When you want to tune a guitar, you’ll find that several different settings are standard. The typical setup you’ll see for acoustic and electric instruments is an E-B-G-D-A-E combination. This routing runs from the E2 to the E4 on the scale.
It is possible to create multiple alternative tuning options, with most bands usually taking a semitone up or down to accommodate their vocalist. Once the guitar goes down that half-note, you can put a cap on the first fret to restore the original format.
When a band wants to create a darker sound with lower tones and more fill in the bass frequencies, achieving that result by going two semitones, or one complete note, down on the scale.
It is important to remember that a “step” is not the same as an “octave” when tuning the instrument.
Is It Possible to Tune a Guitar Down an Octave?
Although it is possible to tune a guitar down one full note (two semitones), it isn’t always the best choice for every guitarist. A whole step is not the same as an octave. The only way to achieve this result is to let off pressure from the strings, forcing them to become loose and floppy when played.
When you turn the notes down on a guitar, it becomes harder to play the different chords well. If you play power chords frequently, this shift makes it more comfortable to play the typical progressions and scales. It also creates more chances for errors to occur, especially when striking individual notes.
There are some ways to avoid these potential issues. Some guitarists like to use thicker strings, while others prefer to manage a longer scale length.
If you go too low, the issue becomes one of structure. You might find that the nut slots need to get widened to accommodate the change, and it might be necessary to get higher action – resulting in tighter string spacing.
When you can compromise a little on string tightness and spacing, you can usually achieve the results you want on the lower tuning.
How to Tune a Guitar Down a Full Octave Successfully
When you want to go down a whole step, which is two frets on the guitar, you’ll be switching your tuning from E-B-G-D-A-E to D-A-F-C-G-D.
If you attempted to go from the E2 to E4 structure to E1 to E3, the strings would be too loose to play. You’d be strumming with tones that are similar to what you’d find on the bass guitar, which means it would be better to play that instrument instead of the alternative tuning on your acoustic or electric.
When you go the whole step (two semitones) down, it’s much easier to play certain rock and metal compositions. Some power chords only require one finger to press against the frets to achieve the intended results.
Should you need to play your guitar down a full octave, an alternative tuning won’t work as well as an octave pedal.
That’s the only way to tune your guitar down a full octave successfully. Since this product only applies to electrified versions, it means a classical instrument cannot be successfully adjusted to the E1 to E3 range from the E2 to E4.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Using an Octave Pedal?
When you want to drop your guitar a full octave, you’ll need a pedal to have the most successful experience.
If you’re thinking about going in that direction for your playing instead of stepping things down a semitone or two, you’ll want to evaluate the pros and cons of using an octave pedal.
It is also called a modulator or harmony pedal, based on the sounds that come from the unit.
|Pros of Using an Octave Pedal||Cons of Using an Octave Pedal|
|• You can get numerous built-in presets with most pedals, allowing you to have countless effects added into the harmonies or tone changes desired.|
• Many octave pedals come with synthesizers, pitch shifters, and other harmonizers for depth and consistency with countless manual adjustments.
• Some products incorporate a guitar tuner with the pedal to ensure your instrument plays in the intended range.
You can use this technology with an electric guitar to emulate a bass when one isn’t available for your band, recording session, or gig. Some octave pedals allow for other instruments to route their electronics through them, such as a keyboard.
|• There are plenty of distractions offered out there for octave pedal products when the only thing you might want is pure harmony.|
• It is sometimes necessary to purchase an octave pedal with intelligent tracking to ensure that you’re staying in the right key with the other instruments.
• Some pedals deliver better sounds than others, even within the same series from a single manufacturer.
• You’ll need to configure the equipment settings since most pedals incorporate more than one octave switch. You could have up to eight different options to consider, along with countless scales and alternative tuning options.
When you shop for the best octave pedals on the market, you’ll want to look for a harmonizer that lets you stack intervals into your melody. It should stay in the key strictly to ensure the sounds don’t become awkward to the player or listener.
How to Use an Octave Pedal Successfully with Your Setup
When you start using an octave pedal with your guitar, you’ll need to have it placed in the proper spot with your signal path.
Suppose you don’t follow a logical order for your audio signal. In that case, it won’t take much for the audio to sound unnatural, and the harmonizing effects from the octave design enhance that issue exponentially.
When your goal is to adjust the notes you play by a full octave, you’ll want to use this setup to have the best sounds come from your instrument and overall structure.
- Filters, pitch shifters, and dynamics.
- Boost and distortion.
Since an octave pedal creates a pitch differentiation, it should occur at the beginning of your signal chain under most circumstances. If you have any equalization or compression, that should come first.
This setup ensures that you can get the cleanest waveform possible while maintaining the overall flexibility with its shape.
If you shape the waveform before adding harmony, you won’t get something as clean and clear for the audience to enjoy.
The octave pedal should come before any delay, reverb, or chorus pedals that you include with your suitcase. You don’t want to harmonize on a delayed signal because it will create less definition.
You’d have a better result if you were to delay a harmonized signal instead.
Should I Be Getting a Smart Harmonizer for Octave Changes?
Today’s equipment that allows guitarists to shift a full octave can lock you into a specific key. It’s a must-have feature if you play with others.
Most pedals with these features include LCD screens that make it easier to navigate through the various menus and choices. Although these options vary by product, they’ll often let you recognize and adapt to whatever key is getting played at the moment.
Some products still require you to use knobs to make manual changes to lock in the key instead.
You’ll find several knobs and menu settings available on the modern octave pedal. Each one provides significant benefits worth considering, so it helps to take a closer look at the different options to see if you need them for your playing style.
Here is a brief overview of what you can expect to find on today’s best octave pedals.
|Harmony:||• This knob is sometimes referred to as “type” on some pedals. |
• They let you choose what voice to use with your instrument, delivering several different sounds for a customized result.
|Reverb:||• When you have this feature, you can replicate what happens when a waveform strikes a solid surface and reflects back to the audience. |
• You can sometimes exaggerate this option to build complex echoes and amplitudes for interesting combinations.
|Level:||• With this choice, you can use the settings to define how loud the equipment plays your harmonized line.|
|Balance:||• If you have this feature on your pedal, you can blend and mix the audio effects to create something that sounds more natural. |
• It often looks at brightness and contrast, although you can also find some unique opportunities for delays and other variations.
|Key:||• When you can lock this feature, it allows your harmonized lines to stay consonant. |
• Without this assistance, any variations could fail to adapt to your tone, notes, or chords.
The Best Octave Pedal You Can Get for Your Guitar Today
Although you can find dozens of different harmonizer pedals for your guitar today, the one I’ve preferred for a long time is the Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork.
When you equip this pedal to your setup, you’ll get the chance to transpose octaves up to three higher or lower than your current guitar tuning. It also comes with three shift modes, including up, down, and dual.
There’s an EXP input that lets you control the glissando through another expression pedal. If you don’t need that feature, it also provides more power over the control shift.
You can run it off a 9V battery when you have a gig to play with minimal power options. It also has an AC/DC adapter, ensuring that you can have whatever flexibility you need for the stage.
The momentary and latch modes with the Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork let you change how the EXP input and the footswitch behave, defaulting at 60ms for the control you want. The range is massive, going from only 4ms up to two seconds.
It’s the Shift knob that is my favorite setting with this pedal, allowing for an instant move toward the octave you prefer. You can also use its detuning mode to add some darkness and thickness to the end result.
You cannot realistically tune a guitar down a full octave from the instrument. The string slack alone would be too much for a standard set, and you’d need to adjust your foundations to accommodate thicker strings. Neither option is practical or cost-effective.
That’s why an octave pedal is your best option.