Reader: Do I Tell the Guitar Player in Church His Guitar is Out of Tune?

harmonically&spiritually_conflicted  We’ve been going to the same church for many years. It’s a small church where we don’t have a full ensemble, just one acoustic guitar player who leads us in song.  The woman we had, who did a wonderful job, has moved and another of our parishioners has taken her spot. His guitar is out of tune almost every week, and I cannot take it. With tuners everywhere these days, on our phones and on most guitars, I don’t understand how this can happen.  Should I address it with him, and if so, how? If it doesn’t change, I may have to choose another church.

gear.abby @harmonically&spiritually_conflicted  Someone should tell him. That may or may not be you. If you have anything of relationship with him and if he respects you as a musician, this may not be so tough. Just nicely approach him –  NOT around other people  – and ask him some indirect, but honest questions about things that may be causing the issue. Maybe his guitar needs some work, or maybe he bought a whole box of cheap strings. He probably tunes up before the service, but the guitar drifts and he cannot hear it, or he’s hoping no one else does. Who knows, but give him the benefit of doubt that it’s not the result of a lack of awareness or ability. That would only serve to embarrass him. Unless he is very prideful, that should be a successful approach. 

If he doesn’t know you, or seems very prideful about his music/ability, it may make more sense to bring it up to the pastor or whoever leads your church. Most spiritual leaders of any church have some musical training and should be hearing what you are hearing.

I recently had a similar experience, but it was at a funeral, so when it was over, I could let it go. The guitar player had a beautiful 12-String Taylor guitar, and oddly enough, sang with very good pitch despite the guitar being quite out of tune the entire service.

There is some research that indicates that some people are more sensitive to dissonance than others, so it may not be as irritating to most of the other people who are listening and that is why it goes unnoticed or unaddressed. You may be extra sensitive to it and should consider that as you approach the situation. At the funeral I mentioned, I turned to my spouse and asked if he could hear that the guitar was out of tune and he replied, “I’m not aware of why, but to me it just does not sound good.”  So, there you are.

In the end, if it doesn’t get resolved and it bothers you that much, you may have to find another church or another way to practice your spirituality. 

I believe this happens far more commonly these days. Maybe I’m just old and waxing nostalgic, but I feel like there used to be more of a journeyman process for live performers. I recall a lot more tough love from fellow musicians and audiences alike. Today everyone just wants to tell each other that they are awesome, even if they cannot tune a guitar.

I feel strongly that anyone who picks up an instrument for an audience – and even more so when they are being paid for their performance – it is the performer’s 100% responsibility to make sure that the instrument is in tune and in shape to stay in tune.

New performers often stumble in their first few gigs. They have trouble with vocal pitch and meter. To a degree, I have no issue with that. In fact, nothing will make a musician better than doing live performances – that include some struggles. But tuning an instrument is completely within the control of any beginner and it’s not acceptable to leave that task unattended. If that basic skill is not something they possess, they have more work to do before they play “out.”

Don’t get me wrong, I believe it is very important to encourage anyone new to a creative art with positive feedback, but is has to be honest or it’s not helpful. To tell them they are doing great no matter what, is a disservice to that player.

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3 thoughts on “Reader: Do I Tell the Guitar Player in Church His Guitar is Out of Tune?

  • November 25, 2019 at 6:08 am

    If it happens every week, I bet the guitar is in tune but the player grips the strings too hard and pushes them sharp. Needs a lighter grip if this is the case. Worth checking out.

  • November 16, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Go buy an inexpensive Snark ( or similar brand ) headstock tuner. Wrap it in some decorative paper with a small bow and a card with his/her name on it. Leave it on stage where he/she will find it. Leave it when no ones around. Problem solved.
    This approach worked for me and my stage mates years ago while on the road.
    We had a keyboard player that did not ,should we say . practice the best hygiene.
    So as not to embarrass him or piss him off ( he was a super player ! ) we went to the Dollar store and purchased, deodorant, a bar of soap, shampoo and conditioner, tooth paste and brush and a bottle of cheap spray cologne. We boxed it all up, wrapped it, and had the front desk at our hotel deliver it to his room.
    Problem solved..

    • November 17, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Mitch Haney – NICE! I was thinking the same thing, MERRY CHRISTMAS!


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