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  #1  
Old 11-30-2017, 03:42 PM
Carbonius Carbonius is offline
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Default Intonation!!! Is this just how nylon string guitars are??

I am very surprised how bad the intonation is with many very good guitars and players. They sound nicely in tune for most passages, then quite bad in some. They are playing beautifully, but that level of bad intonation is rarely heard in equivalent talent in the steel string world. Why is it so bad??

Is there just something about the physics of nylon strings that makes it this way?? Literally something about the wave lengths of nylon strings interacting??

So many people say to intonate the saddle. Yes... but that isn't what you do to solve issues in the first 5 frets. Saddle intonation has next to no effect there. You adjust the saddle for better UPPER register intonation. I read some articles a long time ago about nut intonation on nylon string guitars, it is not new. However is seems more niche as apparently very few people even hear the issue. If you have an intonated saddle AND nut, did it go a long way to solve the issue??

Is it that more demands are put on classical guitars?? What I mean is, the amount of notes that are combined in different passages almost ensures you will hit a conflicting point. I guess the easy test would be to play a conflicting piece on a quality nylon string guitar, then play the same piece on a quality steel string guitar to compare. I do not have a good nylon guitar to try or I would answer this question.

Is it standard tuning that is the problem?? Many steel string players use alternate tunings, while many classical players play in standard tuning.

Is it just bad builds?? I say no. I have made sure to listen to videos where guitars in the $5000 up range are being played.

Is it bad technique?? I say no. I have watched many very good and very reputable players. They have wonderful tone and technique, but then there's that cringe worthy passage (for me at least).

My issue is that I need to get into this realm. Nylon string guitars solve the painful hearing issue that has driven me from steel string guitars. I love the tones I hear from nylon strings. Even the position shifts don't bother me as much. This is my path back to guitar. But I need to know if this intonation problem is inherit, or just one that very few notice. No guitar is perfect, but I am not used to this much imperfection!!

Thank you in advance!!
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  #2  
Old 11-30-2017, 03:57 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Short answer: no, nylon string guitars can be setup to achieve "good" intonation. That many don't is a different issue. Ditto for steel string guitars.

It is true that classical guitarists tend to play a larger portion of the range of the guitar and, perhaps, play a greater range of harmonies than some play on steel strings. In some cases, the demands on the instrument and music are more rigorous.
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Old 11-30-2017, 05:05 PM
j3ffr0 j3ffr0 is offline
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You won't hear John Williams, Anna Vidovic, Muriel Anderson, David Qualey, or Liona Boyd with bad intonation. They are great players with great guitars who understand tuning and intonation.

The problem with classical guitars, especially in the states, is that because the steel string is so popular most stores carry only cheap classical guitars where the intonation is often mediocre. A very skilled technician make a youtube video with some good classical guitar playing on a cheap guitar, but that doesn't me they understand nuances involved in tuning compensation. \

I've also found that intonation can vary quite a bit between different sets/brands/tensions of strings with the classical.
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Old 11-30-2017, 06:41 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by j3ffr0 View Post
I've also found that intonation can vary quite a bit between different sets/brands/tensions of strings with the classical.
That has been my experience as well. Labella black treble strings, for example, historically, never play true.
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Old 11-30-2017, 07:58 PM
Red_Label Red_Label is offline
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Nylon strings aren't as consistent as steel strings in manufacture. It's easier to make an all-steel string to tighter tolerances than it is a polymer string, or a wrapped polymer string. The higher tension of steel strings also lends itself to better intonation than the relatively "floppy" rubberband-like nylon strings.

Classical guitars just aren't mass produced with compensation included. I've had a handful of electrics that were.

As mentioned already, the masters don't play with poor intonation. That's due in part to the fact that they play top notch guitars made by the best luthiers in the world, and part because they possess a very light touch (it's very easy to bend nylon strings out of tune by applying too much pressure on all three axis').

And frankly, I've played a lot of different instruments and styles over the past 33+ years and only the poorest quality classicals have ever bothered me in terms of intonation. If anything, some of the guitars with compensated nuts (Earvana and Feiten) bothered me. That's likely because my ears have become accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of guitar tunings.

Last edited by Red_Label; 11-30-2017 at 08:04 PM.
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Old 11-30-2017, 08:35 PM
endpin endpin is offline
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Action is generally higher on a nylon strung classical, so how the player lands the string down to the fret makes a difference. Also, the intonation error due to fretted string versus open string would be greater.

The relative ease of "longitudinal vibrato" shows how much easier it is to muscle around the pitch of a nylon string (for better or worse).
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Old 12-01-2017, 12:59 AM
harpon harpon is offline
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Someone mentioned strings- it only stands to reason- I believe- that nylon will stretch differently than steel and more so in proportion as gauges get smaller or vary. There's also more a possibility of strings then stretching differently across different portions or lengths. There are probably strategies for minimizing this. I don't have any here.
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Old 12-01-2017, 10:38 AM
Carbonius Carbonius is offline
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Thanks guys, good to know it can get better. I am liking the Almansa I bought more an more. I feel that I am working too hard for volume in the trebles, but it's a start. I am considering a bigger purchase... but also considering that I should wait a few more months and get better acquainted with nylon strings. However I only have another 2 weeks in which I can return what I bought. I worry about cheaper guitars and longevity.

Muriel Anderson was mentioned. I also noticed that she has wonderful intonation. I recalled watching a video and she bent the low E while fretting higher up. At first I thought this was an odd error but it sounded in tune and she repeated the bend. Then I remembered doing that on my steel string for certain chords. It becomes rote memory after a while, so I forgot. You can fix flat, but not much you can do about sharp.

"dosland" mentioned fretting pressure over in this thread http://www.acousticguitarforum.com/f...d.php?t=490912. I just encountered this when playing some pieces last night. I literally tuned the fretted notes and it was still a hair out. Then I pressed as lightly as possible and all was fine. I had no idea how delicate the strings were to pressure. I may try higher tension, but I imagine there's a trade off!
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Old 12-01-2017, 12:09 PM
AndreF AndreF is offline
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Muriel Anderson is an excellent choice of role models btw!
Quote:
...Then I pressed as lightly as possible and all was fine....
This is actually something they teach in classical guitar technique, i.e. trying to apply only as much pressure as is needed in order for the note to play cleanly.
Certainly a by-product of that will be better intonation, but the real goal is to have "quiet" hands to lessen overall tension and improve fluidity of movement.
It's revealing to realize how little pressure is required. We're probably all guilty of applying too much.
You seem to have to hypersensitive ears when it comes to intonation, so keeping a soft touch might be something you need to remain mindful of going forward in your nylon experience.
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Old 12-01-2017, 12:15 PM
dkstott dkstott is offline
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I made the transition from steel string to nylon string guitars about 2 years ago. The first 6 months was a very humbling & at the same time a wonderful learning experience for me.

My left & right hand technique may have been fine for acoustic guitar steel strings. But it was completely unacceptable for nylon string guitar playing.

Everyday, I learn something new about getting the desired tones on individual notes.
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Old 12-01-2017, 03:12 PM
Carbonius Carbonius is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreF View Post
Muriel Anderson is an excellent choice of role models btw!


This is actually something they teach in classical guitar technique, i.e. trying to apply only as much pressure as is needed in order for the note to play cleanly.
Certainly a by-product of that will be better intonation, but the real goal is to have "quiet" hands to lessen overall tension and improve fluidity of movement.
It's revealing to realize how little pressure is required. We're probably all guilty of applying too much.
You seem to have to hypersensitive ears when it comes to intonation, so keeping a soft touch might be something you need to remain mindful of going forward in your nylon experience.
Yes Andre, I was born with very sensitive pitch. In church as a boy I would CRINGE at slightly off notes... My mother would tell me to stop it as it could hurt peoples feelings. I would say, "but mom it hurts!" She allowed to discreetly cover my ears by laying on her lap (I was a young boy) but she also told me I needed to stop making those faces. Of course she was right. Then my hearing changed 5 years ago, with my high frequencies hearing being VERY acute. Most 40+ years old people barely hear to 8000 hz, I hear up to 12,500 and it's loud.

These nylon strings are quite literally a God send for me! I played for well over an hour last night with no fatigue. In fact, it felt exhilarating!

GAME CHANGER

I just found a Cordoba C10 at a local store. This is what I have been missing. The tone and volume was nicely balanced. Very warm but also punchy. If you had blindfolded me I would have told you it was Cedar topped, but it was Euro Spruce (IE Rosewood B/S). VERY nice sustain and resonance in the upper registers. Quite beautiful really. I could play twice as fast AND play twice as clean. I wasn't spending as much energy fighting for tone... it was just there. The action was almost 1mm lower than mine now, so that also helped I am sure. It also comes with high tension strings which I didn't even notice.

The intonation was worse than what I have and the saddle was even thinner. Not much adjustment left. For some reason it was even harder to get past the 12th fret. I would have to have a new saddle made and maybe even the saddle slot widened to accommodate something that could be properly intonated.

However this has shown me where I can go from here. There is some wonderful tone out there. This is like a whole new world!
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Old 12-01-2017, 03:31 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carbonius View Post
This is like a whole new world!
Indeed it is. A "traditional" classical guitar, with "traditional" classical technique is very different than a typical steel string guitar and the technique often used. They bare the same name, the same number of strings and tuning, usually, but otherwise are quite different.
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Old 12-02-2017, 09:32 AM
MC5C MC5C is offline
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Surprised that no one has mentioned equal temperament in a discussion of playing out of tune. The guitar is built with equal temperament, so the only interval that is truly in tune is the octave, the fifth is very close. Major and minor thirds are quite sharp and flat, respectively, major and minor sixths ditto. Since modern manufacturing makes it relatively easy (not that it happens in all cases) to make a guitar with the frets, nut and the bridge in the right place, a lot of what you hear with sensitive hearing is the fundamental design of the instrument being out of tune. Naturally, a luthier can and should finesse the nut, bridge saddle and action height to suit the strings chosen and the players touch, but if the octaves are in tune (all the octaves, not just open and 12th fret), then the rest is up to physics.

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Old 12-02-2017, 09:54 AM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MC5C View Post
Surprised that no one has mentioned equal temperament in a discussion of playing out of tune.
Brian
Given that this discussion has been about intonation, temperament is a different discussion. The use of equal temperament is the same on either steel string guitars or nylon string guitars and isn't a factor in the OP's question of why nylon string guitars sound more out of tune than steel string guitars.

In a broader discussion about tuning a guitar, the choice of temperament is certainly an important consideration.
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Old 12-02-2017, 10:33 AM
Carbonius Carbonius is offline
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What drives me crazy is when a new guitar can't even handle octaves past the 5th fret. The nice Cordoba C10SP I tried yesterday was like this. The high E and low E were out of tune barring at the 7th fret. High was sharp, low was flat. You use that position a lot for B, so I can't believe they didn't fine tune this on a "flagship luthier series". Intonation was off at the 12th fret.

I've found most new steel string guitars play well up to and past the 12th fret. Most new nylon string guitars can't make it past the 7th fret without noticeable issues. It's why I almost feel lucky with the Almansa I bought. The string balance and tone isn't great, but the intonation is the best I've heard (in person). The bass strings sound great, but the trebles are plastic sounding. That C10SP is the first nylon string that sounded similar to great tone I've heard online. None of the "plastic toy guitar" sound. I MAY try to find a deal on one and have someone fine tune it. Or it may be time to start making compensated nuts and saddles myself.
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