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  #1  
Old 09-02-2014, 11:57 AM
brodave872 brodave872 is offline
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Default Alternate tuning's affect on a guitar

Good afternoon, all!

Question about tuning. Just starting playing with my Taylor 416 tuned down to D standard. I really like. Very little buzz. Deeper tone. Still bright enough to punch (It's a Taylor, after all). Still capos well and in tune.

Here's my question. Since this obviously decreases the ongoing tension on the neck and overall instrument, can this have adverse affects on the guitar's longevity, structural and tonal integrity, etc.

Specifically, it's a 2009 Taylor Spring LTD, Tasmanian blackwood back/sides and Spruce top. Hard to find instrument, actually.

Any help/thoughts/opinions/and actual research/expertise is appreciated. Thanks and happy playing!

david
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  #2  
Old 09-02-2014, 12:15 PM
NOTP NOTP is offline
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I've been tuning down all my acoustic guitars a full step for the past decade, while keeping the same string gauge.

Theoretically there will be less stress on the top, since the strings aren't exerting as much tension on the bridge as when tuned to A440.

Due to the decreased string tension, there may or may not be a small increase in neck backbow. A small truss rod turn to the left will counteract this by relaxing the truss rod.

What you've done is common and no cause for concern. There is an AGFer who likes to "experiment" with obscenely high string gauges tuned to standard to see what will happen. THAT is when structural integrity starts to be pushed to its limits.
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Old 09-02-2014, 12:26 PM
billgennaro billgennaro is offline
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It would be interesting to see how a neck would react to being tuned up to standard pitch after many, many years of being in a lower tuning. The neck would not be used to the extra string tension. Whether or not this would cause a problem, I don't know. But I imagine it might. There is also the top to consider in such a scenario. The tension of the string pull on the bridge would increase as you tuned up to standard pitch and the top would be exposed to torque that it is not used to. All that being said, the top and neck were originally designed to handle such a load, so who knows? Valid question though.

Bill
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Old 09-02-2014, 12:49 PM
brodave872 brodave872 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NOTP View Post
I've been tuning down all my acoustic guitars a full step for the past decade, while keeping the same string gauge.

Theoretically there will be less stress on the top, since the strings aren't exerting as much tension on the bridge as when tuned to A440.

Due to the decreased string tension, there may or may not be a small increase in neck backbow. A small truss rod turn to the left will counteract this by relaxing the truss rod.

What you've done is common and no cause for concern. There is an AGFer who likes to "experiment" with obscenely high string gauges tuned to standard to see what will happen. THAT is when structural integrity starts to be pushed to its limits.
Thanks for that input. It's a 416 that uses medium strings as default. Would that give me even more confidence of no problems? What about Bill's question in the event I return to standard tuning after a while?
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Old 09-02-2014, 12:49 PM
NOTP NOTP is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brodave872 View Post
Thanks for that input. It's a 416 that uses medium strings as default. Would that give me even more confidence of no problems?
Plenty of people successfully and nonchalantly use wackier tunings and weirder string gauges without the thought even crossing their minds. A half step down or a whole step down is a drop in the ocean. I would just start enjoying that beautiful D tuning immediately (and monitor for truss rod relief as per the following setup video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhF2X_bdXg).

Quote:
Originally Posted by brodave872 View Post
What about Bill's question in the event I return to standard tuning after a while?
I would imagine that there is no issue to the scenario billgennaro proposes. If the top was braced to withstand standard tuning (and it's called "standard tuning" for a reason) then that is actually where the guitar is most in equilibrium. Same goes for the truss rod and neck.

Regarding necks, I always felt like discussions on string tension were a bit overblown, especially when people panic if they remove all the strings simultaneously. Think about it; in the electric guitar world, bolt-on necks are probably the most common neck attachment method, and plenty of necks and bodies are traded/bought/sold and interchanged. If removing all the strings and swapping necks were catastrophic for the neck, you wouldn't have aftermarket parts sold by companies like Warmoth because they would arrive to you as "disasters" before you even assemble your bolt-on guitar!

I'm not a luthier, nor a guitar tech, so I could just be talking out of my nose.
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Old 09-02-2014, 12:50 PM
brodave872 brodave872 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by billgennaro View Post
It would be interesting to see how a neck would react to being tuned up to standard pitch after many, many years of being in a lower tuning. The neck would not be used to the extra string tension. Whether or not this would cause a problem, I don't know. But I imagine it might. There is also the top to consider in such a scenario. The tension of the string pull on the bridge would increase as you tuned up to standard pitch and the top would be exposed to torque that it is not used to. All that being said, the top and neck were originally designed to handle such a load, so who knows? Valid question though.

Bill
Bill, that was one of my questions, which is why I'm seeking the input of some with more experience in this area. It uses medium strings, so the tension is considerable. However, tuned down, I would think the tension might be akin to switching the strings out to lights, which would possible mitigate any long term concerns. People switch string gauges all the time.

Am I off base in that thinking?
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Old 09-02-2014, 01:03 PM
billgennaro billgennaro is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brodave872 View Post
Bill, that was one of my questions, which is why I'm seeking the input of some with more experience in this area. It uses medium strings, so the tension is considerable. However, tuned down, I would think the tension might be akin to switching the strings out to lights, which would possible mitigate any long term concerns. People switch string gauges all the time.

Am I off base in that thinking?
No, I don't think you are off base in your thinking. I really wouldn't be that concerned about it. If you are, then I would consult Alan Carruth or any of the other capable luthiers that frequent this forum. Alan is probably the most technical luthier out there so he might be a good place to start. Even if just to ease your mind.

Bill
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  #8  
Old 09-02-2014, 01:27 PM
Rodger Knox Rodger Knox is offline
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For the OP, you should be fine with less tension.

In answer to tuning up and down, that depends. Some necks/tops will distort over time under string tension, others will not. It's a function of the wood from which the neck/top was made. My guess is there's a stress threshold for the onset of permanent deformation of the neck and top depending on the properties of the wood, the design, and the construction.

On some guitars, normal string tension is above the threshold, and they will eventually need a neck reset. Less tension would extend the time, but probably not indefinitely.

On other guitars, normal string tension is below the threshold, and they will never need a neck reset. More tension might make a difference, but it would have to be a lot more tension.

I'm assuming that this stress threshold varies widely from guitar to guitar, and the changes in tension due to tuning and/or string gauge does not push the tension above the threshold, or drop it below.
This is purely speculation, I have no measurements to back it up.
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  #9  
Old 09-02-2014, 01:30 PM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is offline
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Dave wrote:

Quote:
Originally Posted by brodave872 View Post
Bill, that was one of my questions, which is why I'm seeking the input of some with more experience in this area. It uses medium strings, so the tension is considerable. However, tuned down, I would think the tension might be akin to switching the strings out to lights, which would possible mitigate any long term concerns. People switch string gauges all the time.

Am I off base in that thinking?
No, you're thinking it through just fine.

The main problem with experimenting with alternate tunings is when you tune HIGHER without taking string tension into account. When I first started playing guitar I experimented with open A tuning, where you raise the D string to an E, the G string to an A, and the B string to a C#.

And I was doing that with medium gauge strings.

No, it wasn't the brightest thing I've ever done, but fortunately the guitar itself didn't sustain any damage and I soon stopped experimenting with that tuning, anyway. The point is when you put more tension than is good for a guitar on it you can hurt things, but when you lower the tension the only problems are likely to be with intonation and action, not structural problems.

In other words, if you lower the tension to where the strings are too loose for where you have the action set, sometimes you can have problems with the guitar buzzing and rattling or not noting correctly, but those are adjustment issues: you're not going to damage the guitar itself.

Hope that makes sense.


Wade Hampton Miller

PS: Edit - I see where Bill and Rodger covered the same basic issues I just covered in this post. Oh, well, I wrote it so I'm going to post it anyway!
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  #10  
Old 09-02-2014, 01:34 PM
Alan Carruth Alan Carruth is offline
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One of my customers, Ken Bonfield, uses more whacky tunings than you can shake a stick at. Some of his guitars are used more for one tuning than others, but he still changes them once a gig or more. He's done a lot of experimenting with string gauges, usually ending up with something heavier than I'd designed around, but dropped a whole step or more, in some cases. He regularly drops a guitar I designed as a bari in D down to B-standard, and then takes it into a 'drop' tuning from there. About all we've ever worried about was getting the proper relief on the neck using the truss rod, and intonation, of course. If you end up with higher tension, you may need a neck set sooner than usual, of course, but on a Taylor that's a snap.
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  #11  
Old 09-02-2014, 01:38 PM
redir redir is offline
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The only issue you may have if the neck is very sensitive to tension is setting the relief or flatness for one tension and then changing it to a new tension. So in your case I would set the neck dead flat in your lower tuning so that if anything when you tune it up you will probably just have a bit of relief.
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  #12  
Old 09-02-2014, 01:43 PM
kaos kaos is offline
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I think this has been pretty much covered in other responses. But I have switched to DGCFAD as well and in doing so switched to 13s (from 12s). I believe the neck tension is similar for DGCFAD with 13s as it is for EADGBE with 12s. However my J45 did need a slight truss rod adjusment ... the other guitars were fine.
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  #13  
Old 09-02-2014, 02:43 PM
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I wouldn't worry about it at all. Just play it. You'd only worry if you were increasing the tension.
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