Never re-tune the band's instruments!!
by Eric Seaberg
(San Diego, CA)
In the late 70's I was doing a lot of Mariachi Bands in the Central Valley of California, known for its influx of seasonal farmworkers. A group had booked time to do an album and spoke very little english. They had bought these instruments with their hard-earned monies from working in the fields and practiced and practiced while at home during the evenings.
Needless to say, because of the language barrier it was difficult getting things in a forward moving direction, but once the mics were set we were ready to record.... except for tuning.
Being a classically trained pianist, I knew the instruments needed to be re-tuned before we could proceed. There were 3-guitars and 1-gitaron, an oversized guitar tuned in the same octave as a bass.
Taking guitar #1 over to the piano I began strumming, comparing pitch to the keyboard. I couldn't believe how far out this first guitar was, but eventually got it to the proper tuning. Each individual string was just out enough that the whole thing seemed unplayable.
Grabbing guitar #2 I set out to accomplish the same.... bringing it back to proper tuning.
As I reached for the third guitar, I could hear the other two players strumming and talking loudly to each other. Since I couldn't understand what they were saying, I continued with my task at hand.... until someone stopped me.
After many moments of trying to understand their motions, I realized what I had done! They had bought these instruments learning how to play on their own with fingerings based on HOW THE INSTRUMENT WAS TUNED WHEN THEY BOUGHT IT! They knew what chord they wanted to hear, and moved their fingers UNTIL the chord sounded right.... within the limits of the original 'bad' tuning.
Once I had correctly tuned two of the three guitars, the players no longer knew how to correctly finger the chords they wanted to play. They sat and looked at each other in absolute confusion and frustration.
Needless to say, the session didn't continue.