New tech gadgets, components and add-ons are constantly coming into the market for guitar and bass. Most fall into the ‘What? You’re kidding!’ category, because they’re often impractical or look like they fell off of a meteor from another galaxy, and just don’t fit within the mindset or needs of serious musicians. Graph Tech Guitar Labs from Canada has established a reputation over the past 36 years of developing components for guitar and bass that improve sound and playability and actually look like they belong on your instrument.
The recent launch and huge success of the Ratio Synchronized Machine Heads for acoustic and electric guitars is a stunning example of Graph Tech’s attention to detail, quality and workmanship of a new technology that delivers on its promise and delivers on aesthetics as well. More and more top builders and manufacturers from around the world are now installing Ratios on their premium lines. These tuners look great, and true to Graph Tech’s company positioning statement: ‘We’ll Change The Way You Play’, these tuners will definitely have you playing more and tuning less.
Here’s an interview with Dave Dunwoodie, founder and head honcho at Graph Tech Guitar Labs.
Where did the idea of Ratio Machine Heads come from?
About 25 years ago, like all good guitar inventors, I was going to make the next great guitar tremolo. It would work as a trem and also, could re-tune the guitar into different tunings. My first prototype, to test the mechanics and movements, was made from balsa wood. There wasn’t 3D printing back then, and I didn’t have money to get things machined over and over again. Long story short, after we did start machining and testing it, I discovered a lot of things, and one of them was that each string reacted differently to tuning adjustments. It wasn’t to do with the overall diameter of the string, it was the diameter of the core of the string. A low E string has a thick core, so it’s really sensitive to tuning adjustments, while a D string has a thin core, and it’s a lot less sensitive. A plain G string on an electric guitar is basically just a thick core, so it too is very sensitive to any change in tension. Explaining why a G string goes out of tune more easily… a little change in tension, it changes pitch a lot more…. And that explained why the plain G and low E were always so much harder to tune, you had to slow down, and be very careful not to overshoot the pitch. It hit me then: to be able to tune fast and not have to slow down for some strings, each gear ratio should correspond the particular string.
So how does Bass Ratio work?
Bass Ratio works on the same principle as Ratio for Guitar. Each string has a calibrated gear ratio, fine-tuning where you need it, and coarser tuning on the strings that are less sensitive to tension changes. Now, one full turn on any tuning key equals one tone for both bass and guitar. The big challenge for both Ratio for Guitar and Bass was the higher gear ratios. Standard machine head gears are not designed to go down to 39:1 or 76:1 (the low B on the open back bass set). We solved that with a couple new innovations never done before in machine head history: we developed a double enveloped gear design, the worm gear is concave, and wraps around a hardened steel gear. This way, six to nine teeth of the hardened steel gear are engaged with the worm gear, making it incredibly strong and smooth.
In practical terms, what’s the advantage of Ratio for Bass?
There are a few significant benefits to Ratio. When your electronic tuner says you’re flat, say 10 cents on you low E string, you quickly learn how much of a tweak on the tuning key that is. And that’s the same amount of tweak for every string on your bass. So tuning and tuning tweaks get very fast, especially in mid song. Also, if you do any dropped or open tunings… want to go to a dropped D on your low E string? Just one quick 360 turn on that tuning key and you are there, very fast. And the beauty of Ratio for both bass and guitar: they do not change the appearance of your instrument, they look totally stock; all the performance advantages are happening ‘under the hood’ so to speak, but their tuning precision and usefulness is unmatched by any other machine head in the world.
So, what’s the next big thing coming out of the lab at Graph Tech?
We are constantly working on new products ideas, performance improvements to existing products, and looking at existing products on the market. I don’t want to box our team in and set too many limits or parameters on ideas, but one thing we won’t do is ‘me too’ products. If we find out we can’t make a significant improvement in performance and value, we shelve the idea or concept, maybe things or technologies or another combined idea will bring it back to life. One other must have with a Graph Tech product is, whatever we say it’s going to do, it’s got to live up to that promise. We, and participating retailers, offer Graph Tech’s 45 Day ‘Love it or Return it’ guarantee. Install it, play it, convince yourself. I’m not aware of very many other companies in the guitar industry that come close to offering that kind of satisfaction guarantee.
See our explanatory video below, and go here for more information!