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Thread: When a mandolin tunes itself

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    Registered User Bren's Avatar
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    Default When a mandolin tunes itself

    After reading all the mandolin-tuning threads (No complaint from me about that, it's a big and very common topic - even Chris Thile was fiddling with his A-string in concert last week) I want to bring up something I've often noticed.

    You play a gig, or go to a jam or session, and despite your careful tuning beforehand, it's not quite right, or one of the string pairs sounds a bit off.

    But as you play, along with all the other instruments, it seems to come right without much, or any, further intervention.

    Have you experienced this?
    It seemed to be happening again last night at my gig with a fiddler and accordionist.

    Is it physics or just in my head?
    Bren

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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    If the accordion is very wet-tuned then I guess that could make your mandolin appear to be in tune, at least with the others.

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    Registered User Cheryl Watson's Avatar
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    I don't know much about physics but there may be several factors going on. First, I have noticed that if my instrument's intonation is off, even by a little, a tuner will help get the open strings close to being in tune, but then your mandolin will sound off when fretted. Intonation is vital, but your probably already know that. So, moving on, if the intonation is as spot on as possible, the next thing to consider is that no one is actually perfectly in tune in a jam with variances, and it can all sound terrible if one or more people are considerably out of tune, or compensation can happen if everyone has their instrument very closely in tune. Violin/fiddle is not a fretted instrument, so it can sound out of tune if the player's technique is not perfect. I don't know enough about accordions to compliment but technique is always a factor.

    Also, I find it best to tune the first string in a course with a tuner (I always flatten the string by a bit and tune up because it's a gear thing) and then tune the other string in the course by de-tuning it flat and then tuning it back up to match. You can usually hear when the conflicting, dissonant pitch stops and smooths out. They are then in unison.

    Another thing worth mentioning is that if you watch a top notch pro tune, they also tune in a way that works for them and that particular instrument, matching octaves and harmony notes here and there on the fretboard. This could be a whole other thread.

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    You may be wrongly assuming that the other instruments you’re playing along with are perfectly in tune with each other. I had a feeling that I was out of tune with the session a couple of weeks ago. I checked and it was them and not me.

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    In my experience playing banjo with accordion players, the accordion has the potential to play louder than just about anything. It's like 100 clarinets in a squeeze box.

    If not in the hands of a sensitive player, an accordion could easily cover with volume any kind of tuning malady with just about any acoustic fretted stringed instrument.
    -- Don

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    Registered User John Kelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Bren, never forget to include the alcohol factor! At a pub jam or session I reckon there is a direct lubrication correlation at work - the more lubricant one consumes over the evening the more the instruments seem in tune.
    I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. - Eric Morecambe

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Could be the strings are set into the break-over angle on the bridge.
    I've noticed that if they've been on a bit too long they tend to give in a bit and take on a set at the point they contact the bridge.
    Might be time for a string change so they can go in & out of tune more easily again
    Eoin



    "Forget that anyone is listening to you and always listen to yourself" - Fryderyk Chopin

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    Registered User Bren's Avatar
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Heh.
    well, it seems nobody else experiences this, so maybe it's in my head.

    I noticed it again at a village hall ceilidh gig last night.

    No alcohol was taken by me or any of the band. And after all, it was about 45 minutes' drive each way.

    the accordionist is one I've played with since he was 16 - he's now 47 so that's (counts off fingers, runs out of fingers - erm, 31 years?) and only occasionally felt this phenomenon.

    The fiddler was a ring-in for the gig, but a joy to play with, a complete pro, studied classical violin, played in ceilidh bands, concert groups and other Celtic music setups for 25 years, turned up with all her gear, plugged in and played with great accuracy, tone and control. Not to mention good rhythm, conversation and general joie de vivre.

    the strings have been on for about 3 weeks and I generally get at least 6 weeks, and often much longer, without any loss of performance

    I think maybe it's that my string pairs that are *almost" sweet-tempered vibrate themselves into closer harmony, maybe due to sticking in the nut a bit when first tuning and vibrating free later. And I do sometimes allow for that by tuning them a cent or two under to see what happens before going further. Or maybe my ears are doing the adjusting.
    Bren

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Do you notice this more in the winter, or with longer journeys?
    High humidity, though cozy room?

    I once put my hand on the headstock of a ukulele that had a torsion bar. I did this out of tuner’s/re-tuner’s despair and I rotated the headstock clockwise and then anti-clockwise ( gently) a few times.
    I’m sure it felt more relaxed after that…

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    If the accordion is very wet-tuned then I guess that could make your mandolin appear to be in tune, at least with the others.
    This is quite common.

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by Bren View Post
    careful tuning beforehand...
    What time exactly is "beforehand"? Before driving to the gig/jam/session? Consider the humidity changes on the way - it may be drier in between, making the tuning, e.g. go flat. Then you play, making your sweaty hands humidify the instrument, and it goes back to normal.

    Is it physics or just in my head?
    Much of what I thought to be in my head turned out to be physics after all. I'll say physics.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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    Registered User Tom Haywood's Avatar
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Do you open the case when you arrive at the venue and let the instrument acclimatize for about ten minutes before you check the tuning? That is a common practice among the acoustic old timers in my area due to humidity/temperature differences. I try to tune carefully before leaving home to get the string tension close, but things almost always change by the time the playing starts. Whether the mandolin stays in tune or moves closer or further from good tuning is mostly luck.

    Do the other players do the same? In my experience, whether the mandolin sounds really sweet or horribly out of tune depends heavily on how well tuned the other instruments are. A fiddle or guitar that is slightly out of tune can make the mandolin sound horribly out of tune even if the electronic tuner shows it is well tuned. If everyone else is really well tuned, a mandolin that is slightly out can sound pretty good.

    Physics describes how it happens. Your perceptions tell you when it happens and what you need to do about it.
    Tom

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    You may be wrongly assuming that the other instruments you’re playing along with are perfectly in tune with each other. I had a feeling that I was out of tune with the session a couple of weeks ago. I checked and it was them and not me.
    It's always them for me

    I had a singing partner for years that has now gone on into eternity. Every show we did he would run out to the bathroom 5 minutes before we went on and while he was there I would tune his guitar. The band expected me to and he never knew about it.
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by Simon DS View Post
    If the accordion is very wet-tuned then I guess that could make your mandolin appear to be in tune, at least with the others.
    A group of guys I play with were joined on stage by a friend of a friend that had an electric Kay mandolin that she proceeded to plug in. When we came off stage my friend Larry said "I swore I heard an accordion out there tonight."
    "It's comparable to playing a cheese slicer."
    --M. Stillion

    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"
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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by Bren View Post
    After reading all the mandolin-tuning threads (No complaint from me about that, it's a big and very common topic - even Chris Thile was fiddling with his A-string in concert last week) I want to bring up something I've often noticed.

    You play a gig, or go to a jam or session, and despite your careful tuning beforehand, it's not quite right, or one of the string pairs sounds a bit off.

    But as you play, along with all the other instruments, it seems to come right without much, or any, further intervention.

    Have you experienced this?
    It seemed to be happening again last night at my gig with a fiddler and accordionist.

    Is it physics or just in my head?
    I wish my mandolin would tune itself. I would also like if it could practice scales for me. My guess is that your ears adapt to the slightly off tuning

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGinNJ View Post
    I wish my mandolin would tune itself. I would also like if it could practice scales for me. My guess is that your ears adapt to the slightly off tuning
    Things like that don't happen automatically. It took about 9 years for me to teach my mandolin how to play Gospel music. But different instruments take different amounts of time. A recent banjo I bought only took me 3 years to teach, and it only took my double bass 2 years. I'm still teaching my Dobro, it's a slow learner..
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus many other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [Our recent arrival]

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    Default Re: When a mandolin tunes itself

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Things like that don't happen automatically. It took about 9 years for me to teach my mandolin how to play Gospel music. But different instruments take different amounts of time. A recent banjo I bought only took me 3 years to teach, and it only took my double bass 2 years. I'm still teaching my Dobro, it's a slow learner..
    That seems like a lot of work. I think I'll just go back to trying to learn to play mandolin myself

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