Wednesday, January 11, 2006

While My Guitar Tunelessly Weeps

Automatically-tuned guitars?! What will they think of next? Digital cameras? Wireless phones?

Seriously, why would anyone want to use a computer to tune an instrument?

For one very good reason: it spares the guitarist the embarassment of playing an off-tune instrument. Unless you are a guitarist in a really avant band, in which case you are supposed to play offtune.

What can I say, there's the romantic/Luddite in me that still cringes at the mere mention of the word "synthesizer", let alone "computer-controlled-automatic-tuner". Why must we bring technology into every aspect of music-making?

Now look 'ere (that's my impression of a Luddite guitarist), guitars are supposed to go out of tune. In the middle of a song. Guitarists are supposed to spend at least 20 minutes tuning while the crowd trickles into the venue. They tune up, they hammer out a few riffs that everyone knows, they suck that cigarette dangling from the corner of their lips and that's how it's done. It's tradition, man. Don't mess with that!

It's also how guitarists have built their mystique. Yes, tuning up is how they impress the girls. "Look at me, I'm tuning a horrendously complex 6-string instrument and that's why I am so damn cool" is the message conveyed by ALL guitarists who tune their instruments while gazing vacantly into the dark abyss. You've seen the look. It's the sensitive-complex-pained hero look. It doesn't work with drummers, naturally. It also doesn't work for keyboard players (they have always had them damn automatic tuners!) and bassists...well, they only got 4 strings to difficult could that be? :)

Come on. Would Pandit Ravi Shankar buy an automatic tuner? And Ustad Ali Akbar Khan? What about Robert Johnson? (I think Jimi would have used it...but he would have also inflicted some serious damage to the unit)

Tuning an instrument "automatically" with one's hands and ears is part of the job description, isn't it? I really don't care if a rhythm guitarist is slightly off-tune, or if the lead guitarist needs 4 guitars for a song because he's written the song in 4 different tunings. It's how its supposed to be. So keep it that way.

Transperformance's website has the juice, and Cnet has the news.


kundalini said...

"tuning up is how they impress the girls"...hahahaha. it dont impress me much :).

auto tuners were made for us less gifted, mere mortal types. i have absolutely nothing against them.

(nice blog)

Intern said...

Yeah like F-1 will always have cars with gears, but then I need my power steering....

km said...

@Kundalini: come now, I've yet to see a woman who can resist the fatal attraction of a large ape, a gunslinger and a guitarist :))

@intern: Didn't think of it that way, but the auto-tuner is a bit like power maybe it means there will be less musical accidents on the stage!


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