Time To Get In Tune

Guitarists, how many hours have you lost while recording as you tuned your guitar for the umpteenth time? This month’s theme is tuning, so let’s look at three very different ways to get in tune in the studio.
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Guitarists, how many hours have you lost while recording as you tuned your guitar for the umpteenth time? This month’s theme is tuning, so let’s look at three very different ways to get in tune in the studio.

Software Tuners

(free to $79.99; www.strobosoft.com)

A lot of programs include tuners, such as Sonar 7’s guitar tuner, the tuner in Line 6’s Gearbox software, and the tuners in guitar amp simulators from IK Multimedia, Native Instruments, and Waves. For many situations, one of these is all you need as they’ll let you get your guitar tuned in short order. Some instruments, like Native Instruments’ Kontakt, even have “pitch pipe” functions. While intended in this case to fine-tune samples, it works for tuning guitar and bass as well.

But if you want the ultimate software tuner, your best bet is Peterson’s cross-platform StroboSoft, a virtualized version of a typical Peterson strobe tuner (there was a full StroboSoft review in the 01/07 EQ). The Standard version ($49.99) offers chromatic tuning, while the Deluxe version ($79.99) adds an outstanding instrument tuning mode. There are multiple presets for “sweetening” the tuning in different ways (including a preset for Buzz Feiten tuning guitars), as well as tunings for 7-string guitars, 5-string bass, dobro, violin, open tunings, alternate tunings, cello, and more—and you can create custom presets. Accuracy is within 0.1 cent, and there’s a noise filter in case you’re tuning an instrument through a mic instead of a direct connection. As a bonus, it’s very easy to adjust intonation, and the program works at sample rates up to 96kHz.

Planet Waves Full-Function Tuner and Metronome

($99.99, www.planetwaves.com)

This is my favorite “traditional” tuner for the studio. It offers strobe and sweep (moving LEDs) tuning with a big, readable display, and a “virtual pitch pipe” that emits a tone (at decent volume levels, even). I/O consists of 1/4" input and output jacks, as well as a built-in condenser mic. It also has a headphone out jack, and a jack for a 6V AC adapter (not included).

You can set any pitch reference from 415 to 466Hz, but there’s also a Copy Pitch function for when you’re playing along with an instrument that’s in tune with itself, but not set to concert pitch. Play a note on the instrument, and recalibrate the tuner to that pitch.

The unit also includes a metronome with 22 beats-per-measure options, from the usual 1–9, to combination patterns; and, there’s a tap tempo option—very convenient when you have a loop (or are doing a cover song) and need to know the original tempo.

But what clinches the “studio” aspect for me are two timer functions: a 99-minute countdown timer which upon timing out, flashes the display and causes the tuner to beep (this can happen in the background while using the metronome), and a minutes/seconds stopwatch (up to 99 minutes), which I use a lot to get timings on songs. As a tuner, this unit definitely does the job; but what really makes it studio-worthy are the metronome and timer functions.

Gibson Robot Guitar

($2,495, www.gibson.com)

A guitar review in a recording magazine? Well, this Les Paul with a built-in Tronical automatic tuning system is a real time-saver in the studio. The technology uses a servo motor for each tuning head; it compares the string pitch to a built-in reference, and automatically adjusts the tuning pegs until the pitch is correct. The tuning process is simple—you pull up on a knob, strum the strings, then watch six tuning pegs rotate until the strings are in tune.

Even if you have a great ear and a tuner, you can tune only one string at a time but the Robot Guitar tunes all six simultaneously. I’ve found this particularly handy when recording licks for sample CDs, as the pitch has to be perfect. I normally tune after every take; the Robot Guitar sure simplifies the process.

Furthermore, it can store six different alternate tunings. And, two little-known features are that you can set an arbitrary reference, then have the guitar tune to that (for example, if you need to tune an eighth-step low in order to match a piano that’s slightly flat), as well as do a “stretch” kind of tuning—if you like to tune your G string slightly sharp, just tell the Robot Guitar that’s how you want your G tuned.

I thought the Robot Guitar was overkill at first, but have found it’s a real time-saver during intense recording sessions where every second counts.