Thanks to Editor Brian Berk for this great review in The Retailer -- the pulse of the musical instrument industry, with the most requested subscribers among music trade publications.
Graph Tech Guitar Labs’ RATIO Tune-a-lele, RATIO Bass and RATIO Guitar
By Brian Berk
Many Music Industry (MI) products are designed to fill a need often identified by either engineers, professional musicians or other end users alike. Other products attempt to improve upon already introduced items. Less often, products are released to solve an issue that musicians might not yet be aware of. GraphTech Guitar Labs, the largest guitar nuts and saddles manufacturer and distributor in the world, will soon introduce unique products fitting the latter description when it first released RATIO; balanced-gear tuning Technology for the guitar and will soon release Bass RATIO and Tune-a-lele RATIOs for the Ukulele.
The problem that Graph Tech is solving is that with standard tuner use, the same gear ratio is used for every string, and treats each string the same, yet each string tunes differently to tuning adjustments. Strings with a thick core reacts quickly to any changes in tension, for example a plain G string or a low E string, turn the knob a little, it goes up a lot in pitch, which is why many guitarists spend a lot more time tuning a plain G, low E or A string, or even a high E (because it’s so insensitive to tuning adjustments). Strings for every stringed instrument have this issue, making tuning, re-tunings and open tunings a lot more complicated than it has to be.
“The Ratio line of guitar, bass and ukulele follow the Graph Tech mission of better performance, not a copycat product, and really do what we say they will do,” Graph Tech founder Dave Dunwoodie told the Music & Sound Retailer. “Every guitarist and bass player would love to tune faster, tune on the fly, or change to open tunings in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? And now, it’s possible! We can see the shift starting to happen. We let the choir do the preaching. Many top professionals are now using them; Ed Sheeran, Steve Vai, James Valentine (Maroon 5), Jasen Rauch (Breaking Benjamin) and many more. Top-tier guitar techs like Thomas Nordeg (Frank Zappa and Steve Vai) love them as well. They are standard equipment on premium models of Framus, Martin, Washburn, Klos and many more.”
According to Dunwoodie, Ratio is a perfect example of working on a project 25 years ago and learning a lot of cool things along the way, but nothing became of said project. “What I did find out was why my plain G string on my strat was so finicky to tune and why it went out of tune more than my other strings,” he said. “Well, it turns out that a strings sensitivity to tension is determined by how thick the center core is. The thicker the core, the more sensitive. So, a Plain G string is really sensitive to any tension changes. The wound D string, right beside it, has a thin core, so is a lot less sensitive to tension changes. So, barely turn the machine head on a G and it goes up a lot, do the same amount of turn on a D or high E and it barely goes up in pitch.
“What if every string reacted the same to any tuning adjustment? With Ratio, we calibrate the gear ratios for gauge of each string, so all strings react the same to any tuning adjustment, so tuning, re-tuning and open tunings get extremely quick. In short order, you know how much to tweak every string when you down a few cents, it becomes second nature,” continued Dunwoodie. “It’s one of those ideas that everyone says; “How come this hadn’t been thought of before?” The gear ratios vary from 12:1 to 39:1 on a guitar, with the plain G string having a 35:1 gear ratio. Making a 35:1 or 39:1 gear ratio was another big achievement.”
When designing the Tune-e-lele’s, Ratio;s for Ukes line, Graph Tech started by working out what was the correct gear ratio for ukes, so they tune and feel right. It turns out it’s not 18:1 or 39:1. “The, most intuitive feel tuning for a uke is a 6:1 gear ratio. Well, then we found out why they don’t make guitar tuners at a 6:1 gear ratio … you can’t,” noted Dunwoodie. “A 6:1 guitar style tuner can’t hold the string tension, it just spins loose, which is known as back-drive. Well, that gave us a whack on the side of the head! We needed to approach this from a totally new angle. So, at our research and development meeting on the uke tuner, I said, ‘Let’s design a simple gear, that can operate at a 6:1 gear ratio. A uke’s nylon string has a lot of less tension than a metal guitar string, so lets look at new materials, other than standard metal diecast part, lets open our eyes and take a look around.’ The GT technical team hit it out of the park with the Tune-a-lele machine head design, a 6:1 patent-pending direct-drive mechanism made out of high-density polymers that are not only strong, but self-lubricating, and have zero back drive and zero back lash! The icing on the cake is they are also the worlds lightest machine heads, weighing in at just five grams each, compared to a regular uke tuner weighing 25 grams each. This makes the headstock much lighter and moves the center of gravity of the instrument back making it more balanced in the hands of the musician. Tune-a-leles are an exciting addition to the Graph Tech family.”
GraphTech, founded in 1983 and literally started on the kitchen table in Dunwoodie’s home by placing mail-order ads in Guitar Player
magazine, plans to put plenty of marketing muscle behind its new products to drum up interest among MI retailers. “As with all of our products, we back them up with extensive marketing promotions in both print and digital. Ninety percent of our products are backed by our MAP policy, which has been well received dealers and distributors. And, as always, we have our 45-day love-it-or- return-it guarantee for all of our qualified dealers,” concluded Dunwoodie. View PDF Article