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Post new topic Sonny Landreth on the JI v. ET thing
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Author Topic:  Sonny Landreth on the JI v. ET thing
David Doggett


From:
Bawl'mer, MD (formerly of MS, Nawluns, Gnashville, Knocksville, Lost Angeles, Bahsten. and Philly)
Post  Posted 2 Apr 2007 6:26 pm    
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Here's a little excerpt from an interview with Louisiana slide guitar player Sonny Landreth in the May issue of Guitar Player Magazine:

GP: When you're in an open-E tuning, do you tune the 3 to the even-tempered pitch electronic tuners and pianos provide, or do you tune it slightly flat to the "pure" 3 that soul singers, Delta blues players, and other musicians intuitively hit - the just 3 that's in tune with the overtone series?

SL: Interesting question! The quick answer is that yes, beginners should be aware that whatever tuning you're in, if it has an open-string major 3, electronic tuners won't provide that pure, bluesy third that our ears love. You have to rely on your ears a bit [to drop that 3 slightly] so it sits in the sweet spot.

I learned about pure intervals of thirds and sevenths the hard way. See, my first instrument was the trumpet, which I learned to play by myself. Using just my ears I had all these sweet, perfect intervals happening until the day I finally played with a piano - which is an even-tempered instrument - and then all hell broke loose. Every notion of pitch I had went out the window. I had to learn to adjust things to match the piano.

GP: The frets on the guitar are even-tempered too.

SL: That's why many of us gravitate to slide - we want to get that vocal sound, and that vocal sound often lies between the frets. It takes time to learn how all this stuff works - for example, I do have to make small adjustments when I'm playing with a keyboard player so we don't clash. But the more you play slide, the more you learn how to manipulate things to get that singing sound. The fact that the slide is floating gives us access to every possible sweet spot imaginable.

_________________

Not trying to start anything. Just thought some of you might like to see that somebody besides steelers thinks and wrestles with this issue. Any instrument that tunes to an open chord or that intonates by ear has to deal with the problem.
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David L. Donald


From:
Koh Samui Island, Thailand
Post  Posted 3 Apr 2007 8:53 am    
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Sonny sure can hit that sweet spot too.

The 1st number on Cindy Cashdollar's album
is as sweet and bluesy as it gets.
of course BOTH Sonny And Cindy hit the spot! Smile

Good article excerpt.
_________________
DLD, Chili farmer. Plus bananas and papaya too.

Real happiness has no strings attached.
But pedal steels have many!


Last edited by David L. Donald on 4 Apr 2007 8:34 am; edited 1 time in total
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Jesse Pearson

 

From:
San Diego , CA
Post  Posted 10 Apr 2007 12:31 pm    
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Thanks for the topic David. I know Sonny frets behind his slide and I wonder what that does to his voicings by tuning flat? I fret alot when I play slide on reso and electric and tune to pitch for fretting. I use the slide to flat out thirds and 7th's on single note lines however.
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David Doggett


From:
Bawl'mer, MD (formerly of MS, Nawluns, Gnashville, Knocksville, Lost Angeles, Bahsten. and Philly)
Post  Posted 10 Apr 2007 12:59 pm    
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Jesse, I confess I don't really understand his behind-the-bar stuff. Does he push the fretted string below the bar so that it is stopped at the fret rather than at the bar? Or is it stopped at the bar, but pulled sharp with the finger behind the bar? Does anybody know exactly what he does?
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania and Gallatin, Tennessee
Post  Posted 10 Apr 2007 2:43 pm    
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I'm not sure where this is from, but he explains what he's doing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DUxs2aIa_g

Sonny is completely unique, IMO. His intonation sounds fine to me, with the slide or without. Cool
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David Doggett


From:
Bawl'mer, MD (formerly of MS, Nawluns, Gnashville, Knocksville, Lost Angeles, Bahsten. and Philly)
Post  Posted 11 Apr 2007 7:53 am    
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Okay, in that YouTube clip Sonny shows his behind the bar fretting very clearly. The action for slide guitar is typically set fairly high. With the slide stopping most of the strings, he presses one or more strings to one of the frets close behind the slide. This pushes the string down far enough to loose contact with the slide, and that one string takes the pitch of the fret.

His simplest move is to flat the major 3rd on the 3rd string by fretting it one fret behind the slide to give a minor chord. A pure JI major 3rd is 14 cents (3.5 Hz) flat of ET. And a JI minor 3rd is 16 cents (4Hz) sharp of ET. Therefore, theoretically, with the 3rd string tuned to a JI major 3rd, the fretted minor 3rd would be 30 cents (7.5 Hz) flat of where a JI minor 3rd should be.

So I got out my roundneck Dobro resonator tuned to a JI E chord the same as Sonny, and tried fretting it behind the slide for the minor chord. If I listened very closely the minor 3rd did sound slightly flat, but nowhere near as flat as 30 cents should sound. I guess the act of fretting the high action string sharps the fretted note considerably. Also, most slide players use heavier gauge strings, which further sharpens the fretting. A very slight pull on that fretted string completely fixed the problem. Also, shifting the slide very slightly back fixed the internal interval of the chord (but would of course shift the whole chord slightly flat).

I would not notice the slight deviation caused by the fretted note in playing slide guitar. So I'm thinking the potential theoretical problem just doesn't show up much in playing. Sonny mostly uses the behind the slide stuff in passing chords. Also, guitars, even solid-bodies, don't have as much sustain of clashing overtones as steel guitars have. Without a volume pedal, they have a more percussive attack in which overtone clashing is not obvious, and the volume drops instantaneously and the remaining sustain fades, with the clashing overtones fading more rapidly than the fundamentals. That is a very different situation than pedal steel with a volume pedal. For held notes, we jerk the VP back to soften the attack, then instantaneously bring it up and gradually increase to match the string decay and create an even sustain with no decay, maybe even with swell. This perpetuates any clashing overtones throughout the entire life of the note. Also, with the very thick one piece body and neck (meaning the whole length of the body under the frets, not the cosmetic raised neck piece), steel guitars do not have the slender neck and neck/body joint to drain off sustain. So even a lap steel with no volume pedal has more sustain than any guitar. These are the reasons I think steel players are so fanatical about tuning and so many of us find the clashing overtones of ET so objectionable.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania and Gallatin, Tennessee
Post  Posted 11 Apr 2007 9:26 am    
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I dunno David - Sonny sustained lots of notes in that clip, and I heard no intonation problem with that minor chord with the b3 behind the slide. Of course, the b3 was raked across pretty fast, and the 5 was the emphasized sustain note. He also used quite a bit of vibrato.

Especially blues players often habitually bend or press a string down hard to sharpen if it's flat to the ear. Some of the effects you talk about may be in operation too. Still, I think this says it all:

Quote:
It takes time to learn how all this stuff works - for example, I do have to make small adjustments when I'm playing with a keyboard player so we don't clash. But the more you play slide, the more you learn how to manipulate things to get that singing sound.
.

In other words, it's in the ears and the hands. Wink
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David Doggett


From:
Bawl'mer, MD (formerly of MS, Nawluns, Gnashville, Knocksville, Lost Angeles, Bahsten. and Philly)
Post  Posted 11 Apr 2007 1:23 pm    
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I don't know that we have any disagreement, Dave. I thought maybe I heard something that wasn't pure JI when he first hit some of the single strings, but it went by too fast for me to pinpoint it. And as soon as he started the vibrato it sounded fine. It all sounded good when he was playing phrases. He may have had his 3rds nudged toward ET the way a lot of us do. And/or he may be pulling or squeezing the fretted strings to his ear.

I think some of it is a phenomenon frequently commented about. Many times I have played something that sounded fine, but when I stopped and checked my tuning carefully there was something a little off. But I could make it sound okay when I played. And I have often been swapping licks with another steeler, and they sounded fine while playing; but if I went over and checked their tuning, things were way off from the way I would have tuned. Even straight up ET, which I can't stand when tuning, can sounds okay when someone who is use to tuning that way plays. With everything moving, and vibrato on the held notes and chords, a lot of stuff blends okay that you wouldn't expect to if you stopped and checked the tuning carefully

That's one reason I don't obsess over tuning. In spite of my heavy participation in the tuning discussions here on the Forum just for the theoretical aspects of it, when I play, I tune quickly and reasonably close, and then just play. It's usually just not worth it to try to get everything absolutely perfect. "Close enough" usually works fine once you start playing.

People keep saying the cliche "it's in the hands" as if somebody is doing something miraculous that can make an out of tune instrument play in tune. If the strings are tuned so that a note internal to the chord inversion you are playing is way out of tune, there is no bar slant or string pressure trick that will fix that (on steel, not necessarily so with Landry's behind the bar fretting). But if it is reasonaby close, then centering the bar by ear well and using standard vibrato can help it work.

Also, on steel we play a lot of two note harmonies, where slight bar slanting or uneven bar pressure can work to make both notes play in tune. And an experienced steeler can hear both notes simultaneously and get them both right. That seems impossible and miraculous when you first start playing, but it is a learned skill that develops with time (speaking of others, not necessarily myself).

But I think a lot of the "in the hands miracles" are just the fact that close enough can work pretty well once you start moving around and using vibrato. Notice that people tend to use vibrato only for held notes. It's almost as if once they sit on a note or chord long enough to hear something slightly off, that's the cue to start the vibrato. I hear that in that Landry clip. The instant I hear something that sounds a little suspicious, that's when he starts the vibrato and it goes away. A seasoned player is just never going to sit on something out of tune long enough for you to hear it without them doing something about it.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania and Gallatin, Tennessee
Post  Posted 11 Apr 2007 6:09 pm    
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I don't think we fundamentally disagree either. But let me be frank - in blues, I don't think much about the 12-tone scale at all. It's based on an African musical concept, not a Western one, so if it sounds right, it is right, to me, irregardless of anybody's idea of what is the "correct" intonation, in harmonic intonation terms. With that said, I can't think of anybody who is "more right" than Sonny - he has it down to the nth degree. Smile

As far as the "in the hands" (I also said ears) cliche goes - well to my view, there is no "perfectly" in-tune tuning on any physical instrument. So if it ain't "in the ears and hands", then it ain't "in tune". I do agree that one needs to be in the ballpark, and one ballpark may be better than another ballpark for a given situation - so I'm not arguing irrelevance of tuning.

See - I'm leaving nothing left for us to argue about. Wink

BTW - watching David Lindley do his quarter-tone African-tuned Bouzouki thing last week forced me to yet again reconsider a few things about, as he put it, "the tyrrany of the 12-tone scale". IMO, definitely worth seeing, he's playing just north of Philly (Sellersville Theatre) next Sunday April 15.
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania and Gallatin, Tennessee
Post  Posted 21 May 2022 10:26 am    
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OK, I know this is an old thread. But at this point, I've been using Sonny's approach on slide guitar for some time now. And I can attest that a combination of a pure JI open tuning combined with fretting behind the slide can create some tuning issues because the frets are spaced in an equal temperament manner. I have found it necessary to make some compromises in the absolute JI tuning. I don't generally flat my third(s) quite as much as I would on steel. But I also need to also make adjustments in how I slide, depending on the situation. Some chords like [EDIT - placing the slide, not fretting] a bit higher than the fret, others a bit lower, to make the combined slide/fretted chord come out sounding OK.

I think this would be a bit more straightforward on a lap steel with bender because the bender stops can be set arbitrarily. Not so with frets, except by manipulation using pressure or bending.

This may not seem like a big issue, but playing in-tune using Sonny's approach takes a lot of work.


Last edited by Dave Mudgett on 22 May 2022 9:11 am; edited 1 time in total
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David L. Donald


From:
Koh Samui Island, Thailand
Post  Posted 22 May 2022 7:48 am    
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Very Happy Very Happy
And 15 years later still another reconsideration.
On a microtonal basis.
_________________
DLD, Chili farmer. Plus bananas and papaya too.

Real happiness has no strings attached.
But pedal steels have many!
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania and Gallatin, Tennessee
Post  Posted 22 May 2022 9:12 am    
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Good to see you, David. Hope all well on your end.
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