downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

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John Sonksen
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downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

Hi folks, in a bit of a pickle over my latest guitar. I built it for a friend who wanted to downtune it to C standard tuning, that is C F B E G# C, and it's not staying in tune. I used a heavier gauge string set but I may have to go heavier. Right now I'm using a DR set that goes 11, 15, 19, 32, 42, 54. It's got a 25" scale length and the nut was filed to accept the bigger strings. I used Planet Waves locking tuners with a resomax tailpiece and a tusq nut. He also wanted it to have as low an action as possible, so I managed to get it quite low without buzzing which was a PITA, with the strings being a bit floppy.

So I had problems with getting it tuned and holding, and intonation was tricky. From what I've read this can be a problem with such loose tunings. I'm going to try some heavier gauge strings but other than that and dropping the pickups a bit I don't know what else to try. It wasn't something that he wanted up front when I started the build and he didn't want a baritone so this might just be an issue that isn't easily remedied. He's not a gigging musician and he understands that it's got a few things he asked for that aren't ideal for stability, but I want to get it working right for him. So if anyone has any suggestions as to what I could do to gain some stability, I'd really appreciate it.

David King
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by David King »

John,

Have you tried yanking on the strings to detune them a few times to see if that helps? Do you have no more than a 1/2 turn around the capstans? DR makes a DDT13 set for just this purpose so those ought to be your next experiment. I'd be tempted to try a regular bone nut at some point. You may have to resort to a locking nut if nothing else works.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

David King wrote:John,

Have you tried yanking on the strings to detune them a few times to see if that helps? Do you have no more than a 1/2 turn around the capstans? DR makes a DDT13 set for just this purpose so those ought to be your next experiment. I'd be tempted to try a regular bone nut at some point. You may have to resort to a locking nut if nothing else works.
I think I'm going to try a GHS set as I've sort of soured on DR's and a recent conversation I had with David Collins on the OLF sort of confirmed that feeling. It's a specific downtune set so that will be the first try. When I wound the strings I tuned and detuned several times before bringing it up to pitch, and I did wrap the string over the top of the tuner capstan out of habit. Should I not do that with locking tuners?

David said that when downtuning you start running into all kinds of problems with tuning stability, intonation, action, buzz, well everything. He said he's gotten pretty good at doing downtune setups for people but they always come with compromises so managing expectations comes into play. I've never dropped a guitar so far so this is brand new territory for me.

What advantage might bone provide over tusq? I do have some bone here and if I go too far changing the string gauge I might have to make a new nut anyways.

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Hans Bezemer
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Hans Bezemer »

Theoretical speaking, for every semitone you tune down you have to multiply the diameter of a string with 2^(1/12) to get the same tension.
In this case that means that your string diameter has to be multiplied with 2^(4/12) = 1.260, thus adding 26%.
In practice the lower the string is tuned the more tension you need.

You could use a set of strings for a baritone guitar, for instance this one.
Baritone guitar have a longer neck but are also tuned lower (b or a). I might need to ream the hole of the tuner for the low c.

I would love to see a picture of the guitar by the way.

Edit: I forgot to mention that when I started experimentating with different tunings a couple of yours ago, I tried to tune my 25" electric in fifths starting with a low c. For that purpose I used a baritone low-b string (I can't remember the exact gauge) and that worked out well.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

Thanks for that formula, this will help for sure.

Here's some pics Hans: http://www.mimf.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=3316

Jason Rodgers
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Yep, bust out the cables. I've been playing standard tuning and drop-D on 12 and 13 sets for the last 20 years or so, and even that low A on my 7-string feels looser than I'm accustomed to (though there may be some effect that the wider excursion brings). And it's a .065 on a 27" scale!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

it's worth a shot Jason, couldn't hurt at this point.

I'm wondering too what my responsibility is towards this situation since it really seems like what he wanted falls well outside the standard operating range of the instrument. It's my fault for not knowing or understanding all of these pitfalls up front I guess but also at the onset of the build I wasn't building a baritone, just a normal guitar so I didn't really look into it. I want to help him make it work but I'm reluctant to accept full responsibility for these problems as it sounds like they are very common when downtuning this low and happen regardless of the maker or build quality.

Jason Rodgers
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Jason Rodgers »

If you don't mind burning through a couple sets of strings, start with 13s, try em out, and if that's too much metal under his fingers, back off to 12s. About 10 years back, I put 13s on a cheap Korean Strat clone and tried tuning it like a baritone, a 4th down, and the tension felt ok, but intonation was funky.

Can he handle tuning up a step? Is he in a band that plays in that tuning, or likes to play tunes from bands that tune that low? Maybe you can sell him on this being his mid-tuned guitar, and you'll build him another with a 26" or 27" scale for the low tuning!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

Jason Rodgers wrote:If you don't mind burning through a couple sets of strings, start with 13s, try em out, and if that's too much metal under his fingers, back off to 12s. About 10 years back, I put 13s on a cheap Korean Strat clone and tried tuning it like a baritone, a 4th down, and the tension felt ok, but intonation was funky.

Can he handle tuning up a step? Is he in a band that plays in that tuning, or likes to play tunes from bands that tune that low? Maybe you can sell him on this being his mid-tuned guitar, and you'll build him another with a 26" or 27" scale for the low tuning!

He doesn't play in a band but he is into doom metal so I guess a lot of those guys are downtuned. I actually suggested that if the big strings don't work we try going with a more traditional string gauge and don't drop down as much, then another guitar that I'm making for him can get a baritone scale length since I haven't done any work on the neck yet, and haven't located a bridge on the body. It seems like a reasonable solution to me at least.

Jason Rodgers
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Jason Rodgers »

I don't know about "Doom" metal, but the band Periphery does regularly tune down a whole step and then drops the low D to C:. ie, drop-D tuned down. They play Ibanez, Music Man, Mayones, and Jackson guitars, which would be standard 25-1/2" scales. I found a quote saying they use D'Addario EXL117s, which are medium top, extra-heavy bottom, 11-56.

Looking around a little more at heavy strings, I see D'Addario also has a baritone light 13-62 set, EXL158, which they describe: " While optimally designed for today's modern, shorter scale electric baritone guitars, EXL158's are also an excellent solution for deep, down-tuning on most standard electric guitars."

But I think an extra inch on the scale length of the next doom axe could tighten it all up, and help with tuning and intonation, too.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

Jason Rodgers wrote:I don't know about "Doom" metal, but the band Periphery does regularly tune down a whole step and then drops the low D to C:. ie, drop-D tuned down. They play Ibanez, Music Man, Mayones, and Jackson guitars, which would be standard 25-1/2" scales. I found a quote saying they use D'Addario EXL117s, which are medium top, extra-heavy bottom, 11-56.

Looking around a little more at heavy strings, I see D'Addario also has a baritone light 13-62 set, EXL158, which they describe: " While optimally designed for today's modern, shorter scale electric baritone guitars, EXL158's are also an excellent solution for deep, down-tuning on most standard electric guitars."

But I think an extra inch on the scale length of the next doom axe could tighten it all up, and help with tuning and intonation, too.

Thanks Jason, I might start there

Art Davila
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Art Davila »

Misha Mansoor who plays guitar in the progressive metal band Periphery,
Plays 8 and 7 string instruments also, so that may be the way he gets extra low end.
I doubt he is using standard length 6 strings for that extreme low end, onstage with the tuning stability issues, when he has all the 7 and 8 string guitars use.

As for the responsibility, I don't see any reason for you to accept responsibility for him being able to drop tune like that when you did not know that was what he wanted at the start of the project.
If it works ans stays in tune with 9's thru 11's I would say you made the guitar correctly for normal use, and anything beyond that should have been discussed before you started cutting wood.
I have a lot of experience on how "not" to do things.

Gordon Bellerose
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Gordon Bellerose »

I believe that the string thickness theory that Hans mentions above, is the correct way to go.
I recently set a 25 inch scale guitar up to play detuned to C. I ended up with a set of 12 - 56 before it played decently.
An even heavier set would have cleaned it up considerably, but that didn't seem to be a big consideration for the player.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

Gordon Bellerose wrote:I believe that the string thickness theory that Hans mentions above, is the correct way to go.
I recently set a 25 inch scale guitar up to play detuned to C. I ended up with a set of 12 - 56 before it played decently.
An even heavier set would have cleaned it up considerably, but that didn't seem to be a big consideration for the player.

Good to know. Out of curiosity, was it the biggest string that gave you the most trouble?

Jason Rodgers
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Jason Rodgers »

If the guys in Periphery are playing 6-strings, I'm pretty sure they're almost always in that drop-drop-C. Misha Mansoor's Jackson signature and Jake Bowen's Ibanez signature guitars, and Mark Holcomb plays a John Petrucci Music Man JP6, are standard 25-1/2" scales. They do use 7- and 8- strings more, and those have longer scales (27" on Misha's Mayones). The 7-strings are tuned with a low A, then everything dropped 1/2 step (A-flat E-flat A-flat...). I think 8-strings are tuned to standard (F-sharp B E A...).
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Hans Bezemer
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Hans Bezemer »

[quote=
Good to know. Out of curiosity, was it the biggest string that gave you the most trouble?[/quote]

When doing my experiments with an all fifths tuning this was the string which was the hardest to get right, because all the rest of the strings are all within the regular guitar range.
The lower you get the more tension you need to get a decent tone and intonation.
In general Bass guitar strings require almost twice as much tension as a regular guitar string.

Jason Rodgers
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Jason Rodgers wrote:If the guys in Periphery are playing 6-strings, I'm pretty sure they're almost always in that drop-drop-C. Misha Mansoor's Jackson signature and Jake Bowen's Ibanez signature guitars, and Mark Holcomb plays a John Petrucci Music Man JP6, are standard 25-1/2" scales. They do use 7- and 8- strings more, and those have longer scales (27" on Misha's Mayones). The 7-strings are tuned with a low A, then everything dropped 1/2 step (A-flat E-flat A-flat...). I think 8-strings are tuned to standard (F-sharp B E A...).
I realize this sounds thoroughly geeky, and I'm not an expert at all things Periphery and "djent," but I've been following these guys pretty closely lately and wanted to illustrate that low tunings are possible on standard instruments with the right strings.

With looser strings, a thinner pick gauge might also be a good idea, so you're not wowing strings out of tune with every stroke. I love heavy picks, but I'm finding they're too much on my low A.

John, check this out, too. http://www.anzlf.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=6262 Compensating the nut might be something you want to try. I printed out these instructions and plan to give it a go (that is, if I'm not using a 0-fret). It's Trevor approved!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

Jason Rodgers wrote:
Jason Rodgers wrote:If the guys in Periphery are playing 6-strings, I'm pretty sure they're almost always in that drop-drop-C. Misha Mansoor's Jackson signature and Jake Bowen's Ibanez signature guitars, and Mark Holcomb plays a John Petrucci Music Man JP6, are standard 25-1/2" scales. They do use 7- and 8- strings more, and those have longer scales (27" on Misha's Mayones). The 7-strings are tuned with a low A, then everything dropped 1/2 step (A-flat E-flat A-flat...). I think 8-strings are tuned to standard (F-sharp B E A...).
I realize this sounds thoroughly geeky, and I'm not an expert at all things Periphery and "djent," but I've been following these guys pretty closely lately and wanted to illustrate that low tunings are possible on standard instruments with the right strings.

With looser strings, a thinner pick gauge might also be a good idea, so you're not wowing strings out of tune with every stroke. I love heavy picks, but I'm finding they're too much on my low A.

John, check this out, too. http://www.anzlf.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=6262 Compensating the nut might be something you want to try. I printed out these instructions and plan to give it a go (that is, if I'm not using a 0-fret). It's Trevor approved!

That's an interesting idea, maybe that'll be plan B if the strings alone don't get us into a reasonable range.

John Sonksen
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by John Sonksen »

So good news to report, I traded out the DR's for a set of D'Addario EXL158's, Baritone Lights and this thing tunes right up! I haven't done the intonation on it yet, and I'm not expecting miracles tbh, but if it's holding tune up to the twelfth I'm considering this a success.

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Hans Bezemer
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Re: downtuned tuning problems with a six string electric

Post by Hans Bezemer »

John,
Good to hear that it worked out fine.

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