Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My thoughts on the Buzz Feiten Tuning System

I'd like to share my thoughts on the Buzz Feiten Tuning System....

I have great respect for Buzz as a guitarist and I was excited when he came to visit me in late 1985 or early 1986. I do remember it was at my old shop at 33rd and Madison. I was already the leading guitar tech in NYC for improving tuning stability and intonation for the studio pros in town. After Buzz explained his system to me, I agreed to make two electric guitars and incorporate his "system".

Six months later the guitars were done and I invited several players I respect to play them and compare them to my regular guitars. The consensus of all the players was the difference, was at the most, "slight". My feeling at the time was if I was going to pay a license fee to use the system and promote it as an "improvement", the difference needed to be "smack in your face" obvious. It wasn't.

There are two main features of the Buzz Feiten tuning system. First, it involves moving the nut about .020" (twenty-one thousandths of an inch) closer to the first fret. This is to compensate for the increased stretch of the string, the closer you are to the nut. The stretching of the string drives the note sharp, so moving the nut closer to the first fret compensates for this. Regarding the nut location, this has been in the guitar building literature for 150 except for the fact that Feiten was the first to patent this, there is nothing new here. I have been incorporating this compensation into my guitars for the last 30 years. The second feature of the Feiten system is a set of offsets for intonating the guitar at the bridge. These offsets range from plus or minus 1 or 2 cents (a cent is 1/100th of a tone). The problem I have with this part of the equation is that I pretty much defy anyone to play a note 10 times in a row in 1-2 cent tolerances. How close your finger is to the fret, which finger tip you use, which part of the fingertip you use, how much finger pressure you use, etc, etc, etc, all contribute deviations greater than 1 to 2 cents. In addition, as your strings age, the intonation changes. And every time you change strings, let alone brands or gauges, all of this changes as well.

So with all repect to Buzz, I really think the system is one of "smoke and mirrors". If you have paid good money to have your instrument fitted with the Feiten System, you will hear the difference because you want to feel you got your money's worth. On a properly built instrument, with the nut cut at the right height and placed at the correct location, and a properly intonated instrument, I doubt if you will hear any difference at all.


  1. I always thought it was sort of ironic that an intonation technology would use the word Buzz. You make basses that make bass players better!

  2. Do you realize that you are second-guessing the musical ears of Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Leona Boyd, Scott Henderson, and many top studio players -- who swear by BFTS? Also, it isn't intended that Buzz's change of the normal guitar intonation be "in your face." If it were that obvious, probably most of his detractors, with not-so-good hearing, would let it be. This is a tuning/intonation system that you need to spend a bit of time with (a couple hours, a couple days?) playing all kinds of stuff -- to "get" what the whole deal is. Spend some time with it, THEN go back to your regular guitar. If you don't hear the difference, you probably don't need it. But for those who do hear it and who benefit from it -- let them enjoy it.

    I suspect, by the way, that Larry Carlton's other guitars were "properly built, with the nut cut at the right height and placed at the correct location, and properly intonated." Or is Buzz going around blatantly lying when he quotes Carlton as having said, "I've been playing guitar since I was six years old, and now I'm finally in tune"-?