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Thread: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

  1. #51
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    Give it to someone else to tune, preferably someone with perfect pitch. That's the best, easiest, most reliable method. I do this every chance I get...
    I'm not sure this matters much because at any given time there are only three mandolins that are in tune in the entire world and David Grisman owns two of them.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  3. #52
    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Oh, now! It ain't that bad! Or is it?

    I used to go to a monthly jam, and the late, great Stacy Phillips was another regular. Now and then, usually a bit later on after much music and merriment had been made, he'd stop me and say you've got to tune up. He'd listen and give me a thumbs-up if I were still flat, thumbs-down if I were sharp. Never failed, and never failed to impress me.

    My best tuning tale, though, is about the time Eric Weissberg tuned my mandolin - onstage, by ear, in about 20 seconds. I've told it here before, and it's a good one, but if you've seen it before, feel free to scroll by. Here's the full regalia version, which I posted on his In Memoriam thread.

    = = = = = = = == = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    I had the honor of doing a gig with Eric Weissberg once. Back in 1991, my jug band played the Winnipeg Folk Festival. We had the great fortune to open the Friday night concert. Also playing that night were Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. Bumping into those two in the green room, swapping stories while sharing a bottle of whiskey, was a real thrill. So was hanging out with Patty Larkin on the shuttle bus, and teaching her and the other Four Bitchin' Babes the third verse of "These Boots Are Made For Walking," and hearing them bring that out on stage.

    But the high point of the weekend was doing a jug band workshop with The Jug Band on Sunday afternoon. That meant everyone from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band except Kweskin: Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, Bill Keith, and Eric Weissberg as their utility guy. We played a short set, they played a short set, and then we played a few songs all together.

    Now let me back up a bit before going on. My band had shared the bill with Geoff and Fritz a few times whenever their duo came to Connecticut. So we knew each other pretty well. And Geoff doesn't travel with a mandolin, as he only plays it on a couple of songs. So he borrowed my mandolin for their set. He played it on just one song, “Minglewood Blues.”

    When we combined bands for the finale, and I picked up my axe, it was in some weird open tuning. Even the E strings were tuned separately, in a minor third, as I recall. Eric saw the look of consternation on my face and said, “That's Geoff’s Minglewood tuning. Here, let me tune it back for you.” He had it back in correct tuning in no more than 20 seconds, perfect pitch. I've never seen anything like it before or since.

    For years thereafter, whenever I had to tune it in public, my running joke was something to the effect that Eric Weissberg had tuned it so well, it shouldn't need to be tuned again, ever. At some point, I stopped because I got tired of having to explain who Eric Weissberg was. Not everybody knows who that extraordinary multi-talented musician was. But you fine people do.
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  4. #53
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Red Snark, Peterson, Polytune.

    There's three!

    f-d
    ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

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  5. #54
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Snark HZ-1. Have mentioned it here before, but found out about these from fiddler Earl White. Brighter screen. Have given them to all my bandmates in both groups. (Okay, one is a duo so that was easy). Of course, I have a bowl with about 30 tuners in it (TAS?). And while the Korg Sledgehammer Pro is accurate, it has a tough time staying constant on mandolin. At least that's been my experience with the one I own. Maybe it's an issue with this particular one.

    Good nut slots and tuning gears are even more important. While my normal routine has always been to tune up from flat, the A strings can sometimes bind and then slip sharp with that method. A good slot should prevent that. Or at least minimize it.
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  6. #55
    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Yes, thanks for mentioning nut slots. Run into that a few times over the years. It's the kind of thing I tend to put off dealing with, for no good reason. I don't have the little files one is supposed to use to correct it. I just give the offender a quick light once-over with a tiny screwdriver.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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  7. #56
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    I love the fact that we can get a 3 page thread off and running about one of the first things most people learn to do with a mandolin…and I still managed to learn something new

  8. #57
    Registered User Mandobart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    I never thought about this, but I do tune my mando family instruments G to E (or C to E for the 10 stringers). On my custom 10 string Hardanger viola I tune the top 5 strings first (also C to E) before moving to the 5 understrings.

    I also tuned by ear in my orchestra days, A first then E, then D then G. Now I use my snark tuners G to E.

    My 5 fiddles stay in tune on their own pretty darn dependably hanging out in my temperature and humidity controlled music room. The mandos and guitars need periodic adjustment.

    When I replaced the cheapo Chinese tuning machines on my 10 string mandola and mandocello with Grover rotomatics the tuning stayed much more stable.

    I like to keep the tension on the neck balanced when changing strings too. When I change mando or fiddle or arch top guitar strings its one course at a time, but I first detune all strings about 1-1/2 steps flat. The new strings get tuned back up to the 1-1/2 step flat point. When all strings are changed and flat I bring them all up in increments.

    When I change flat top guitar strings they all come off at once, detuning them together in increments. I still replace and tune up flat, then again bring them up in increments together.

  9. #58
    Registered User mandolin breeze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Mandolins are not going to stay in tune for long, period. Use that fact to your advantage. Check often, each string, looking for an offender - you'll find one. Exercise your sense of pitch by bringing the offender(s) into tune with the other string(s) by ear. Guess I'm just suggesting that the tuner is not the first thing to grab. A good exercise is to tune one string with a tuner, say an A, and from there tune the others by ear only at first, then grade yourself with a tuner.

    As far as "tips", I'll throw out a couple....,apologies if previously mentioned

    1) finish the tune going from low pitch to high - tightening the string.

    2) as you get close, I find it useful sometimes to grab the string and give it a light "vibrato", just to slip it in case it's bound on either the nut or saddle slots. I hear a perfectly cut nut or saddle isn't supposed to offer any resistance or at least not enough to cause a string to "catch and pop", but in reality they do. It's the A and E most often in my experience. Just joggling the string(s) slightly or pressing laterally with your pick when you are near pitch seems to put the string in a neutral position and release any off-set tension that might be present.

  10. #59

    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Thanks, Journeybear, esp for the tip about sharpening the G strings on the first pass.

  11. #60

    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    Great stories, Journeybear!

  12. #61

    Default Re: Your favorite mandolin tuning tips?

    These are great tips, Eric. I've been wondering if I might like to replace the tuning gears, but I hadn't considered the nut slots. Most likely I'd just upgrade to the next level of instrument, maybe a Northfield from my Eastman 515, but the 515 is at least getting me in the game, and I had a good luthier work the frets. It mostly plays like a real bluegrass instrument now, but still requires retuning just about every song.

    Re tuners, I've been using a little D'Addario clip-on, but I think it's accuracy wasn't that great. I just grabbed the Sweetwater $10 deal on the Unitune. That one works better & I wish I'd bought a few more. I'm primarily a fiddler and swear by my Peterson Stroboclip HD, on which I created a custom sweetener: G=-3.6/ D=-1.9/ A=440/ E=+1.9. This sweetens most of the open-position bluegrass keys, and I'm adjusting intonation myself in the closed keys. I get compliments on how sweet the fiddle sounds.

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