Five Ways I was Wrong About Automatic Tuning
I first became seriously involved with Gibson because of the HD.6X Pro hex guitar, and even put a two-piece band together based on it. Then one day Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson’s Chairman and CEO, called to say if I liked the HD.6X Pro, I was really going to like Gibson’s latest development—the Robot Guitar. “Craig, it’s a guitar that tunes itself!”
I was unimpressed. “Henry, I know how to tune a guitar…I guess beginners will like it, though.” But then he added “It does alternate tunings.” Well, I wasn’t impressed with that either; I seldom used alternate tunings because they’re a pain. I’m also the kind of guy who was even reluctant to put a battery in a guitar. But he was insistent, so I figured I should at least try it out.
Ooops. Here are the five main aspects where my initial assumptions were wrong.
I know how to tune a guitar, so there’s no real point in having a guitar that tunes itself. But there is a point—automatic tuning tunes all six strings to pitch within seconds. As a card-carrying humanoid biped, until I grow an extra five hands that ain’t gonna happen by myself. Time is money in my world; reducing tuning time dramatically is a big deal.
I wouldn’t use the alternate tunings anyway. Once I found it was possible to dial up alternate tunings in seconds, my slide—which had been gathering dust—gathered dust no more. Open and other tunings can add entirely new textures.
Really, how often do you tune a guitar anyway? You know the story: you tune up and you play; it’s not a big deal. Except…it is a big deal if you’re in the studio, and subsequent parts reveal the guitar wasn’t quite in tune—so you have to re-cut it (or hope Melodyne’s polyphonic pitch correction mode can fix it). It’s also a big deal because I create sample libraries of guitar sounds and the tuning for every single note has to be perfect. When doing my first library, I spent at least a third of my time tuning. With automatic tuning that shrank to a couple percent of the time, because it was a no-brainer to take a few seconds and tweak the tuning before every series of takes.
I’d be hosed if the battery died. I assumed that, but even with the original Robot guitar you could tune manually if you disengaged the tuning heads from the gear mechanism (klunky, but functional). Gibson G FORCE™ is an improvement because the tuners also work manually—if you forget to replace the battery before a gig, you’re no worse off than if you didn’t have G FORCE™.
Automatic tuning is a one-trick pony. Once I delved further into the features, I discovered lots of other useful functions…like the “string up” and “string down” modes that make it easy to replace strings, and the option to create “sweetened” tunings with some strings set slightly sharp or flat. And in the studio, I sometimes like to slow the tracks down a half-step, and play guitar with the half-step-down alternate tuning preset. Raising the tracks back to normal pitch gives the guitar a brighter, more “pop” timbre.
Yes, in many ways I was wrong about automatic tuning. Then again there’s my daughter, who was raised on the Dark Fire guitar (which had automatic tuning). She thinks it’s odd to play a guitar that doesn’t tune itself. And after years of using automatic tuning, I see her point.