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Author Topic: Tack Piano & The Piano Tuning on 'Wild Honey'  (Read 6312 times)
AllIWannaDo
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« on: October 17, 2011, 04:18:59 PM »

Howdo fellow BB fan's

I've been hearing loads of mentions of tack piano's with the beach boys on here which has been great!
It seems most of my favorite sounding BB tunes use one, I'd never known what was giving it that sound and tone that i loved ,so have looked into it on the web abit which has been ok but not as insightful as i'd hoped really.

Does anyone know any info on tack piano's being used with the BB's, like if it was a labotomised piano (upright or not), if it was in a particular tuning and all that side of it, I'd be over the moon to hear about it if anyone can help?

I've also been hearing alot about the piano tuning used on 'wild honey' and that it was tuned by using brian's voice as ref rather than standard tuning prong's so it had some notes abit flat or sharp, the cumulus giving a lovely chordal/harmonic tone. is this right?

if anyone can give me a few tips or pointers on how to get this tone, sound and also on tack piano's with the BB's I'll be really grateful (i'm recording soon and am after a tack piano sound in there so any help in this will be great!)

Thanks very much for your help!


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aeijtzsche
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2011, 05:27:45 PM »

A tack piano can be created in a few ways.  The ones used in LA studios were all upright pianos, to my knowledge.  There is a literal tack piano, where metal tacks are stuck in the hammers where they strike the strings.  Alternatively, the hammers can be lacquered, which is what I think a lot of the studio tack pianos were.

As for tuning, that's a bit of a controversial subject.  The myth, that Brian sung the pitches at which he wanted the piano tuned, has certainly come down the pike.  We will never know exactly where this myth came from, and there may be some sort of truth in it, but, practically speaking, it's unlikely that a piano would be tuned to Brian's pitches.  Pianos and other keyboard instruments are intentionally out of tune, for the sake of being able to play in all keys.

Without going into a musicological treatise, the nature of harmony means that with the way keyboards are laid out, if we sought perfect mathematical intervals for every interval, we'd end up either needing more than 12 keys (to represent mathematically pure sharps AND flats) or we'd need to alter some intervals.  We do the latter.

Brian could certainly hum a scale that a piano tuner could tune to, but it is unlikely that this would be satisfactory across the whole keyboard--there would be some very wonky intervals.

Now, it could be that Brian asked for certain little touches, like the bright honky-tonk tuning used on Wild Honey.

That tuning is not "out of tune" as concerns the notes of the scale to each other--it is "out of tune" in terms of each course of any given pitch.

Most pianos, above the very low notes, have at least two or even three strings tuned in unison for each pitch.  Like a mandolin, more than one string plays the same pitch to add volume.  There are things a piano tuner can do to create an overall timbre.  Tuning in perfect unison will create one sound, but tuning the strings a few mathematical cents different will create the chorusing effect. 

Now, I certainly wouldn't recommend doing this without a trained piano tuner, but to make your piano sound like the Wild Honey piano, you will need to tune up to pitch, then detune one of the strings very slightly.  Alternatively, if you have recording equipment, you can record a piano, copy that track, and play the original and the copy at the same time after using some sort of pitch-change plug in.
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Andrew G. Doe
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2011, 11:36:15 PM »

As for tuning, that's a bit of a controversial subject.  The myth, that Brian sung the pitches at which he wanted the piano tuned, has certainly come down the pike.  We will never know exactly where this myth came from, and there may be some sort of truth in it...

Marilyn was the source for that.
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aeijtzsche
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« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2011, 04:16:27 AM »

As for tuning, that's a bit of a controversial subject.  The myth, that Brian sung the pitches at which he wanted the piano tuned, has certainly come down the pike.  We will never know exactly where this myth came from, and there may be some sort of truth in it...

Marilyn was the source for that.

Right, but my point was we will never know what events actually spurred her to tell that story, in other words, what was actually happening at whatever tuning session she overheard.
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2011, 05:43:33 AM »

Pianos and other keyboard instruments are intentionally out of tune, for the sake of being able to play in all keys.


Why is this not the case for non-keyboard instruments?
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2011, 06:02:46 AM »

Pianos and other keyboard instruments are intentionally out of tune, for the sake of being able to play in all keys.


Why is this not the case for non-keyboard instruments?

It is, called tempered tuning. Any kind of instrument with a fixed pitch, e.g. fretted guitars or basses, horns, woodwinds etc. are nowadays tuned like this, same goes with the 440hz A. That's why a G-sharp now is the same note as an A-flat, actually they would be two different notes.
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« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2011, 06:41:38 AM »

What it meant was that for the first time, it was possible to modulate to any key, which really opened tonality up. Composers like JS Bach really ran with it.
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2011, 08:22:51 AM »

Just to clarify - a detuned piano is not always a "tack piano", and vice-versa.

A few things:

1. Guitars tuned "standard" are by nature tuned "out of tune", and certain areas of the fretboard will be out of tune when you try to play a chord or an interval like a 3rd. On my Telecaster, it's the area from the 3rd to 5th fret on the E and B strings. Some players compensate for it by tuning slightly sharp or flat if the part they're playing is mostly in the range which sounds out.

One person who solved this issue - and I'm surprised but not surprised at the same time that it hasn't caught on more - is a former LA session guitarist named Buzz Feiten, who developed a specific tuning system and layout so the guitar is immune to all that. Early on, he licensed it to the Washburn company, and if you pick up certain model Washburn guitars you'll see the name "Feiten" somewhere on the back of the neck. Now it's expanded to other companies and retrofits of other guitars.

2. I may be waaaayyyy off, but I think Darian had at one point confirmed the point of Brian asking for a certain piano tuning on his "detuned" home piano, and that the tuning was specifically to Brian's request. Whether he actually "sung" all the pitches or just gave a reference is another story. Darian is one to consider perhaps more than others because he was charged with finding a way to replicate that piano's sound for live performances when all of it was being put together, short of schlepping around an actual upright piano.

Brian has either perfect pitch or a superb ear for pitch: Witness the recent "making of GV" video where he sings that bass riff - just his voice without reference - and it is in perfect tune with the original recording, key of F#/Gb...and he does that also in session tapes from the 60's where he sings an instrumental part in perfect tune from the control room.

That is quite a skill.

3. The same effect Josh describes on detuning the three piano strings was also very prominent in hip-hop/R&B vocals, at least it was somewhat standard to mix that way in the 2000's...you take a lead vocal track, copy-and-paste two versions of it onto other tracks, then adjust the pitch of one down 5-10, and the other up 5-10, and mix the three together. Bingo - instant "radio" vocals with digital chorusing. That's the old-school way, though. But funny how it's the same process used to generate that detuned piano sound going back over a century of piano tuning...
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2011, 09:32:43 AM »

Just to clarify - a detuned piano is not always a "tack piano", and vice-versa.

A good point to clarify.  One can have a tack piano that is not detuned.

Incidentally, I should point out that a piano tuner can stop short of the amount of tuning you hear on Wild Honey for a certain effect that is not so much noticable as a difference in pitch but is brighter.    So if a piano isn't cutting through like you want, you can do some very subtle detuning that will not sound obvious but will make the piano cut.  Conversely, a piano that has it's unison bundles dead on perfect will be perceived as "duller" by the ear.
Pianos and other keyboard instruments are intentionally out of tune, for the sake of being able to play in all keys.


Why is this not the case for non-keyboard instruments?

Just to add to this, instruments that are not fixed, like the human voice especially, but un-fretted string instruments as well, can adjust on the fly to make pure intervals in any key.  This is one reason why a capella choral music can be thrillingly beautiful.  Instruments that cannot be adjusted quickly have to resort to compromise.
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puni puni
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« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2011, 02:36:27 PM »

Witness the recent "making of GV" video where he sings that bass riff - just his voice without reference - and it is in perfect tune with the original recording, key of F#/Gb...and he does that also in session tapes from the 60's where he sings an instrumental part in perfect tune from the control room.

That is quite a skill.
you sure man? i thought that's pretty basic to learn

also

http://smileysmile.net/board/index.php/topic,290.0.html
It's really really really really extremely easy to make any piano sound like that.

One each piano for each note, you'll have one two or three strings for a single key.  Most of them are in ones and twos on the first twenty or so keys and from the middle and higher you'll have three strings for each note.  All of them have to be perfectly in tune with eachother in order to sound like a normal piano.  However, say on the note C, you have three strings.  Slightly lower or raise one of those three strings out of tune (you'd usually leave the middle string alone) and you get a sort of warped effect on the note (there's a better term for it); AKA the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey piano sound.  You can make any piano sound like that within five to ten minutes, however I only did the notes in the song so it took like five for me.  It's easy to bring the piano back to normal mode quickly too.

You don't really detune the piano, but you detune the unisons of the individual notes.
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aeijtzsche
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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2011, 02:53:41 PM »

Witness the recent "making of GV" video where he sings that bass riff - just his voice without reference - and it is in perfect tune with the original recording, key of F#/Gb...and he does that also in session tapes from the 60's where he sings an instrumental part in perfect tune from the control room.

That is quite a skill.
you sure man? i thought that's pretty basic to learn

If perfect pitch is acquirable is a question that is in some debate.  Most seem to think that it's not something that can be taught but some would disagree.  I don't have perfect pitch, but I've learned how my voice feels singing certain notes so I can narrow it down to within a semitone or two, but that's not the same thing.  My mother, a professional musician, does have perfect pitch--sorry I didn't get that in the genetic hand-me down.  In any case, no it is not a basic thing to learn.

Quote
also

http://smileysmile.net/board/index.php/topic,290.0.html
It's really really really really extremely easy to make any piano sound like that.

One each piano for each note, you'll have one two or three strings for a single key.  Most of them are in ones and twos on the first twenty or so keys and from the middle and higher you'll have three strings for each note.  All of them have to be perfectly in tune with eachother in order to sound like a normal piano.  However, say on the note C, you have three strings.  Slightly lower or raise one of those three strings out of tune (you'd usually leave the middle string alone) and you get a sort of warped effect on the note (there's a better term for it); AKA the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey piano sound.  You can make any piano sound like that within five to ten minutes, however I only did the notes in the song so it took like five for me.  It's easy to bring the piano back to normal mode quickly too.

You don't really detune the piano, but you detune the unisons of the individual notes.

That's about right.  I would still recommend not doing this yourself though, unless you have the right equipment and are not afraid to call in a pro if you mess up the overall tuning of the keyboard.  I've had some training in tuning harpsichords, which are more temperamental, pun intended, but easier to tune physically.  It's not easy and it's pretty time-consuming to get it right. 

In the case of doing what Tim said, supra, as long as the piano is in tune, it would not be a big deal to detune--but if you wanted a consistent "interval" you would want to take your time.  Say you wanted every course to be 12 cents off the unison.  You'd have to have a tuner or train yourself to hear the beats...whew.
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Boiled Egg
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« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2011, 02:56:17 PM »

As for tuning, that's a bit of a controversial subject.  The myth, that Brian sung the pitches at which he wanted the piano tuned, has certainly come down the pike.  We will never know exactly where this myth came from, and there may be some sort of truth in it...

Marilyn was the source for that.

Right, but my point was we will never know what events actually spurred her to tell that story, in other words, what was actually happening at whatever tuning session she overheard.

must say -- sounds like an inflation of an exaggeration of a misunderstanding.
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AllIWannaDo
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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2011, 04:32:08 PM »

The info on this page is GREAT!

I'm alittle confused about having for eg a C, the middle C bang on the money, the octave lower 10mhz lower, and the octave above 10mhz higher?
how do you tune the piano from low all the way up to the top of its full range?

Thanks for all your help, really interesting!
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« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2011, 04:58:59 PM »

One octave is always the frequency x2, e.g. if A is 440 Hz, 880 Hz would be A one octave higher and so on. In cents it would be 1200.
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« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2011, 07:06:18 PM »

Hows about the piano on The Beatles' "Don't Pass Me By"?  For many years now, I've been fairly convinced that's an acoustic piano mic'd and run thru a Leslie rotating speaker for that classic "warbly" sound.  However, I could be wrong, it could simply be a creatively detuned piano.  Most likely though, it's both.  Any thoughts?
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« Reply #15 on: October 18, 2011, 10:11:52 PM »

Witness the recent "making of GV" video where he sings that bass riff - just his voice without reference - and it is in perfect tune with the original recording, key of F#/Gb...and he does that also in session tapes from the 60's where he sings an instrumental part in perfect tune from the control room.

That is quite a skill.
you sure man? i thought that's pretty basic to learn

also

http://smileysmile.net/board/index.php/topic,290.0.html
It's really really really really extremely easy to make any piano sound like that.

One each piano for each note, you'll have one two or three strings for a single key.  Most of them are in ones and twos on the first twenty or so keys and from the middle and higher you'll have three strings for each note.  All of them have to be perfectly in tune with eachother in order to sound like a normal piano.  However, say on the note C, you have three strings.  Slightly lower or raise one of those three strings out of tune (you'd usually leave the middle string alone) and you get a sort of warped effect on the note (there's a better term for it); AKA the Smiley Smile/Wild Honey piano sound.  You can make any piano sound like that within five to ten minutes, however I only did the notes in the song so it took like five for me.  It's easy to bring the piano back to normal mode quickly too.

You don't really detune the piano, but you detune the unisons of the individual notes.


Yeah man, I'm sure on that one. Have you ever played music with someone who has perfect pitch? I have relative pitch, which means I can hear and identify intervals and recognize chord progressions within a song without having an instrument in front of me, but I can't name notes individually by hearing them...but people who have perfect pitch can hear any musical note and identify it, by name, 100% accurate 100% of the time.

I think perfect pitch is a natural-born talent, but for people who possess it, this can be a blessing or a curse...apparently some with perfect pitch are very disturbed by hearing out-of-tune instruments like violinists with shaky intonation or horns playing flat...nothing to do with musical taste, but the actual pitch being off is upsetting to some I've spoken with who have perfect pitch.

For what Brian did  - I don't know if he has perfect pitch, but try to sing a note in perfect tune without being given a reference pitch or a note to tune up with. That is a skill.

Perfect pitch isn't easy to learn if it can be learned at all. The closest that can be learned is relative pitch...despite the sales hype for training courses, I believe true perfect pitch is something you're born with.

And why repost a 5 year old post of a quick-fix piano tuning deal when the same process was already explained here? If tuning and detuning a piano properly were that simple, no one would be hiring piano tuners to do the job right... Grin
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« Reply #16 on: October 18, 2011, 10:27:11 PM »

Hows about the piano on The Beatles' "Don't Pass Me By"?  For many years now, I've been fairly convinced that's an acoustic piano mic'd and run thru a Leslie rotating speaker for that classic "warbly" sound.  However, I could be wrong, it could simply be a creatively detuned piano.  Most likely though, it's both.  Any thoughts?

I agree it is probably (most definitely!) a piano-through-Leslie, but I don't think it would need to be detuned. I also hear ADT tape warble beyond the Leslie. They could have also had a standard piano track already recorded dry, then later re-amped it sending it through the mic'ed Leslie. They were going crazy with ADT at this time, and over-using it to get that extra warble. And also using those tricks to warble the sound even more, like putting sticky adhesive tape over the tape machine as the tape ran over, who knows...all that odd crap that somehow sounded great!

I thought for sure Geoff Emerick would have addressed some of those sounds as Don't Pass Me By was one of the only White Album tunes he recorded before walking out, but he has more disdain for the song than actual nuts-and-bolts details! Smiley
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puni puni
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« Reply #17 on: October 18, 2011, 11:10:15 PM »

For what Brian did  - I don't know if he has perfect pitch, but try to sing a note in perfect tune without being given a reference pitch or a note to tune up with. That is a skill.
or it could just be muscle memory. he has been performing that song for 40+ years.

And why repost a 5 year old post of a quick-fix piano tuning deal when the same process was already explained here?
it wasn't, there's more to getting that sound than, "oh, brian consciously pitched each individual key a unique tone". the post talks about slightly detuning one of the three strings for each note to make it sound identical to the wild honey recordings.
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« Reply #18 on: October 18, 2011, 11:24:11 PM »

For what Brian did  - I don't know if he has perfect pitch, but try to sing a note in perfect tune without being given a reference pitch or a note to tune up with. That is a skill.
or it could just be muscle memory. he has been performing that song for 40+ years.

And why repost a 5 year old post of a quick-fix piano tuning deal when the same process was already explained here?
it wasn't, there's more to getting that sound than, "oh, brian consciously pitched each individual key a unique tone". the post talks about slightly detuning one of the three strings for each note to make it sound identical to the wild honey recordings.

I'm suggesting that it is not that simple to detune then retune an actual piano based on the info in that post. In fact, I'd suggest someone following the instructions of that post exactly as written will do more harm than good and will most likely f*** up their piano's tuning to the point where they'll need to call a professional tuner to fix it.

Piano tuning is also a skill, an art if you will, and the pros who do it every day get paid very well because it is not as easy as that old post made it seem (I've heard of almost no studios or professional halls or schools who trust their pianos to anyone less than an experienced pro tuner). File that under: "Don't try this at home". Unless you have an old beater of a piano where proper tuning doesn't matter. Smiley
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« Reply #19 on: October 18, 2011, 11:31:13 PM »


Most pianos, above the very low notes, have at least two or even three strings tuned in unison for each pitch.  Like a mandolin, more than one string plays the same pitch to add volume.  There are things a piano tuner can do to create an overall timbre.  Tuning in perfect unison will create one sound, but tuning the strings a few mathematical cents different will create the chorusing effect. 

Now, I certainly wouldn't recommend doing this without a trained piano tuner, but to make your piano sound like the Wild Honey piano, you will need to tune up to pitch, then detune one of the strings very slightly.  Alternatively, if you have recording equipment, you can record a piano, copy that track, and play the original and the copy at the same time after using some sort of pitch-change plug in.

This was posted earlier in the tread with all applicable warnings to not do it without a pro on site... Grin

It would just be a shame for someone to read that old post, try it, and have an experiment in getting the Wild Honey sound cost them a few hundred when they realize they've FUBAR'ed their piano.
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« Reply #20 on: October 19, 2011, 02:51:45 AM »

This thread is greatt!
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« Reply #21 on: October 19, 2011, 03:16:44 AM »

I've yet to hear a good tack piano sample instrument.

Double tracking the piano and detuning one track just doesn't sound too realistic.

I've tried detuning some of the notes on a virtual instrument, and that seems to work better. A lot of effort though
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puni puni
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« Reply #22 on: October 19, 2011, 08:11:12 AM »

It would just be a shame for someone to read that old post, try it, and have an experiment in getting the Wild Honey sound cost them a few hundred when they realize they've FUBAR'ed their piano.
really? maybe that's why no results have shown up
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« Reply #23 on: October 19, 2011, 09:45:07 AM »

It would just be a shame for someone to read that old post, try it, and have an experiment in getting the Wild Honey sound cost them a few hundred when they realize they've FUBAR'ed their piano.
really? maybe that's why no results have shown up

Haha!  Grin That could be very true!

Being more serious, though, that post from 2006 made it seem like you just tune the strings of a piano like you tune a guitar, and it just isn't the case. And hopefully no one actually tried that and harmed either themselves or their piano. Important to note again how crucial it is to call a skilled and experienced piano tuner if you want it tuned or detuned (or re-tuned).
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