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Guitar tuner for spokes tension?

Old 05-05-21, 06:06 AM
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Guitar tuner for spokes tension?

Cleaning up this morning I came across a tiny little guitar tuner. It has a clip that a assume clips on the neck or string then a digital readout. Not sure where it came from I do not play any instruments. But it made me wonder if it would work for spoke tension. I tour a lot and this is really small and light- I could easily put it in my tool kit. I build my own wheels and use a spoke tension meter (tensionmeter?) at home. I know I could never get close "plucking" the spokes by ear. Thanks in advance for your opinions.
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Old 05-05-21, 06:19 AM
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Guitar pluck (using just ears to sense any differences) has worked for me.
Small, plastic, middle-hardness (not an expert on guitars, but didn't go with the softest pluck I could find - I hope you understand the differences better than I do ).
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Old 05-05-21, 06:45 AM
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If I'd've bought an electronic tuner first, I wouldn't need the tensiometer I already had!

Though I don't remember, do front and rear DS get tensioned to around A-440?
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Old 05-05-21, 08:21 AM
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I have no experience with guitar tuners but here is what Jobst Brandt has to say about them. There are also spoke tuning phone apps available which would eliminate having to take a separate guitar tuner when touring.

Jobst Brandt explains...

The frequency of a plucked spoke depends on its cross sectional diameter, its length, its tension and the adjacent spoke and where it intersects this spoke. Interleaved spokes, therefore, have a complex tone that has multiple modes, the primary mode not containing the most energy but rather a mode that resonates in the free span of the spoke. Seen on an oscilloscope, the spectrum is dirty and not repeatable. Using tone by exciting the higher modes of the spoke is useful for balancing tension but practically useless to gauge absolute tension. By plucking spokes near the nipple, the higher modes are excited which largely avoids the problem of interleaved spokes. The musically adept human ear readily recognizes the "quality" of the tone that is otherwise difficult to define analytically.
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Old 05-05-21, 09:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Thruhiker View Post
I tour a lot and this is really small and light- I could easily put it in my tool kit. I build my own wheels and use a spoke tension meter (tensionmeter?) at home. I know I could never get close "plucking" the spokes by ear. Thanks in advance for your opinions.
I think the plucking frequency is a good method. I’ve never embraced it for building, or even truing wheels. It is probably a good comparative approach and a lot of people use it.

You can also get free tuner apps for your phone. It would be up to you to see what works better. You might want to get a pick, maybe a Fender heavy, as you will need enough volume and sustain for the tuner to register before the tone starts to decay.

My fear of using a tuner would result in me being able to play Stairway on my wheelset, but they would ride like crap.

John
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Old 05-05-21, 06:27 PM
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I am a jazz guitarist and repair guitars. I can also build wheels but I would put away thoughts of a guitar tuner helping. If you have a wheel at proper tension spoke plucking can tell you if tension are close. However a guitar tuner wont help you need your own ear and the particular circumstance of that wheel.
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Old 05-05-21, 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Bike Gremlin View Post
Guitar pluck (using just ears to sense any differences) has worked for me.
Small, plastic, middle-hardness (not an expert on guitars, but didn't go with the softest pluck I could find - I hope you understand the differences better than I do ).
It's called a "pick".
Picks
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Old 05-06-21, 07:04 AM
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"Plucking" seems a little strange to me for things as tight as spokes. A little rap with a plastic screwdriver handle reveals the same tone.
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Old 05-06-21, 09:30 AM
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I remember Brandt's dis on plucking. I also remember watching a good violinist playing for an oscilloscope. What sounded like a clean tone coming from a musical instrument looked exactly like Brandt's description of the spoke. I figure if a human can pick out the pitch of a violin, guitar, etc. and tune to that, a trained human ear can listen to the sound of a spoke and tune that as well.

These electronic tuners have to deal with all the cross-talk from other strings, so I'd expect they can do the same with a wheel.
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Old 05-06-21, 10:06 AM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
I remember Brandt's dis on plucking. I also remember watching a good violinist playing for an oscilloscope. What sounded like a clean tone coming from a musical instrument looked exactly like Brandt's description of the spoke. I figure if a human can pick out the pitch of a violin, guitar, etc. and tune to that, a trained human ear can listen to the sound of a spoke and tune that as well.

These electronic tuners have to deal with all the cross-talk from other strings, so I'd expect they can do the same with a wheel.
Ive heard some pretty bad musicians that could benefit greatly from a tuner... lol!

John
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Old 05-06-21, 10:54 AM
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Ironically you would need a tension gage to calibrate for the different spoke gauges and lengths. I remember reading I think Sheldons browns site where he described the note you need to reach. I tried it myself and it didn't work lol. Two problems is what octave, and frequency? and is the rim perfectly straight? You might need one side tighter then the other to straighten the rim.

Also where you pluck the spoke is going to change the note just like a harp.

Last edited by cbrstar; 05-06-21 at 10:56 AM. Reason: More info
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Old 05-06-21, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
Also where you pluck the spoke is going to change the note just like a harp.
Yes, it's always better to pluck it in the middle of the spoke.
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Old 05-06-21, 12:14 PM
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Great idea and I am sure it would be fun to take it to another level.

For me plunking the spokes is part of my "Pre-Flight Check List". Its not so much the specific sound of each individual spoke but rather the change in sound that gets my attention. I kinda have it in my head how each bikes wheel set sounds. I air the tires then give the wheel a spin holding a chop stick to the middle of the spokes and listening first on one side then the other. Each one of my bikes has a different wheel set, tires, spoke types and age. Trying to nail down a specific frequency's for each wheel and wheel set would be a little to much for me. It would be like having different instruments. A Guitar and a Banjo may be tuned to the same frequency but have very much different tensions on the strings.
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Old 05-06-21, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
I remember Brandt's dis on plucking. I also remember watching a good violinist playing for an oscilloscope. What sounded like a clean tone coming from a musical instrument looked exactly like Brandt's description of the spoke. I figure if a human can pick out the pitch of a violin, guitar, etc. and tune to that, a trained human ear can listen to the sound of a spoke and tune that as well.

These electronic tuners have to deal with all the cross-talk from other strings, so I'd expect they can do the same with a wheel.
Indeed, I'm a musician, and I use pitch to help me when I'm tensioning a wheel. In addition there's a math formula that tells you the tuning frequency as a function of tension and the mass of the spoke / string, but that formula doesn't apply to butted spokes. I don't try to do it super precisely, mainly because I'm not a professional wheel builder and so my tensions never turn out perfectly uniform. Instead, I'm mainly concerned that all of the spokes are sufficiently tensioned so I don't have to worry about spoke breakage. Plucking spokes is a quick way to find that one spoke that somehow got neglected.

I check my "master" pitch by plucking a known-good wheel and making sure it's believable. But I have very quick hearing, and it's quicker and cheaper than any kind of gauge.
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Old 05-06-21, 02:44 PM
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
Also where you pluck the spoke is going to change the note just like a harp.
Actually, the *pitch* doesn't change when a string is plucked (guitar, harp, etc.) or struck (piano) in different locations. The pitch (frequency) is determined by the length, tension, mass... not where the vibration is initiated. The *quality* of the note may be affected, and for a spoke I'd agree that the middle of the spoke is the best place.
Another consideration is whether the spoke is contacted by other spokes, because that will change the pitch much like pressing a guitar string against a fret.
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Old 05-06-21, 04:12 PM
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Originally Posted by sweeks View Post
Actually, the *pitch* doesn't change when a string is plucked (guitar, harp, etc.) or struck (piano) in different locations. The pitch (frequency) is determined by the length, tension, mass... not where the vibration is initiated. The *quality* of the note may be affected, and for a spoke I'd agree that the middle of the spoke is the best place.
Another consideration is whether the spoke is contacted by other spokes, because that will change the pitch much like pressing a guitar string against a fret.
Maybe I used the wrong terminology and I should have said octave. It's like when you tune your guitar G sting if you tune it to a octave lower it doesn't sound right but if you tune it a octave higher there's a chance the string snaps.
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Old 05-06-21, 04:17 PM
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I played with this idea a while ago, making a spreadsheet to calculate the note and using a tuner app on my phone. The note is set by how fast the tension can pull the inertia of the wire back and forth. I ran into a couple of bugs. The allowable +-20% tension range is about +- three notes (F#4 to A4 to C5). Frequency for the desired tension varies with spoke diameter and length, making middle A only a close guess for the right tension. The free run of the spoke is interrupted by the crosses, so it's hard to get a good tone. The free run of a butted spoke is not clear, should it be the butted part or the entire length or an average?
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Old 05-06-21, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
Maybe I used the wrong terminology and I should have said octave. It's like when you tune your guitar G sting if you tune it to a octave lower it doesn't sound right but if you tune it a octave higher there's a chance the string snaps.
An octave lower (G3 to G2 for your G-string example) is half the frequency and 1/4 the tension.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_pitch_notation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_vibration

Side note - I started on piano lessons when I was a kid and did about three years without learning anything except by rote. Never why or how music works. If I'd been doing it from a position of math like this I'd have liked it a lot better.
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Old 05-06-21, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by cbrstar View Post
Maybe I used the wrong terminology and I should have said octave.
Probably the simplest term is "frequency", which for sound energy is basically the number of vibration cycles per second. For example, a pitch called "Concert A" is 440 cycles per second. Every vibrating object has a resonant frequency (no need to address "harmonics" here!), and if those vibrations fall within the range of human hearing, we hear a sound. If the frequency is constant, we hear a "note".
"Octaves", as pointed out by Darth Lefty, are integral multiples of a given frequency.

Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
The free run of the spoke is interrupted by the crosses, so it's hard to get a good tone. The free run of a butted spoke is not clear, should it be the butted part or the entire length or an average?
I think this is correct: when there is contact between spokes as they cross, the resonant frequency of the spoke is altered. If all the spokes being compared had contact in the same position on the spoke, the sounds might be useful for comparing spoke tensions. This wouldn't be affected by whether the spoke is straight gauge or butted (as long as they're all the same); each spoke will still have its own resonant frequency, and these can be compared.
I like using a spoke tension gauge to get the spoke tension into the right neighborhood, since I'm fairly new to wheel-building (fewer than 10). Once there are some tones to compare, the tapping/plucking technique is a much faster way to screen for spokes that are way out of range. In the absence of any way to quantify the tension, I've heard it said that there should be a "musical" note, not a "thud" when the spoke is tapped.
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Old 05-06-21, 07:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty View Post
... for your G-string example...
Be careful when you're talking about "G-strings"!

Guitars are safe, as is
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Old 05-06-21, 09:07 PM
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I tested out my phone tuner, and for the mic to pick it up and register, you definitely need a pick and a quiet environment.

I know that I’ve moved away from a mic’d tuner and use clip on or plug in. Not saying it won’t work, but a tension meter is so much quicker.

And as noted, your ear is faster also.

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Old 05-06-21, 09:30 PM
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The tuner could work well, But keep it simple! Start your tour with good wheels in good shape. Before you start, take the tuner and find what your spokes are now. Again, keep it simple. Just find the frequency that best describes what you've got; for the front wheel, NDS and DS, Write down the notes or frequencies.

Now you can use the tuner out on the road to assist with truing or for target tensions should you need to rebuild a wheel (assuming the same or similar gauge spokes). It will also tell you if a spoke is way off but you can probably hear that just tapping the spoke and its neighbors. (Hearing is one of those gifts most of us simply take for granted but not all have it or can hear but not distinguish pitches.)
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