
    But compensated frets - or any similar fiddling with the fretboard - will only put the guitar more in tune in one key (or maybe 2 or 3 close keys), and further out in other keys. That's fine if you only want to play in that one key, or using the limited number of shapes that sound better. But I reckon most guitarists want to be able to play in as many keys as possible, using any chord shape they want!
    (If you check the site of the manufacturer, it does actually explain that their guitars are designed for specific keys only. They will sell you a set of necks to enable you to play in all keys. Some suckers clearly have a lot more money than sense... good luck to any manufacturer who can capitalise on them. Hey, stupidity exists, we might as well exploit it! )

    One problem faced by rock guitarists (ever since the invention of distortion) is that distortion enhances the "out-of-tuneness" of equal temperament, by beefing up all the overtones we don't normally hear (which produce pitches not quite in line with tempered ones). That's why most rock guitarists resort to power chords instead of triads: the 5ths of chords are very nearly in "pure" tune, while thirds are not. The enhanced overtones of a root note will produce a "virtual" pure major 3rd, which really clashes with the overtones of a fretted major 3rd.

    IOW, compensated necks - at best - have a very narrow application. Guitarists in general - even those with really good ears who notice the subtle out-of-tuneness of equal temperament - compensate as they play. IOW, you can push and pull notes into tune as you play, if you are aware of the problem (and care about it), listen properly and are in control of the technique. The best basis for playing in this way is a standard straight-fret neck. It's not perfect, but it least it gives a level playing field - it favours no one key or chord shape.

  4. #4
    Registered User bluesking's Avatar
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    Thumbs down

    Quote Originally Posted by TheDaco View Post
    and do you think taht it is an good idea besides it looks a bit stupid?
    No, its a terrible idea.

    As Vai himself rightly says, the problem is not with the guitar as an instrument, it is with the temprament used on all modern instruments. If you want to play with other instruments you will be better off staying away from fads like these.

    Then theres the fact that some of the imperfections in temprament may be desireable (for some people at least)?

    Of course, philosophical and asthetic reasons aside, there is a great practical reason to avoid this stupid guitar: String bending. Ever played a guitar which drops in pitch as you bend the string up? Me neither and I don't think I ever will. Not to mention that the behaviour is inconsistent (bending some notes in the same direction could cause lowered pitch, hightened pitch or dramatically heightened pitch.....)
    "Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar"

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    There IS a problem with the design of the guitar as an instrument, though, beyond just the limitations of Equal Temperament, which is an inevitable result of the the varying diameter of the strings.

    The saddle is set at angle rather than perpendicular to the strings (as the frets are) because of this - to essentially slightly lengthen the scale of the lower strings, and shorten the scale of the higher strings - and additionally most saddles are "compensated" to further tweak the length difference between the unwound/wound B/G pair (most acoustics) or G/D pair (most electrics) - but the results are still not perfect.

    I haven't looked at the Vai video, and it sounds like that guitar has necks truly designed to play in specific keys - but certain other efforts at improving the guitar's intonation (compensated nuts, fanned frets etc) are similar in concept to the angled and compensated saddles we all use, and not necessarily bad ideas if they can improve the guitar's ability to play in tune with itself across the strings in all keys and all neck positions - getting it closer to an idealized Equal Temperament instrument, not further away.
    Last edited by walternewton; 08-13-2010 at 01:54 AM.

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  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seventhson View Post
    They're perfectly accurate and honest about the science, to be fair. Here's some important quotes (my emphases):

    "12-Tone Equal Temperament is a compromise which enables us to play all intervals, in every key, with the same relative accuracy. It is an artificial, mathematical division of the octave into twelve equal semitones, which conflicts with the natural tone row - the pure intervals in the overtones of vibrating strings. When two or more strings are played together, each string generates its own overtone series. Since neither the frets, nor the strings, are tuned in pure intervals, the overtones from the individual strings are way out of tune with each other. The beat frequencies which are generated between conflicting overtones are not musical. This is especially evident when playing major third, minor third, sixth and seventh intervals with distortion."

    Not all the overtones are "way" out of tune - and "way" depends on your sensitivity to those "unmusical" sounds anyway. (The worst is 14 cents out, or around a 7th of a half-step.) As they rightly say, the more distortion you use, the more evident these clashes will be - and they are also right about the worst intervals. IOW, don't use distortion and this problem largely disappears. Or - if you use distortion - restrict your chords to power chords (roots, 5ths and inverted 5ths, or 4ths).
    (Which is why this kind of fretboard only gets invented once rock guitar is invented - and once rock guitar is old enough to have people interested enough in these issues to think it worth the invention.)

    "Well Tempered [as opposed to normal equal tempered] tunings are designed to favour different key signatures to different degrees. In the favoured keys, intervals tune closer to the natural tone row than in equal temperament, which improves consonance and reduces intermodulation and beating. The price for this is that consonance in the lesser-used keys is sacrificed a little. The best well-tempered schemes make all keys usable, however, with a good balance of tonal colours."

    The "lesser-used keys"? A jazz musician might well look askance at that phrase - "and what might they be, I wonder?" (To any sensible musician in most genres, all keys need to be equally in tune, even if you don't use them often. You never know when a song might include a passage in, say, Gb major.) That was the whole point of inventing equal temperament in the first place: everybody knew it was an imperfect compromise, but look at the amazing developments in music it allowed! Harmonic development was freed from the shackles of pure intonation and "well" temperaments (which were a half-way house between pure and equal).
    Until, of course, rock music comes along with its distortion and its primitive harmonic content. The former throws ET's compromises into sharp relief, and the latter means total harmonic freedom is kind of superfluous - so, dudes, maybe we can go back to a system of pure intervals, or well temperaments? In rock alone, maybe...

    "We offer two different Well temperaments. Which one you choose depends mostly on which keys you want to favour most."

    Uh-huh. So, if we want to retain our freedom in all keys, we need to buy two guitars, to replace our current one? (And never mind any other guitars we might possess for reasons of their tonal character, playability, etc. We are going to have to put up with the design, pickups, wood, etc, that these guys have chosen for us.) Well, at least we don't need twelve new ones...

    "If you mostly play in "guitar keys" then Thidell Formula 1 is for you. Formula 1 is specifically designed for the guitar. It is optimised for all the standard open and barre chord patterns. Major keys in Formula 1 which sound closer to the natural tone row are: E, F#, G, A, B, C, D. Minor keys which sound closer to the natural tone row are: E, F#, Ab, A, B, Eb."

    OK, rockers, this is the one for you! But note my emphasis. This must be assuming that the only barre chords you will be using are the E and A forms - and possibly the partial G form.
    Think about it: to bring the major 3rd on the G string in the E shape into purer intonation, you need to lower the pitch of that string (because the ET M3 is 14 cents sharp of pure, which is why we leave it out of power chords). That means moving the frets back on that string. Hold it right there. What happens now when we play another barre shape? Say the common A shape? That string now contains the root of the chord. So that note is going to be 14 cents flat, relative to the other strings.
    And hold on again - the interval between 3rd and 2nd string is going to be wider than on a straight-fret guitar (well, on frets 1, 3 and a few others anyway). But in G and A chords (and their barre version), that interval is the one that is too sharp already (by 14 cents)! This neck is going to make that worse! (Perhaps they think the A barre is not a common shape in rock...)

    Similar problems are going to occur with other movable shapes of course, as the intervals between pairs of strings change.
    IOW, such a system will only work if you maintain the same intervals between strings at all times - ie, use the same chord shape all the time. (I haven't tried one of these guitars, but this seems an inescapable logic to me.)

    Another point: look at that 3rd string at 1st fret. That's a significant lowering of the fret. And yet the nut is not compensated. So the distance between G and G#/Ab is significantly less than other half-steps in the area. What makes that half-step special? It can only be the common experience guitarists with plain 3rds have of pushing the string sharp on an E major chord when fretting it there (making the ET major 3rd even worse than it would normally be). So - great! - our open E chords are now going to be perfectly in tune! Of course, rock players never want to play a G-shape Ab chord on that fret, or an F minor chord, or a Bb7 or a Db. And they never want to play tunes or melodies in C minor in open position. And they'd never want to use a capo either, of course...
    (Come on, you know those things are for show-off jazzers and wimpy folk players!)

    [rant to be continued...]

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    [rant part 2]

    Next:

    "If you play a lot of "jazz" chords, in key signatures which brass players tend to favour, Die Wohltemperirte Gitarre is an excellent choice [ooh nice German name, sounds so classic and, like, heavy metal man! can't we have a few umlauts on it too? ]. Major keys in "Wohl" which sound closer to the natural tone row are: F, G, Bb, C, D. Minor keys which sound closer to the natural tone row are: E, F#, Ab, A, B, D"

    OK, thanks. So, no jazz guitarist needs to worry about those times when tunes modulate through what seem to be considered "rock" keys. That would be news to any jazz player I know.

    "The remaining key signatures in both Wohl and Formula 1 all sound harmonically acceptable to the ear, with varying degrees of tonal colour. Nothing sounds dissonant, but interesting, subtle effects are created which add harmonic spice to the mix. This applies to all well-tempered keys to some extent, and is a valuable tool which can add to the emotional feel of the music."

    OK. This kind of "interesting, subtle" harmonic "spice" is presumably a more palatable one than the kind that equal temperament gives us? These guys' "out of tune" is a better quality of "out of tune" than the one we're used to? Again, this may be news to all those for whom the vicissitudes of ET are "harmonically acceptable" through all 12 keys. "If it ain't broke..." Or rather, OK, ET is "broke" (let's all agree on that), and these guys are going to fix it by breaking it in a different way.

    See, the odd way you walk is because your legs got broken and didn't heal quite right. So let us break them again, and re-set them slightly differently. No, they still won't be dead straight (that ain't possible), but we're sure you'll like the new way you're going to walk... yeah, it's just wobbly in a different way, but - trust us! - it's cool wobbly and not dumb wobbly. And oh yeah, if you're going to walk everywhere you went before you'll need this second set of legs... very reasonably priced!
    (You are not supposed to say you're quite happy with the way you walk, actually, and hadn't noticed anything wrong.)

    OK, I'm being sarcastic! As I say, as long as you read the small print there's little to object to in their descriptions. The science is sound. There are obviously statements of personal taste in there (the comments about what's harmonically "acceptable" and "spice"), because they are trying to sell stuff. But it's clearly up to you whether you think the "improvements" (within the narrow range of keys and chord shapes quoted) are worthwhile - and worth the cost - for the kind of music YOU play.
    And in fact, they don't address the issue of chord shapes at all, as far as I can see. Even in common rock keys, you might want to use shapes and positions which those frets are going to render more out of tune than normal - as explained above. And as bluesking says, what happens when you want to bend a string across one of those kinks?
    IOW, you may find these necks inhibit your playing in ways you can't anticipate. Is that worth it for the supposed improvements in intonation?
    (Remember that finger pressure on frets, on any guitar, can put strings out of tune by more than these temperament discrepancies we're talking about. IOW, we can already adjust our intonation - temper our keys - on a standard guitar, by how we hold the strings down. Of course that depends on a high degree of sensitivity - but so does perception of the issues of temperament anyway.

  9. #9
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    As far as barre chords/capo goes....not sure about anyone else but niether my index finger nor my capo are shaped anything like any of those frets. So i guess those differences in fret shapes would be rendered useless to an extent?

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timestorm View Post
    As far as barre chords/capo goes....not sure about anyone else but niether my index finger nor my capo are shaped anything like any of those frets. So i guess those differences in fret shapes would be rendered useless to an extent?
    It's nothing to do with your finger, because it's the fret shape the string is held against that matters.
    (You could hold the strings against the frets with a banana, or... no let's not go there... - makes no difference.)

    The idea of these frets is it changes the interval from string to string - making one string flatter or sharper than a straight fret would, and so (in theory) bringing it more perfectly in tune with the others.
    However, as I say, it seems to me that simple logic dictates that that theory is flawed, unless one sticks to one chord shape all the time (moving up and down the neck to get different chords).

    As far as I know, they fixed their fret positions not by any mathematical principle, but by testing out every note on every fret with accurate tuners - moving that bit of the fret back or forward to get every note as near in tune as possible. And relative - as they say - to the most common chords in the most common keys.
    That method seems fraught with potential error to me. For a start, it depends on how you hold the string to the fret, how much pressure you apply. And it depends on string inharmonicity (the fact that a guitar string is not an ideal mathematical model.
    I presume they were thorough enough to average out those kind of things. But still the issue of the chord shapes - that we need different kinds of intervals between strings, with different kinds of imperfection, not always the same ones - seems to blow the whole thing out of the water.

    Of course a fretless guitar would answer a lot of these questions, offering - in theory - the same total freedom of intonation that violins and cellos have. But then the shape (and angle) of the finger you hold a barre with WOULD make a difference! - because your finger would be the fret, in effect. (That's why fretless guitars haven't caught on - imagine playing an "A" barre and trying to get those fingers exactly parallel... )
    Violins and cellos don't care about this because, of course, they don't play chords. ;_

  11. #11
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    http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/articl...retboard-.html

    OMG...look at the 56 curved fret guitar at the bottom of this page.


    Thanks JonR....I get it now!
    Last edited by Timestorm; 08-15-2010 at 12:38 PM.

  12. #12
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Timestorm View Post
    http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/articl...retboard-.html

    OMG...look at the 56 curved fret guitar at the bottom of this page.
    Yeah that's hilarious. There's that same nonsense about playing in "just intonation", which seems to be a buzz phrase, a selling point. (A bit like the guff about modes in improvisation, maybe?? )
    To play in just intonation means differences a lot smaller than you can achieve just by doubling the number of frets (halving the half-steps). And (as with the above guitars), if it was possible with a fixed fret instrument, it would still be only in a few keys (or maybe only one), not all.

    However - there could well be a lot of mileage in a quarter-tone fretted guitar for other reasons. Eg, Indian music is based on a 22-division octave, which is more or less quarter tones. They still use 7-note scales, much like our diatonic ones, but each note can have quarter-tone variations.
    So a 56-fret guitar could make some amazing music (after a pretty steep learning curve learning how to play it, I guess) - it just won't be "just intonation" music. It could be a whole different type of atonal music; chords like you never heard before.... (Damn I almost want one. Almost.)

    It's worth remembering that the sitar - designed for those Indian 22-tone octaves - has movable frets. Not only that, their big arched shape is designed to allow a lot of note bending. IOW, they make the instrument flexible to begin with. None of this fixation guitarists - and guitar builders - have with fixed frets, and attempting to cure intonation issues by just fixing the frets somewhere else! DUH! WRONG!!!

    Someone design a guitar with frets you can move around like a sitar. And maybe a lot higher so you can bend more. Then I'll start being interested...
    Of course, the very flexibility of sitars means they are enormously harder to learn how to play (and intonate) correctly. Guitarists tend to be lazy - they want their frets fixed so they don't have to think about where they ought to go . (I know I do...)

  13. #13
    Carrots!! All_Ľour_Bass's Avatar
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    ^ You can also scallop the neck.
    And that neck you pictured has nothing to do with "just" tuning and everything to do with teh fact a guitar doesn't quite do 12TET in the first place.
    Hidden Content Originally Posted by Chim_Chim
    Be different.

    Do it for the OATMEAL.

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