Tuning fingered fifths


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The matter I am trying to find info about is that on some cellos one finds a small shim glued to the nut on one (or more?) strings to help with playing fifths in tune. I am sort of remembering seeing this on the D string  which I think would make the fifth across the D and A more perpendicular to the neck. There is a thread on the fingerboard which says the proper finger position for D and A is slightly flatter on the D and that when playing G and D the D is also flatter. Assuming I am remembering and understanding this correctly my question is how to figure the correct size of this shim. Also if different diameter or type of strings would make a difference. Any help appreciated

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I remember reading a story about Janos Starker playing a concert very late in his career, and was using a borrowed cello since he wasn't comfortable traveling with his Gofrillser anymore (or something). Supposedly he spent two days just learning where his fourths and fifths were on each string. 

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I've done this to guitars and banjos. There are several ways of doing it. One is adding shim to front edge of nut (or in some cases I made L-crossection nut that overhangs the fingerboard - not simple on arched boards - but makes the nut one solid piece), the other is reducing the fingerboard by some amount adding a bit wider nut and cutting negative compensation into the nut with small round file (at 45 degrees) so the edge where string leaves is at correct relation for true pitch (on fretted instruments it is easy to do on strung instrument as the nothes are higher above board). I guess on cello (which doesn't have fixed frets) you don't need to cut fingerboard shorter and you can go with the nut already in place and decide if you want to do "negative" or "positive" compensation (the negative in case of not shotrening board will effectively lengthen the string length by tiny amount - I don't think on cello that would be noticeable)

On guitars and banjos there is also the bridge compensation that changes things a little but it's effect diminishes to zero towards nut. But you need to keep that in mind when doing both corrections on one instrument and the two compensations add up.

The amount at nut is pretty simple to approximate. From theoretical calculation the movement of nut shifts ALL pitches along board (fhen fretted or fingered at unchanged position) by the same amount - meaning cents sharp or flat. So if my first fret note is 5 cents sharp I need to move the nut approximetely by 5/100 of the first fret distance (on cello you need to measure the exact fingerng point somehow). I measure pitches of all strings and find out what type of compensation I need. On cello (without frets) you can do either one - just decide which string fingering position you want to match on other strings mark it and and go from there. if you need to lower the pitch at given string and finger position you need to do shorten the string by adding shim or leaving the nut wider at that string.

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10 hours ago, nathan slobodkin said:

The matter I am trying to find info about is that on some cellos one finds a small shim glued to the nut on one (or more?) strings to help with playing fifths in tune. I am sort of remembering seeing this on the D string  which I think would make the fifth across the D and A more perpendicular to the neck. There is a thread on the fingerboard which says the proper finger position for D and A is slightly flatter on the D and that when playing G and D the D is also flatter. Assuming I am remembering and understanding this correctly my question is how to figure the correct size of this shim. Also if different diameter or type of strings would make a difference. Any help appreciated

These shims were common back when a lot of cellists were using Jargar strings, and the strings didn't have uniform mass-per-unit-length along their entire length. I don't see the shims much any more.

When we'd do it, the size would be determined by trial and error, sticking something like a toothpick under (usually the D) string, letting the player try it, and moving the toothpick until the player was happy. Then we'd make an ebony nut extension to reach where the toothpick had been.

When new Jargar strings were installed, the old shim might work, or we might need to make a new one. The strings could be quite variable. Manufacturing inconsistencies.

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On guitars it is mostly the tension and thickness of steel core that creates need for compensation and height of nut (some players prefer higher nut than minimal standard). Perhaps mixed sets of strings on cello could cause problems as well.

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I have exactly one customer still using one of these nut extensions.  It's a minor pain to plane her fingerboard as I usually have to make a new one.  To David's point above regarding Jargar strings, I'm sure that's true.  That said, she hasn't used Jargar strings in a while but I'm still keeping the nut extension in.  At this point it may simply be habit for her.  She has not mentioned having intonation problems with the non Jargar strings.
The length of the extension I put on is 2.8mm.

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4 hours ago, HoGo said:

On guitars it is mostly the tension and thickness of steel core that creates need for compensation and height of nut (some players prefer higher nut than minimal standard). Perhaps mixed sets of strings on cello could cause problems as well.

Guitars use tempered tuning imposed by the frets. Without frets Cellists have freedom of expression and lots of finger wiggling. Improvised intonation.

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6 minutes ago, sospiri said:

Guitars use tempered tuning imposed by the frets. Without frets Cellists have freedom of expression and lots of finger wiggling. Improvised intonation.

they will still have to be in tune with other players though.

that guitar column i read through made me thinks - wouldn't it be better just to put on another bridge or at the least, widen the slot for a thicker saddle thus enabling compensation work on the back side of the saddle?

must be tough to over come misplaced fret positions - dummies.

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Sure you can finger wherever you want. The OP asked how to adjust the nut so the fingering positions will end up more perpendicular to neck axis. On guitar this is brought to extreme with fixed straight frets.

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9 hours ago, uncle duke said:

they will still have to be in tune with other players though.

that guitar column i read through made me thinks - wouldn't it be better just to put on another bridge or at the least, widen the slot for a thicker saddle thus enabling compensation work on the back side of the saddle?

must be tough to over come misplaced fret positions - dummies.

Intonation and saddle position on a guitar is difficult to comprehend. 

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11 hours ago, sospiri said:

Intonation and saddle position on a guitar is difficult to comprehend. 

1.  have a fret layout plan that is as close to perfect as possible - there are several opinions as to which works best.  for a classical guitar first fret placement i use 37mm .

2. scale length plus added compensation will be this - the distance from the nut/fretboard join to the middle of the twelfth fret in millimeters, then multiply that distance times two {x2}, then add another 1/16 inch or slightly more, if you want for the break angle of the bridge saddle slot.  you can use a straight across saddle slot or an angled saddle slot but life is too short so i just use a straight across slot.  i've fell in love with the classical guitar again homie/holmes so this is my last post here at mn - i promise.  

3.  steel string setup/distances are not much different from the above.    

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On 2/24/2021 at 4:06 PM, uncle duke said:

that guitar column i read through made me thinks - wouldn't it be better just to put on another bridge or at the least, widen the slot for a thicker saddle thus enabling compensation work on the back side of the saddle?

must be tough to over come misplaced fret positions - dummies.

Once you do a few of them it's simple. In most cases the CNC cut fretboards and standard saddle compensations of factory guitars go perfectly with standard gauges of strings. But some players use nonstandard strings or nonstandard setup requirements (like for bottleneck playing) that require additional compansation at nut. I've seen more than few examples where fingerboard was cut by hand and fret positions not very precise and some where the frets were precisely cut using template but the nut end of fretboard was (by mistake) left mm or so longer (rarely shorter).

One has to grasp the notion that compensation at saddle makes bigger difference near bridge and less near nut (in flattish exponential/logarithmic curve when comparing perfect pitch v.s compensated in cents of semitone) and compensation at nut changes all pitches by same amount constantly. When you use both they will simply add. So after measuring pitches of your board you can determine about amount at nut and saddle for best compromise - it is always compromise on fretted instruments.

Compensation.gif

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On 2/23/2021 at 10:12 PM, nathan slobodkin said:

The matter I am trying to find info about is that on some cellos one finds a small shim glued to the nut on one (or more?) strings to help with playing fifths in tune. I am sort of remembering seeing this on the D string  which I think would make the fifth across the D and A more perpendicular to the neck. There is a thread on the fingerboard which says the proper finger position for D and A is slightly flatter on the D and that when playing G and D the D is also flatter. Assuming I am remembering and understanding this correctly my question is how to figure the correct size of this shim. Also if different diameter or type of strings would make a difference. Any help appreciated

Hi Nathan,

You might've been thinking of my recent post.  It turned out the shim wasn't involved, I had a false string.

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