The Role of Tuning in Classic Rock


 


A popular myth among players is that accurate tuning only became a possibility a few years ago, and that the old masters such as Jimi Hendrix didn’t really care about tuning. The fact is, most of the top guitarists in the world own and use a strobe tuner, and many have done so since the late 1960s. Back then, recording music was a hard-won privilege, not to be taken lightly, and was to be undertaken with great care.

As the 1970s wore on, more and more time was allotted to making a record. Making an album had taken days (or in some cases hours) in the 1950s and 60s, but in the 1970s, the palette of sonic possibilities had expanded greatly thanks to the explosion in studio technology. Tuning was certainly one of the main considerations in recording an album, and getting instruments in tune for a take was even more important then than it is now. The 2″ tape of yesterday cost a lot more than the bits and bytes of today, and performing an edit often required talent with a razor blade rather than a few keystrokes to correct an otherwise perfect take.

 

In regards to live concerts and tuning, like today, every self-respecting touring band owned a strobe tuner or two—or thirty-three in the case of Pink Floyd!

The 1970s also marked the beginnings of the “Rock Show”, or the first time that rock music was staged as a grand spectacle. Thus, the “rock star” was born.

Massive stages, sumptuous sets and gargantuan light shows became the norm as bands sought to outdo each other in terms of performance, attendance, and box office receipts. Some of those productions surpassed the shows put on today in terms of sheer magnitude.

Concert touring in the 1970s existed to promote record sales, so no holds were barred. Nothing but the best would suffice in order to bring the music to the people.The emphasis was on perfection. It was this attention to detail, quality and originality that granted us the legacy of the music that we enjoy today.

Keith Richards may have only had 5 strings on his guitar, but they were always kept strictly intonated and in tune with a strobe tuner. Such bands as the Rolling Stones and their peers have stayed true to that principal for the last half century.

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ABOVE: Duane Allman using a Strobe Tuner in 1970

Tuning and intonation skills sometimes take a back seat in favor of post- production “corrective measures”, but the difference between natural intonation and the homogenized, unnatural sounding, faux perfection of software tuning fixes is very apparent and very easy to detect.

However, it would be a mistake to think that the demise of the recording industry hierarchy and the overemphasis on compression and auto-tuning that is prevalent in recorded music today means that the standards have changed. There are still plenty of talented and determined artists out there who know the value of powerful dynamics and expressive intonation and how to use them as creative tools. Talented and discerning musicians will always be with us, along with discerning and appreciate audiences who know what to listen for.

StroboPlus HD

StroboPlus HD

So if you’re a solo artist or a musician in a band, think about the role that correct intonation and tuning has taken in your performance up to now. Have you thought about it much? Has tuning just meant lighting up the green lights on your tuner and getting “close enough”? It should mean simply  paying more attention to detail. Your tuning deserves the same care you take about which guitar, pick-ups and  brand of strings you favor etc……and the first step on the road to tuning recovery and polishing up your sound is to get yourself a Peterson Tuner™!