Is always being in tune an unobtainable myth? Guitar repair expert Joe Glaser and session pro Tom Bukovac discuss

Snark headstock tuner on Martin guitar
(Image credit: Future)

"I think tuning is overrated in a way," says Joe Glaser of Nashville's Glaser Instruments. "In 50 years, if we're so lucky that people are listening back, their favourite records for the most part are still going to be Chuck Berry and some of these other people who, where you really break down that stuff, are not particularly in tune."

Now there's a thought, are we overthinking it? In this clip from Nashville's Blackbird Studio's new Inside Blackbird streaming subscription service, Glaser (one of the top guitar repair experts in the world) and session guitarist Tom Bukovac talk tuning. And the latter has some truth grenades to set off.

All the things that you worry about as a session player, I've always said the hardest one of all is tuning

"I will say, as far as being a player, of all the things related to doing sessions; you're getting tone, coming up with parts, pocket… all the things that you worry about as a session player, I've always said the hardest one of all is tuning," Nashville go-to session man Bukovac admits. "Tuning is the one thing that will take a good man down."

When you hear a player of Bukovac's calibre admit something, it's concerning. 

"I can't tell you how many inspired performances have been burned because I couldn't get the thing in tune," he adds. "Magic moments where I was really playing some s*** that was probably pretty good and you can't keep it."

"I always thought piano players were so lucky because they could just get in there and do the thing. And if it's out of tune it's not their fault, but we are expected to get the thing in tune."

That's a lot of pressure, and it's not just a pro issue; we'll all feel it on every stage we play on or home recording we ever track too. 

Keeping your guitar setup well and investing in a good guitar tuner will certainly help, and Glaser hones in on nut and string issues as the first ports of call if you notice consistent intonation issues with your guitar. 

But he also explains in the video above why certain facts about guitars mean the unattainability of always being in tune is something we might have to accept. And he goes on to note there are ways to avoid accentuating it in the kind of parts you layer. 

"You just learn to live with that stuff and if you don't have the confidence then it will really take you down," Glaser says. "And then if you get everything perfectly in tune, the track won't necessarily sound better."

See the full video by signing up to a subscription package at Inside Blackbird

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.