Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Strobe Tuning

Strobe tuners are extremely accurate pitch measurement devices. While most guitar tuners on the market are accurate to a range of +/- 3 cents, strobe tuners can be accurate to +/- 0.1 cents. Thats 15 times more as accurate!! Though at first these tuners may seem harder to use, once you understand how they work and get used to them, you really can hear a dramatic difference in the way chords ring out. Let’s dive in...

The first stroboscopic (strobe) tuner was produced by Conn back in the 1930’s. Mechanical strobe tuners use spinning translucent disc’s that spin at a given rate of pitch that is set by the user. These Discs’s have a printed circular pattern on them. Behind this disc is a series of lights or LED’s that flash (or strobe) at the same rate as the incoming signal. The difference between the rate of the disc spinning and the rate of the lights flashing create the optical illusion of movement. The more out of tune the incoming signal is compared to the correct pitch, the faster the disc appears to spin. When the disc and the incoming signal are the same, no movement is seen and that’s how you know you are in tune. It's really that simple but ingenious!

These days, strobe tuning is accomplished not only with spinning disc but also with LED and LCD displays. Such examples of this are the Planets Waves Tru-Strobe and SOS tuners.

The SOS Tuner projects two opposing strobe (or rapidly flashing) LED’s onto the guitar string at the exact frequency at which the perfectly tuned string will vibrate. This then gives you a visible indication on the string itself as to whether the string is in tune or not: if the two lights are moving, the string needs to be adjusted to bring it in tune. If there is no movement, the string is properly tuned. Tuning the string simply involves projecting the desired pitch onto the string, plucking the string, and adjusting the string tension until the strobe lights stop moving. What's also great about this tuner is that since you are shine the light right on the string no input signal is needed. you could tune you guitar perfect while standing next to a running 747 (I don't recomend that you try this though!)

The Tru-Strobe Tuner works by displaying the interference between a reference frequency (or pitch) and the instrument’s signal input. Electronics in the tuner detect the pitch of the instruments signal and spins the ring of LED’s at the recognized pitch, “E” for example. The instruments signal then turns the tuner's whole ring of lights on and off as the string vibrates, and the optical interference creates the strobe or spinning effect. When the string's frequency matches the lights' spin rate, the image appears to stand still, indicating the string is perfectly in tune.

No matter which style is used, strobe tuners will take you to the next level of tuning accuracy. This is critical when in the studio, on stage or setting up the intonation of your guitar. Next time you’re at a concert or your local repair shop look around and I’m sure you will find a strobe tuner in use.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Polishing tips from a pro...

Even though guitars are inanimate objects they really do become an extension of us. We choose them carefully and after a while we do form a bond with our instruments. Keeping them playing and looking their best will let us get the most from our guitars. Just because we play hard, that doesn’t mean our instruments have to look like it. Planet Waves offers everything you need to get the most from your instruments and keep them looking great including a fret polishing system, string cleaner, fingerboard conditioners and the three step polishing system. Don’t take our word for it; take it from Slipknot’s Mick Thomson #7:

I’m serious. This is not a sales pitch. This is how it is, and it really is that good:

The three step process of Restore, Protect and Shine is impressive. It’s very similar to detailing an auto finish. Restore has a fine cutting agent that cleans and helps to remove fine scratches. Protect adds Carnauba Wax for amazing gloss and reflection. The finish almost looks wet. Shine adds a little boost to those steps and should be used on its own frequently to keep the finish looking new.

The key to it working is elbow grease (the more you do - the better the results. The only better way would be to use the same products after stripping the guitar bare of hardware and using a random orbital buffer). Don’t simply wipe on and wipe off for the first two steps. The time you spend equals the results you get.

Apply the first step using very small (like 2" diameter) circular rotations. Give it a few minutes to dry to a haze. Don’t do the whole guitar at once. Do sections (I usually do 4). Do the same for step two. ALWAYS use a clean polishing cloth as to not scratch the finish. Any sh*t on the cloth can (and likely WILL) put scratches in your finish. Use a separate cloth to apply and remove and use different clean parts of the cloth during the process (i usually end up using 4 sections of any cloth).

After using Restore and Protect you can either stop there, or add a little Shine to another polishing cloth, wipe gently and buff. From there you can just use Shine as needed (perfect for day to day polishing). After a while (everyone beats sh*t up at a different rate) you can start the process over and make your guitar "new" again. It really does take the appearance of years off a guitar.

I use these on everything I own from an old $300 Kramer to a $10K Les Paul. I’ve found nothing better.

-Mick Thomson

There you have it, from a pro who is putting Planet Waves Instrument Care products to the test nightly on the world’s biggest stages. When it comes to guitars, he’s got ‘em all & doesn’t cut corners when taking care of them. You shouldn’t either!