Thursday, July 05, 2007

Precise tuning for band and symphonic instruments (and more)

Hands-On Review: Korg Tuners
Precise tuning for band and symphonic instruments (and more)
By Fred Ogdenmoor
Korg Tuners

I recently went to view a collection of rare and exotic musical instruments at the local university. It featured stringed, wind, and percussion instruments dating back several centuries with such rare pieces as a 17th century Spanish harp. I asked the conservator (the person who restores and maintains museum objects) if all the instruments were in playing condition. He assured me that not only was it desirable, but essential they be kept in playing condition so they can be researched and enjoyed, which was why they were built in the first place: to be played. Seizing the opportunity, I explained that I was writing some hands-on reviews of tuners and inquired if it would be possible to try out a couple of tuners on some of his treasures.
OT-120 Orchestral Tuner

A week later I met the conservator at the exhibit hall and pulled out the first tuner, the OT-120 Orchestral Tuner from Korg. Designed for the serious-minded musician, it’s powerful, precise, portable, and can be used in a practice room or studio—or with a collection of rare, historical instruments. With a detection range of eight octaves, the OT-120 can tune the complete array of orchestra and band instruments (and more, coming up later). The range is from A0, which is the lowest note on a piano, to C8, the highest note. This is within the full range of all orchestral instruments, from the lowest notes of the contrabassoon to the highest notes of the sopranino recorder. In addition to tuning to the standard of A=440Hz, calibration can be adjusted anywhere between 349Hz to 499Hz. This could come in handy for example, when tuning various instruments to accompany an historical keyboard such as an 18th century harpsichord. Although the instrument may be in tune with itself, because of its age, it may not be advisable to tune it to the standard of A=440, so accompanying instruments must be tuned to it.

Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner

Tuning for the ages

We first chose to tune a 17th century Baroque lute. It has 13 courses, usually pairs of strings, although the bottom two courses were individual strings for a total of 24 strings. Setting the OT-120 upright on a nearby table using the tilt-back stand, the conservator—I called him Professor—set the tuner into Manual mode with the needle movement on the VU meter set to Fast to handle the fast attack of the lute strings. He played each of the courses into the OT-120’s built-in mic to find out how the lute was pitched—in other words, how far off from our modern standard of A=440. He determined the overall tuning was flat by 48 cents. Because of the age of the instrument, the Professor decided to keep the tension relatively relaxed by lowering the tuner’s calibration to 392Hz instead of 440. In the Baroque period, lute players used a different type of tuning system, or temperament, that was developed so the lute could be played in tune in various keys. The OT-120 offers eight temperaments used to tune period and ethnic instruments. The Professor selected the Werckmeister (III) temperament (One of several tempered tuning systems devised by Andreas Werckmeister in the late 17th century. It uses perfect fifths, making it suitable for chromatic music such as by J.S. Bach). Starting with the bottom courses tuned in octaves to A, The Professor and I took turns bringing the lute to playability with only a few minor groans from the friction tuning pegs. To celebrate we cranked out a lively Celtic-styled jig. We then moved on to a crumhorn, a double reed horn from 17th century Germany to try out the Sound Back feature. We plugged the optional CM-100L microphone into the 1/4" input on the OT-120. For each note you play, the tuner then plays and holds a reference tone for that note so you can hear how far off pitch you may be. The meter also indicates the pitch being produced. By listening and watching, instrumentalists and vocalists can use the Sound Back feature to check and train their sense of pitch. Sound Back can be used as a learning tool. When playing the double reed crumhorn, Sound Back let us hear—and showed us—that some of the higher notes were being played a little off pitch. This was not because the instrument was out of tune, but was due to the player’s technique. Using Sound Back, the player can alter his embouchure until the note is played on pitch.

Korg AW-1 Micro Tuner on Mandolin
Hurdy-Gurdy man

A more fun instrument to tune was the hurdy-gurdy, which looks like a Borg version of a violin. The sound of the hurdy-gurdy has been compared to bagpipes because it has four drone strings. The instrument lies across your legs and has a crank on the end that turns a wheel, which bows the strings. Melodies are created by pressing keys that run along the neck, changing the pitch of the melody strings, or chanters. The Professor decided to use modern equal temperament to tune the hurdy-gurdy. This time, we used a Korg AW-1 Micro Tuner. Like the OT-120, the AW-1 has a detection range of A0 to C8, but is packed into an even more compact and lightweight unit. We used the larger of the two supplied clips to attach the AW-1 to the bridge and tuned the four melody and two drone strings to Cs and Gs. The internal piezo pickup detected vibrations directly from the hurdy-gurdy so accurate tuning was possible even in a noisy room. For some instruments like the flute, clipping the tuner would put the display too close to read, so the AW-1 also comes with an internal mic. The oval-shaped LCD meter automatically displays the nearest correct note. The Meter Reverse button flips the display so it can be read if the tuner is clipped upside down to an instrument.
LCA-120 Chromatic Tuner and LMA-120 Digital Metronome

For the musician who wants more versatility than the AW-1 but doesn’t need all of the capabilities of the OT-120, there is the LCA-120. This chromatic tuner has a large easy-to-see backlit LCD screen in a flip-top design. Like the OT-120, the LCA-120 has a 1/4" input, built-in condenser mic, produces a four-octave reference tone, an A0-C8 tuning range, and has the Sound Back mode for ear training with the use of the optional CM-100L mic.

LCA-120 Chromatic Tuner and LMA-120 Digital Metronome

What’s different? The LCA-120 has an adjustable calibration range of 410Hz-480Hz. It adds a Focus Tune function that zooms the LCD meter when your instrument’s pitch is within the ±10 cents range for more precise tuning. For temperaments, the LCA-120 has a programmable Temperament Program function to let you specify the tuning pitch for each note. A volume meter on the LCD measures the volume of the signal for practicing dynamics or long tones and a 1/8" headphone jack lets you hear reference tones without disturbing others.

The LMA-120 Digital Metronome sports the same flip-top design. Besides listening to the tempo, it uses a large LCD to show the tempo using "Conducting Motion" display. Three bars move in a way similar to a conductor’s baton so the motion lets you feel the tempo in a natural, musical way. Various beats, rhythms, and tempo step patterns can be combined to form a wide variety of song styles. The tempo can be adjusted from 30 to 252 BPM or you can repeatedly press the TAP switch in time with the desired tempo. The LMA-120 also has a Sound Out mode that generates a reference tone in a one-octave range of C4-C5. Like the LCA-120, the calibration can be adjusted from 410Hz to 480Hz and has a 1/8" headphone jack. When you power down, your specified tempo, beat, calibration, and reference pitch settings are saved.

Admittedly these are somewhat extreme examples of the power and flexibility of Korg tuners. Of course, not only can you use all of these Korg tuners to tune just about any band or orchestra instrument, you can use them to tune your more modern guitars and basses.
Features & Specs

OT-120 Orchestral Tuner

* Full 8 octave (A0-C8) detection range
* Tuning accuracy within ±1 cent
* Calibration range from 349Hz to 499Hz (based on standard A=440)
* 8 temperaments for classical and ethnic instruments:
o Pythagorean
o Mean Tone Eb
o Mean Tone D#
o Werckmeister (III)
o Kimberger III
o Kellner
o Vallotti
o Young
* Auto tuning mode
* VU-style meter with slow, medium, and fast needle movement
* Built-in speaker
* Playback reference tones from over 5 octaves
* Sound Out and Sound Back modes
* Vertical design
* Sleek and durable aluminum panel
* Tilt-back stand
* Soft case with belt clip
* 100 hour battery life

Korg AW-1 Micro Tuner

* Detection range: A0 (27.50Hz)~C8 (4186Hz)
* Ultracompact, lightweight unit
* 2 clips with internal piezo pickups
* Tuner with internal mic
* Meter Reverse function position
* Pure major third/minor third indicators
* Wide calibration range: 410~480Hz (1Hz steps)
* Memory backup
* Auto power off
* Scale: 12-note equal temperament
* Range (sine wave): A0 (27.50Hz)-C8 (4186Hz)
* Precision: ±1 cent
* Reference pitch: 410-480Hz (1Hz steps)
* Dimensions: 0.98"W x 0.35"H x 2.17"D
* Weight: 11g/ 0.024 lbs. (Including battery)

Included items:

* CR1220 lithium battery (3V) for checking operation
* Large instrument clip (with internal piezo pickup)
* Small instrument clip (with internal piezo pickup)

LCA-120 Chromatic Flip-Top Digital Tuner

* Scale: 12 note equal temperament, program (88 notes)
* Detection Range: A0 (27.50Hz) to C8 (4186.01Hz)
* Reference Tone: C2 (65.41Hz) to C6 (1046.50Hz)
* Tuning Modes: Meter (AUTO), Focus Tune (AUTO), Sound Out (MANUAL), Sound Back (AUTO)
* Calibration Range: A4=410Hz to 480Hz (1Hz step)
* Detection Accuracy: Better than ±1.0 cent
* Sound Accuracy: Better than ±1.5 cents
* Volume Meter Display
* Programmable Temperament Function
* Connections: INPUT (1/4"), Headphones (1/8" mini), DC IN (9V)
* Speaker: Dynamic speaker (16mm x 35mm)
* Power Supply: 2 AAA alkaline batteries (3V) or AC adapter
* Battery Life: Approximately 60 hours (when tuner is operating with alkaline batteries, Meter mode, A4 continuous input and back-light off)
* Dimensions: 3.98"W x 0.81"H x 3.31"D (folded)
* Weight: 5.22 oz. (including batteries)

Included Items:

* 2 AAA batteries for checking operation

LMA-120 Flip-Top Digital Metronome

* Display settings: Conducting display, Left/Right motion display
* Tempo Range: 30 to 252 beats per minute in quarter notes
* Tempo Settings: PENDULUM step, FULL step
* Beats: 0-9 beats
* Rhythms: quarter, eighth, triplets, triplets with inner beat omitted, quadruplets, quadruplets with inner beat omitted
* Tempo Accuracy: Better than ±0.1 %
* Reference Tone: C4 (261.63Hz) to C5 (523.25Hz) One octave
* Calibration Range: A4=410Hz to 480Hz (1Hz step)
* Sound Accuracy: Better than ±1.5 cents
* Connections: Headphones (1/8" mini), DC IN (9V)
* Speaker: Dynamic speaker (23mm)
* Power Supply: 2 AAA alkaline batteries (3V) or AC adapter
* Battery Life: Approximately 90 hours (when metronome is operating with alkaline batteries, tempo=120, beat=4, rhythm=quarter note, and back-light is off)
* Dimensions: 3.98"W x 0.81"H x 3.31"D (folded)
* Weight: 5.22 oz. (including batteries)

Included Items:

* 2 AAA batteries for checking operation

CM-100L Microphone

* Clip-on contact mic
* 1/4" phone jack
* Complements any tuner with a 1/4" audio input