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I recently started to dabble into Funk Rhythm. I'm making decent progress, but I have noticed that when trying to play chords around the 12th fret using Funk strumming, the chord sounds 'off', like the strings are out of tune. When I play a chord with a normal strumming pattern, everything sounds fine. But only when I try funky strumming does the sound of the chord degrade. I also noticed it's more likely to happen with some chords like a minor seventh. I don't have this problem on lower frets, and I don't think intonation is the culprit, but I could be wrong. I have an Epiphone Les Paul Custom with D'addario Nickel Wound 10 - 46 strings.

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  • The first thing to do is use an accurate electronic tuner to test the 12th fret harmonic against the fingered 12 fret note for all strings. That will at least confirm that intonation is probably not the problem. Nov 3, 2022 at 0:33
  • @JohnBelzaguy When using a tuner, you don’t have to play the harmonic. Just tune the open string accurately and the check what the tuner says at the fretted 12th fret. Nov 3, 2022 at 15:36
  • @ToddWilcox Yes Todd, I’m aware of that. The reason I like using the harmonic is it allows you to reference the same pitch by ear as well. Nov 3, 2022 at 16:03
  • Is it possible that when you get to that register playing in that style you are pressing harder with the fretting hand? Maybe you are inadvertently bending the neck a bit and pulling the strings sharp… Nov 3, 2022 at 17:50

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Usually, when a guitar goes progressively out of tune, the further up the neck you play, it's down to intonation. Meaning the bridge/saddles are out of synch with the frets.

The common way to check this is to compare the 12th fret fretted note on each string with its harmonic. They should be exactly the same pitch. The harmonic cannot be moved, and neither can the length of the nut to the 12th fret.

However, the total string length can be, by adjusting the saddles under the strings. That will bring the node (harmonic 'dead spot') in line with that 12th fret, putting everything in tune all over the fretboard.

Often folk think the line of the saddles should be straight and parallel to the frets. Not so. For various reasons, the 1st string (thinnest) is always shorter, and the bass sting always longer.

You could also benefit from having an action low enough that the strings don't get stretched when pressed down. That will manifest itself more around the 12th fret, making them sharp, if that action is too high.

Often folk will take their guitar to a luthier if they're uncertain what all that's about.

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  • I going to end up bringing it to a tech. Thanks for the information!
    – James Fair
    Nov 3, 2022 at 18:50
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I can only speculate: if the frets around the 12th are a bit dislocated, related to where they should be, the length of the string may be too short or too long, so it sounds a bit "out of tune". // This could also cause slightly mismatches in pitch when transposing from string to string (neglecting each strings individual sound characteristics and sensitivity to the potential causes I describe here.)

A different cause may be that you change tension inside the string, e.g. from pressing it to the fret. (Both change the strings resonance frequency. // You could hear this effect by applying hammering technique to the strings, or simply from bending with fret-fingers.)

And it's also possible that the age and conditions of your strings become audible (wear, too new etc.)

To verify, try some of the following:

  • if you can, move your pattern from a lower string/fret 12 to a higher string (transposition)
  • on/around fret 12 try varying finger position and/or the way and strength you apply to press the string to the fret(s)

Finally, just to line out, perhaps you're a "victim" of the Pythagorean comma. String instruments follow physics, which leads to some trouble in terms of where pitches should ideally be, e.g. as ratio of string length would "dictate". Throughout millenia many attempts were made, none completely satisfying as I read it, and only recently, compared to that time scale, we adopted the well temperament, which is a compromise with theory of "ideal" frequency ratios. // But I think, the 3 causes above are more likely.

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If it’s not intonation, then it could be overtones ringing out on strings that you think are fully muted but are not quite fully muted. This would explain why it’s only when you play funk, because funk has a lot of fast alternating between muted and fretted playing.

It’s hard to keep strings from ringing at the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets with left hand muting alone. This is because the first three natural harmonics are there, which means your muting could accidentally just be touching the harmonic on one or more strings.

A couple ways to work on this are to spread your hand a bit and/or move it up or down slightly when muting, which presents the challenge of getting back to the chord. Another very common trick used by funk guitar and bass players in the recording studio and sometimes live is to wrap something around the strings at the first fret to add extra muting. A hair scrunchy is a popular choice, and I’ve used a sock loosely knotted around the top.

One more tactic is to play in Eb or Bb or a key that doesn’t use much fingering near the harmonic points.

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