VG-8  FOR  ALTERNATE  TUNINGS

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Some years ago now, a very generous friend made it possible for me to get an electric guitar with a Roland GK-2A pickup and a Roland VG-8 Virtual Guitar System.   The GK-2A pickup takes the vibrations from the electric guitar strings and sends them to the VG-8 box where they are changed into the sounds of the currently selected VG-8 setting.  There is a line out of the VG-8 to an amplifier or headphones so that you can hear the altered sounds.  There is more information about the Roland VG-8 at this Wiki site.

In addition to many standard guitar sounds which are part of the VG-8's built-in settings, there are a number of different parameters which can be changed to create new and different sounds, including the possibility of shifting the pitch of each string.  Since most of the songs I play are in alternate tunings, my favorite feature of the VG-8 is that I can program and store up to 64 different tunings and change tunings simply by turning a dial or pushing a few buttons.  No more broken strings!

One of the problems with programming alternate tunings into a VG-8 is that the VG-8 uses numerical notation to represent the pitch of each string, with zero for any given string representing the standard tuning pitch for that string, whereas tunings are normally represented with characters (e.g. EADGBE).   An additional obstacle is that the VG-8's pitch-shifting menu displays the strings, left to right, from the highest to the lowest pitch, whereas guitar tunings are commonly represented left to right from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch.  I have described the problems below and I made two tables which you can download to help you with translating guitar tunings to and from the VG-8 pitches.


Translating Tunings To And From VG-8 Pitches
The problems to be solved are:

1.  How to translate guitar tunings into the VG-8 pitch numbers.
2.  How to translate VG-8 pitch numbers into the characters of a guitar tuning.
3.  How to translate a character tuning and capo position into VG-8 pitch numbers (because the actual letter names of the notes of the tuning might not be known).
4.  How translate the VG-8 pitch number into characters and a capo position (when you need to do it like this).

The difficulties to be overcome are:

1.  The order of the strings in the VG-8 pitch-shifting menu vs. the order of most written tunings:  

In the VG-8's pitch-shifting menu, the order of the strings from left to right is from the string with the highest tone to the string with the lowest tone.  Most guitar tunings represented with letters are written left to right from the lowest note to the highest note of the tuning, which is exactly the opposite of the VG-8's string order.

2.  The VG-8 pitch notation vs. tuning notation:  

The VG-8 pitches are represented by numbers, with zero for any given string indicating that the string is at its standard tuning pitch. If you see zeroes for all six strings in the VG-8 pitch-shifting menu, this is like looking at standard tuning written in reverse order (from highest string to lowest string), i.e. EBGDAE.


Translating from a guitar tuning to VG-8 pitches:

Guitar Tuning To VG-8 Pitches table (PDF format)
To read a PDF file, you need Adobe Acrobat Reader which you can download here.

1.  Write out the letters of the tuning you want to translate from lowest to highest string (e.g. DADGAD).

2.  Find the instances of the first letter (starting at the left) of DADGAD, i.e. D, in the column of the Guitar Tuning To VG-8 Pitches table labelled "6" and note the corresponding possible VG-8 pitch numbers (i.e. -2, -14, 22, 10).  Choose the pitch number that is closest to zero (i.e. -2), unless the note should be an octave lower or higher, in which case subtract or add 12 to the number accordingly.

3.  Repeat step 2 for each of the remaining strings, using the column labelled "5" for the 2nd note of the tuning, the column labelled "4" for the 3rd note, and so on.   When you are finished, your pitches (for strings 6,5,4,3,2,1) should be -2 0 0 0 -2 -2 for DADGAD.

4.  If a capo is used (e.g. capo = fret 3), then add the number of the capo position to each of the pitch numbers in step 3.  For the example in step 3, the result of adding 3 to each pitch would be 1 3 3 3 1 1.

5.  Reverse the order of the numbers so that the strings are now ordered from highest to lowest, i.e., 1 1 3 3 3 1.

6.  Plug these numbers into the VG-8.

Translating from VG-8 pitches to a guitar tuning:

VG-8 Pitches To Guitar Tuning table (PDF format)
To read a PDF file, you need Adobe Acrobat Reader which you can download here.

1.  Write out the pitches from the VG-8 pitch-shifting menu as they appear on the little screen from highest to lowest string (e.g. 1 1 3 3 3 1).

2.  If any of the tones are greater than zero (i.e., higher than standard tuning position), select the highest number in the set of pitches.  Subtract this number from each pitch to bring all tones to zero or less - this is so that your final result will be standard tuning or lower for each string (so that you don't break any strings!).  So for the numbers 1 1 3 3 3 1, you need to subtract at least 3 to bring the numbers down to zero or less, which works out to -2 -2 0 0 0 -2.  You can also subtract a higher number.   Whatever number you choose should bring each string to its standard tuning position (zero) or lower.  Whatever number you choose to subtract becomes the capo position.

3.  Look at the VG-8 Pitches To Guitar Tuning table and find the letter in the column labelled "1" corresponding to the 1st pitch, i.e. -2 = D.

4.  Repeat step 3 for each of the remaining strings, using the column labelled "2" for the 2nd pitch, the column labelled "3" for the 3rd pitch, and so on.  When you are finished, your letters should be DAGDAD.

5.  Reverse the order of the letters to get a normal tuning notation - i.e., DADGAD, and if you had to subtract a number in step 2, note this number as the capo postion for the tuning.


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