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Can a Synthesizer Go out of Tune? (Answered)

I often get asked, "can a synthesizer go out of tune?" In this article, I will answer your questions about synths and whether they need tuning.

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If you play string instruments, you know how annoying an out-of-tune instrument can be. It’s a real headache. Pianos are string instruments, so they can also go out of tune. But if you’re a keyboard player, specifically a synth player, you might wonder if your synthesizer can go out of tune.

This article will discuss synthesizers, whether they can go out of tune, and how to prevent them so you can keep making beautiful music. 

Image of six synthesizers. Source: tstudio, unsplash
Image of six synthesizers. Source: Tstudio, Unsplash

Can a synthesizer go out of tune? Digital, virtual analogs, and wavetable synthesizers can not go out of tune as the notes are produced digitally. However, analog synthesizers can go out of tune.

What is a synthesizer?

A synthesizer is an electronic instrument that can make sound using digital or analog signal processing. Most synthesizers try to mimic (or “synthesize”) the sounds of acoustic instruments. But synthesizers that try to sound like acoustic instruments make sounds different from the real ones.

For example, the “piano” preset on many electronic synthesizers makes the instrument sound like an 88-key classical piano, even though it is made by a collection of electronic tone generators. A piano’s sound is created by a felt hammer hitting tuned strings, which never happens with a synthesizer.

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What does out of tune mean?

The key signature of a song indicates which scale notes go well with it. So, to be “out of tune” is to play in a key or scale other than the one intended. So when a singer or musician is “out of tune,” some of their notes are off pitch and don’t work well within the key signature of the song they’re performing.

How can a synth go out of tune?

Analog synthesizers can go out of tune due to a tiny “drift” in tuning. This is why many people continue to pay exorbitant prices for the “classic” synthesizer sound. The “drift” is caused by several elements inherent to the synthesizer’s circuitry. The following are examples of this:

  • Temperature changes in analog circuits cause tuning drift.
  • Changes in electromagnetic interference cause tuning instability.
  • Aging circuit components cause a change in tune.

That is to say, the environment, electrical interferences inside the circuitry, or the fact that the synth is getting on in years.

How do I know if my synth is out of tune?

There are several ways to check if a synth is tuned correctly. You would use it the same way as any other musical instrument—by using a tuning fork and listening to the precision of the note.

How to tune a synthesizer?

You can get the best tuning results when you tune your synths in the studio using a software tuner. Most digital audio workstations (DAWs) include high-quality software tuners, including Ableton and Logic.

How to prevent your synthesizer from going out of tune?

You can only do a little to prevent your synth from being out of tune. Getting the most out of a vintage analog synthesizer requires letting it warm up first. Some synthesizers need up to 30 minutes to calm down and be roughly in tune after doing this. Generally, older synths will take longer to warm up. The synthesizer should be kept in a clean space when not in use. And if you have no other option, let it warm to room temperature again before turning it on.

Other than this, there isn’t much you can do to stop it. One of life’s mysteries. It’s a big part of what makes so many synthesizers unique and special. And, honestly, you won’t mind the tuning frequency if you play another instrument, like a guitar.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Why you need a tuner for your analog synthesizer” from the Active Low YouTube channel.

A video called “Why you need a tuner for your analog synthesizer” from the Active Low YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about synthesizer tuning.

Is a synth the same thing as a synthesizer?

Yes. A synth and a synthesizer are the same thing. A synthesizer, or “synth,” is an electronic keyboard that digitally creates musical sounds. Synths provide a far wider spectrum of sound possibilities than regular keyboards.

Why do analog synths go out of tune?

Analog synths go out of tune due to something called “drift.” A drift is caused by several elements inherent to the synthesizer’s circuitry. For example, when the environment’s temperature changes, electromagnetic interference can cause the tuning of analog circuits to drift.

Is calibration worth the money?

Your TV’s picture quality should improve after calibration, but how much depends on how well it was set up. Due to the high price, it is usually only useful for people who have high-end TVs and want the best performance.

Do pianos go out of tune if not played?

The pressing and releasing of the strings will cause the tune to alter even if the piano is never played. The pins holding the wires will likewise shift as a result, throwing the strings out of tune once more.

Conclusion

While analog synths are prone to going out of tune, digital synths are rarely out of tune. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t tweak your settings now and then. If it happens a lot, check the tuning software or turn up the volume halfway. It’s also a good idea not to practice with headphones on to avoid being distracted by outside noise.

This article covered what a synthesizer is, what “out of tune” means, and how a synth can go out of tune. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A synthesizer is an electronic instrument that can make sound using digital or analog signal processing.
  • Musically, to be “out of tune” is to play in a key or scale other than the one intended.
  • Compared to digital synthesizers, analog ones have more personality due to a tiny “drift” in tuning that can’t be replicated.
  • Synths are grouped into two broad groups regarding tuning, and the first group is a synthesizer with no pitch knob.
  • Extra tips: 
    • One frequent technique involves using identical waveforms but setting one oscillator to the desired pitch while adjusting the other slightly sharp or flat, often by a few pennies.
    • Most synthesizers contain rotary or slider controls for adjusting the sound.
    • In theory, a high-frequency VCO may give a digital synth the “analog” quality of drift, but a digital synth’s clock must be kept at exactly the right frequency for it to work.

So, does your synth go out of tune? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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