Monday, November 10, 2014

Some Notes on Detuning Electric Guitar

So let's get a few things straight about this video because honestly, yes, I do want to spend time on this today.

  1. The guitar tone this guy is using is totally off for this sort of thing: it's farty as all hell, lots of midrange, not really much going on in the low end, and without enough high-end to make the notes really distinct either. I can only describe it like that and not specifically since Mr. Scallon didn't have any description of the gear he chose to use, not even just his amp settings!
  2. Now, it's not impossible to get good metal tone out of a Stratocaster like what the dude is using, but it's not exactly as easy as getting heavy tones out of any of the other guitars he had sitting around. For example, the EMG-loaded Schechter 8-string he has sitting there parallel to the strat he uses. (Note: not really a fan of EMGs or other actives, but it is gonna sound superficially "heavier" then whatever pickup is loaded in that stratocaster, in all likelihood.)
  3. The fact that he chose to use a six-string even after tuning well below B highlights another problem. Even with heavy strings, six-string guitars are not built to be played in, say, Drop A (AEADF#B), and guitars built for playing in those tunings tend to be, to put it simply, larger. The Statocaster he uses is built to 25+1/2 inch-scale, that is to say, the part of the string that is vibrating is vibrating over 25+1/2 inches. Even guitars that add extra strings for bass-register notes tend to add an extra inch and a half at least so that the string being tuned that low is still taut and has clarity of pitch.  Ibanez makes many of their 7 and 8 string models at 27 inches. Schecther's 8 strings are 28 inches. Ibanez's signature models they make for Meshuggah? 29 inches long. Without that extra space, the string isn't being pulled tight enough for those notes to be clear, or for the pitch of those notes to be compromised when fretted (because pressing the string with the same force as a tighter string will actually bend the string and increase the pitch of the note being played.) Again, using heavier strings, as Scallon does, counteracts this issue somewhat, but not as effectively as simply using guitars built for those extended scale lengths. Specific effects can be achieved by using six string, "average-scale" guitars for low tunings, such as the strange, sludgy-yet-buzzsaw-sharp tone that Thomas Fischer has been getting with an Ibanez Iceman since Celtic Frost's Monotheist, but to make a fair tone comparison between a riff being played in standard tuning and one being played in a lower register, that string tension must be accounted for.
All in all, while I get that this video is intended to be somewhat humorous, these factors combined make this experiment kind of a wash for me, as is the general question of whether down-tuning makes music "heavier."

Thanks for listening to me blab about guitar tone for a bit.

- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2014

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