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Thread: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

  1. #26
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    From FLATROCKHILL - " I don't remember many of the songs from that album ...". IMHO,there weren't many really memorable songs on it. The whole recording seemed 'empty' & i don't just mean the acoustics. For me it was Earl,Lester & the Boys ''going through the motions'' - that's why i said i ''used to own it'',i gave it away. The LP ''Folk Songs Of Our Land'' went the same way. Very uninspired playing. At the time,they were heading down the road that ultimately led to them splitting up - purely my personal opinion,
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Quote Originally Posted by bobrem View Post
    "Some musicians have absolute pitch recall, usually based upon the tuning of the instrument, often a home piano, with which they grew up." - Dr. Lynn Cavanagh, music professor, University of Regina
    It can be learned. I would never claim to have perfect pitch but when I was taking upright bass lessons the first thing my teach would have me do was try and sing an F. Then he would play it on the piano to check me. After six months I nailed pretty much every time. It is more pitch memory than perfect pitch.

  4. #28
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlieshafer View Post
    My favorite "Curly" moment is in a Stanley Brothers live recording of Rabbit In A Log. Curly takes a solo, intentionally muffs it, so one of the Stanley's say "Curly, play it again, and play it right this time.." The crowd breaks up laughing, and Curly plays it correctly.

    That, of course, was Curly Lambert. Not sure he flubbed that note intentionally.

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...-Curly-lambert

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  6. #29
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    I wonder how many musicians would now adopt the nickname "Curly," after the widespread popularity of the Three Stooges?
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Maybe ALL of the ones that are bald...

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  9. #31
    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlieshafer View Post
    Some old time source recordings are such a mess you don't know what the tuning was. Is it tuning-by-feel? Or an old recording that's got the speed slightly messed up? Or both?
    Well, a lot of those old recordings were intentionally sped up or down to taste...
    "Speed it up a little--that sounds good"...etc.
    I think it happened a lot in some of the seminal bluegrass recordings to give a tune a "lift"...

    I know it happened in pop music...
    The Beatle's "When I'm 64" comes to mind...from Wiki:

    "The song is in the key of D-flat major. Recorded in C major, the master take was sped up to raise the key by one semitone at the insistence of McCartney. Martin remembers that McCartney suggested this change to make his voice sound younger.
    McCartney says, "I wanted to appear younger, but that was just to make it more rooty-tooty; just lift the key because it was starting to sound turgid."

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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Plus a lot of the old recordings were made on portable recording equipment powered by not entirely reliable electricity supplies. Controversy continues re what speed Robert Johnson's recordings should be remastered at to accurately represent his sound, for example. Same questions apply to other artists of the period.

  11. #33
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Also, no one had an electronic tuner. Bands would tune to what "sounds right," or to any fixed-pitch instrument that was included. My historical-music group used to use a little Army-issue pump organ, the folding type that chaplains would take to the field for services. It was a quarter-tone sharp, and we tuned to it, since we had no choice.

    Pitch pipes and tuning forks were all musicians had back then -- if they had those. We don't realize how good we've got it, when we can get a $10 gizmo that puts everyone at A=440. I remember watching Mike Seeger tune his Autoharp to the "weighted average" of several harmonicas, getting one note off one harmonica, the next note off another. That would be about 1963, if memory serves.
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  12. #34
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    We don't realize how good we've got it, when we can get a $10 gizmo that puts everyone at A=440.
    I'm pretty sure those $10 gizmos killed everything cool that was The Blues...

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  14. #35
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    In getting “as close as we can to channeling these guys,” Douglas said the Earls pay homage to Flatt and Scruggs not just with the clothes, the instrumentation and the sound, but also the pitch. Standard tuning, as we know, is based on A = 440 Hz. But Douglas said the Earls tune to A = 448 Hz (which explains why you may be driving yourself mad attempting to play along).

    Yup, that explains it. I knew they were tuning to something other than A440, but couldn't quite get it. Thanks!

  15. #36
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Quote Originally Posted by Spruce View Post
    I'm pretty sure those $10 gizmos killed everything cool that was The Blues...
    I have to agree, and not just for blues. With everyone tuning every individual string to whatever the tuner says is correct, it put a big damper on the old skill of balancing the instrument's tuning by ear. Some people still do it, of course. But not to the degree that it was formerly done.

    I think a lot of the character we hear in older recordings has to do with the fact that each group of musicians had to tune by ear to a single reference note (or multiple notes from a pitch pipe), and then fine-tune to match each other to bring everything into a sense of balance that sounded right to them. And since each group of musicians is different and unique, they all managed to find different ways to balance their sound. This gave their band's music a slightly different color, and it was unique to their sound. I don't know if I'm explaining it very well, but I think there's a definite "feel" to a band's group-level tuning which gives their music a uniqueness. In many cases, some people were definitely out of tune, but it was part of their sound.

    And much of that is lost in today's world where musicians blindly tune to an electronic gizmo. It makes the music more generic, or sanitized to my ear. About the only thing I see people doing nowadays to deviate from the electronic tuner is for guitar players to sweeten the B string.

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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Tobin it's not all dead yet. In my band the banjo player ( who would of thunk it) and I will tell the bass player or the guitar player when we think it's out. I've told the guitar player his top string is sharp and he'll tell me it's dead on by the tuner. The banjo player will say let me hear then that string is sharp. When electronic tuners first got popular people would tune to the tuner then correct as needed. I still do, the tuner is the starting point not the final say.

  17. #38
    wood butcher Spruce's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I still do, the tuner is the starting point not the final say.
    I kinda enjoy stealing the banjo player's tuner for a few seconds and re-calibrating it to 446 just before leaving a 4 a.m. jam...
    "How long did that jam go on after I left?"

  18. #39
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    I'm assuming none of you Luddite anti-tuner types, play Autoharp or hammered dulcimer. As an Autoharp player, I'd be dead in the water without electronic tuning. Before chromatic tuners, I went in search of a (hopefully, tuned) piano so I could put my instrument in tune. Obviously, such access wasn't always available. Chromatic pitch pipes were a pretty poor substitute, especially since a mouth-blown reed doesn't necessarily hold a steady pitch; I've "bent" enough harmonica notes to know that.

    Are electronic tuners perfect, unchallengeable, the absolute Last Word? Of course not. But to maintain that they somehow detract from the musicality, or stylistic uniqueness, or historical traditional legacy of certain styles of music, seems a bit of a stretch to me.

    Besides, Robin Williams, of Robin & Linda, said the electronic tuner saved their marriage, reducing the endless bickering over who was or wasn't in tune. Sounds like a plus to me.
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  20. #40
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Allenhopkins I for one was not blasting electronic tuners.I am old enough to remember playing music before them. Everbody was in a different tuning and they all thought they were " in standard". I sure don't long for the good ole days in that respect, but I have little patience with someone that swears he can't be out of tune because his tuner said he was in tune. Sorta like the salesman says he can't do something because " the computer won't let him."

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  22. #41

    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    [QUOTE=dhergert;1557732]There's a lot of discussion about this among bluegrass banjo forums too. Debate really. I don't think anyone knows for sure how it started, be it intentional or accidental, due to technology of the times, or whether for instrument playability, music quality, or for uniqueness and preservation of style. All the major players who originated this kind of tuning have passed by now, and even when they were alive there were sometimes different answers about why it was done.

    From a standard mandolin tuning standpoint, a lot of mandolins have enough trouble just keeping an unbroken E string at 440 pitch, going up a full step is just asking for trouble with them. Plus the added pressure on the top, the neck and the joint... I wouldn't be anxious to do this regularly.

    I guess these are my personal feelings about it... From a jamming aspect, having all tuners set to 440 has literally turned around the jamming environment... I wouldn't want to change that. From a band aspect, there are lots of more important things to worry about than getting everyone tuned up a step; we usually select keys for the singers anyway. From a maintenance aspect, almost all instruments and strings are built and setup from the factory for standard 440 tuning, and most older instruments in particular survive better at that.

    But would I tune up a step in order to play with other players? Maybe. It depends on the players and on what instrument I'm playing. Ultimately, I wouldn't stay at that high tuning for long, though.[/QUOTE
    ...who is talking of tuning up a whole "step",...that would be unheard of !,...we are speaking of up-tuning only a HALF step !...duh !

  23. #42

    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    ...it is common knowledge that F & S tuned a half-step above standard on many of their recordings, why is this fact causing so much difficulty ? The banjo and guitar can adjust to this simply by using a capo !,...the bassist should be able to convert easily without re-tuning !,...perhaps, even, the fiddle ?...I am puzzled by all this talk about deliberately tuning to a pitch OTHER than 440 !,...and somewhat hesitant to believe it ?

  24. #43
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    My Dad, who is gone now, would pick up an instrument in a store or where ever and declare it low or high, if allowed to tune it he would put it to what he called “standard” you could pick up one of his instrument and they would be together. I know people say perfect pitch is a myth , that it’s really relative pitch , which I think is learned, but perfect pitch is a gift that some have. So while I certainly can’t keep my instrument consistent without s tuner or fork, a can believe Flatt could

  25. #44
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuning to Flatt and Scruggs

    Fascinating discussion.

    One of the Monroe biographies - I think Smith - mentions that the bluegrass boys would all tune to concert pitch at the beginning of a tour and then tune by ear. By the end of the tour, they’d be in ‘mosquito’ frequency. So I wonder if that had something to do with it. (Acknowledging Earl said he liked to tune high).
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