SD101: Tuning Instruments & Sound Effects…

I’ve never had any trouble tuning instruments, but by instruments I really mean guitar or bass… An electric guitar was my very first instrument & I busted a few strings learning how to tune it… then followed a number of bass guitars (including a $500 Rickenbacker in an auction) until my pride & joy, a Maton fretless bass. Being fretless meant I had to learn how to tune it using harmonics, which once your relative pitch detecting ear is up to speed is no problem…
Occasionally editing sound effects I end up having to tune any sounds with defined pitch to whatever music is in the same scene, apart from any sound designy tones obvious examples include bells, sustained metal, ship horns & even the occasional phone ring….
My basic method for tuning sound effects to music is to use the ProTools AudioSuite PITCH plugin and first select a piece of the music with clearly defined pitch (ie a sustained note/decay) and it is a LOT easier if it is the tonic note of the progression. Open Pitch Audiosuite plug and enable Reference pitch. Click preview and you should hear the piece of music looping, then slowly raise the Reference pitch LEVEL until you can hear the Reference tone over the music. Now move the Reference pitch NOTE value until the tone is in tune with the music… You shouldnt need to use the DETUNE slider with music unless it has been through some kind of speed change or incorrect sample rate conversion…

Now disable preview and go select the sound effect that needs tuning, enable preview & change the COARSE (& then FINE) pitch control up top until the sound effect is in tune with the Reference pitch. Once you’re happy process the pitch of the sound effect, preferably without TIME CORRECTION unless sync is an issue!
Easy huh?

Now tuning guitars, basses & most sound effects is easy, and its not something you have to worry too much about in the world of sample librarys and softsynths – they’ve all been painstakingly tuned by someone else… But a year ago or so I picked up an antique zither via an auction and believe me, it is a P.I.T.A. to tune! It holds its tune ok but the problem is there are too many strings! This zither has 4 sets of four strings which are tuned to chords, then theres a C Major scale of notes. So instead of 4 or 6 notes to tune theres 32 strings! And thats after I took off the unison strings of the high octave. A bit mroe recently I picked up a gu zheng which has 16 strings & I’m not even sure what scale to how to tune it to!?! So I’ve been keeping an eye out for an affordable solution and today I came across one: STROBOSOFT! And more so than your average software developer, The Peterson Company have a history in what they do that precedes any computer you or I will have used! In fact they made their first strobe tuner back in 1967.
Most people have used normal old guitar tuners, that have a meter much like VU level meters, but the strobe tuner offers a more accurate display of pitch; 30 times more accurate according to wikipedia!
So the Peterson company make both hardware and software based strobe tuners; the hardware versions being fairly expensive & I braced myself when checking the price of their software version but the StroboSoft only costs US$79.99! And it works a treat – my zither sounds sweet!!!

So how do you use it? The Strobosoft is a freestanding application that uses whatever hardware your Mac or PC has, from built in mic or line level through to accessing ProTools HD hardware via core audio. In my case I plugged a mic into my Apogee Mini-Me preamp, plugged it digitally into PT HD spdif input, setup core audio so Input 1 was digital and booted up Strobosoft. Once I told it to access the PT hardware input 1 I got a signal. I set Strobosoft to Chromatic tune (you can also select any number of instrument presets, so its knows what note/s to look for if you are tuning cello, guitar etc) and the strobe display started spinning as it tried to tune the ambient sound in my studio. I plucked a note and it latched on to the closest, with the strobe display moving to indicate how far off I was… Its easy to understand once you have it running in front of you but I’ll try & explain:

Think of the blocky blue & grey display to the right of the note display E, as four vertical dials. When your note is flat or sharp all four dials will spin (ie the blocks move) up/down. As you get closer in pitch the first dial will stop moving, followed by the second one and the third until you are very very close to being perfectly in tune. By this time the Cents display will be down to +/- a few cents… Depending on how good your tuning pegs are its then just a matter of very subtle tweaks to get the fourth dial stationery, and then its on to the next string. Its so easy to use and best of all very, very accurate! Check it out

And yes it would be damn handy as a plugin: VST and RTAS! I am not sure if they have any plans to ever port it but I sure wish they would!!!! I’ve emailed the company to enquire so will report back here….

Ahar! Based on comments in their user forume a VST version will be soon released & an RTAS version is likely, but not likely any time soon…. but can always use a VST wrapper to make it accessible in ProTools!

And just got a helpful email from the company directly; “StroboSoft 2.0 will be released within a few weeks and one of the biggest new features is VST/AU support. Protools users will require a wrapper. Here is a full feature set and hi-res photo of 2.0

9 thoughts on “SD101: Tuning Instruments & Sound Effects…

  1. tim

    that depends on your computer – you need to get signal into it somehow, but most laptops & computers have a mic and/or line input…

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