Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

The Michael Jackson Fingerstyle Guitar Sessions – Coated Strings and Guitar Intonation



It’s been a crash course in recording solo guitar to be in the studio working on the new Michael Jackson fingerstyle guitar album. The studio has officially kicked my butt, but I am a fighter. Next week are rounds 4 & 5.

Recording solo guitar (or solo anything) is an entirely different challenge from recording a multi instrument track. There’s just nowhere to hide.

Imagine a dish like a stew with 30 ingredients vs a gourmet dish with 3 ingredients. The dish with 3 demands much more care and precision. Any aspect of it being off can throw the whole thing off.

I have practiced and performed this music for a while now – played it on tour, etc. The biggest issue I have dealt with in the studio so far is tuning and intonation.

Coated Strings…Fool Me Once…um…never get Fooled Again!

My bad. I had the information and tools needed to do it right, yet I didn’t. Randy Hughes – master guitar repair, setup and fret guy warned me – coated strings do not intonate well.

Even if your open strings are spot on pitch, notes get weird as you creep up the neck. Ouch. Boy did that G string go flat as I went up the neck. I didn’t realize the cause until after the session.

I like Elixir Nanoweb coated strings, basically. They never sound as good as Martin SP phosphor bronze strings, but they last longer. If I am not on the road, I’ll use Elixirs.

I also have noticed slightly less “left hand squeak” from Elixirs so I figured, what the heck – how bad can it be. So I recorded.

Additionally…I had with me a Peterson Strobostomp tuner…but used my little Korg tuner instead.

My bad…on 2 counts on string & tuner choice…

Long story short…the lessons we learn are often ones that are expensive and exasperating. I need to re-record a bunch of tunes – and I had the information and tools to avoid this, but just got a little lazy.

I repeat, fool me once…um…never get fooled again…

Other Aspects of Guitar Tuning – Your Fingerings

Tuning a guitar really well is not so simple. Some tuning problems can be avoided by changing the arrangement! That’s right – even on a totally in-tune guitar, one fingering can sound more in tune than another. This requires an insanely high degree of listening.

On my version of “Rock With You” I do melodies across the top 3 strings. Now when I play D on the 3rd string 7th fret and open B together and really listen – OUCH!!! It just sounds terrible. Yes, it’s the right notes, but listening deeper, there’s a problem. New fingerings will come to the rescue.

The same applies for squeaks. Listen for them as you practice, and you may find that there are other fingerings which don’t squeak.

So often we’re just happy to get through a piece and we don’t listen to ourselves on this level until we are in the studio and it’s too late!

In Conclusion

When you record, try using fresh uncoated strings. Stretch them well.

Before you record – listen for tuning and squeaks at home. Adjust the arrangements to minimize tuning issues and squeaks, and then go record.

Before recording a take, play different spots in the song and listen. Each song may require a different adjustment in tuning. Oh – and remember to have the patience to tune with a tuner before every take. Check out the Peterson Strobostomp!

JUST ADDED: Peterson has their strobe tuner technology in clip on tuners and even has a strobe tuner iPhone app:

Gang, my first 2 solo efforts were “commando” style – at home, with mics, background noise; music with warts and all. This time I want to give you and all my listeners the most excellent, sublime recording I can.

Ok, coffee cup is empty and post is written…time to practice.


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

19 thoughts on “The Michael Jackson Fingerstyle Guitar Sessions – Coated Strings and Guitar Intonation

  1. Yes, you certainly notice these things when you record yourself.

    Having bought and practised your (brilliant) Michael Jackson DVD, I recorded “I want you Back” and “I’ll be There” with the intention of emailing them to a friend – eek how badly does my intonation and tuning suffer when I use a capo!!! Very frustrating.

    • Great!

      I am having a very hard time recording ABC also due to the capo. I’d suggest tuning WITH the capo on. Don’t tune open, and then put the capo on.

      That’s jumping from a plane with no parachute.

      Regarding I WANT YOU BACK – you are less likely to hear tuning problems since there is so much movement. That’s what happened in my CD sessions.

      For I’lL be there – try to just make sure that the beautiful first verse is in tune. That’s the most important part!

      Also – I am about to add to the blog post that PETERSON STROBE tuners are available as a $10 I phone app!!!

      Good luck, email me anytime!

      – Adam

      • I have your Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder DVD and the one thing that I was disappointed in was the size and clarity of the included tabs…they are too small (especially for senior folks). I tried to scan and blow it up, but the clarity is just not there. If you could increase the size to normal on your new DVD, it would really make a much better product. I know that would increase cost, both product and shipping, but I don’t think most of us out here would mind, for a usable product. I, for one, would certainly be willing to pay more.

  2. once again wise words.. wondered id you’d heard of this lady.. I just spent 3 hours procrastinating instead of practicing my changes, to get them tight. Have a read

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” by Marianne Williamson

    All the best from the T-bag side of the pond

  3. Wow man. Quite an experience! Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed account of the problems and solutions.
    Who would think…ya figure, throw on some new strings, tune it to pitch with a tuner, and you’re golden. But, to quote Steve MArtin ” nnnnooooooo!!!!’

    There is an interesting book written by Gerald Glickstein, aclassical guitarist and (I believe) head of the NC School of the Arts classical guitar program called something like Tuning Your Guitar.

    Basic method is after tuning A to a fork, you then tune the other stings in a specific order where you do NOT make the pulses that occur when strings are out of tune disappear. Instead you not only allow for the pulses, but are very specific about how many pulses are occurring, the rate that is. Between some strings the rate is quick, and between some strings the rate is slower….he has you at first use a metronome to get a feel for 60 bpm…..and you go from there. There is then a whole series of checks and balances using harmonics and fretted octaves to make sure not that each string is perfectly in tune, but instead so each string is out of tune just slightly to allow the guitar to sound in tune!


    Pretty interesting book….cannot say I have learned the method! Out of laziness, as it is not too tough. Just a new thing.

  4. Alan, thanks for sharing your ‘pro’ experiences. As a guitar amateur and keen youtuber I always value your posts full of insights and interesting things. Maybe after this studio experience you can share some of the other tips to make even our homemade recordings sound as edible as they can be! Might be a stretch but still…

    • Gianni

      The name’s ADAM not Alan 🙂 No problem, amigo…

      Well – for starters, a lot of the sound happens in your fingers. Practice and listen hard- rather than bash through.

      Second, make sure your environment is quiet.

      Third – a DI (direct line out) helps keep things smooth – if you like the sound of your pickup.

      Great idea, I will do a post on this for sure!!!


  5. Sorry for the name slip… it is Adam indeed, wonder where Alan came in from?! Anyway thanks for all the tips you can share, always follow your blog.

  6. Hey Adam,

    I play a Breedlove N25 nylon and am classically trained. I’ve found that nylons are even more difficult to tune and that the differences produced when using a capo are even more exaggerated. Your post helped tremendously. Thank you. I also use a ribbon transducer (under saddle) which picks up string noise brilliantly. Though I only use the on-board pickup when playing live, I have had to rearrange fingerings to avoid sending my audience to the back of the room. The under bridge plate type pickups don’t work well with nylon since the strings don’t seem to produce enough energy to drive them well and, of course, magnetics don’t work with nylon at all, so I’m stuck being extra sensitive to string noise. Thanks again.
    Bob PS. I’ve asked for your Stevie Wonder DVD for Christmas.

    • Bob

      Thanks for posting. I have found the breedloves pretty bright in general. Muriel Anderson was raving about the Yamahas with the mic / piezo combo saying plugged in, its a winner.

      I think Rodrigo & Gabriela use that.

      Often times the best amped guitar and the best playing / tone guitar are in different universes!

      Happy Holidays, I hope Santa delivers the mail on time!

      – AR

  7. I thought there was a post here earlier about providing a bigger printed booklet, but can’t see it now?

    Anyway, what I was going to ask was if it would be possible on future DVDs to include a pdf file of a larger page version of the booklet on the DVD (as Martin Taylor does). I print this out and use it instead of the mini one as there are 50% less page turns for one thing! In the meantime I’ve scanned your pages in and printed them out two to a page of A4.

    • Emma

      I am aware thab the tabs are small. On my Jazz dvd I include a PDF.

      The problem is that the publisher absolutely won’t allow PDFS.

      As far as a bigger book, it becomes extremely expensive

      If I do that I need:

      I need a professional printer (books will cost 5 times as much)
      Pay the publisher MORE for a bigger book – my rate is based on the size as well
      Pay more postage – heavier

      So, PDF would solve the problem – but back to part 1, they don’t allow it.

      Then it becomes more expensive for customer – so I agree with you totally and I am not sure how to make the situation better.

      Please send me an email – adam at adam rafferty dot com – let’s see what I can do to help you out.

      All the best


      It is not an easy solution – simply because I don’t

      • Hi Adam, thanks for the reply. I sent you an email to the address you mentioned – hope it reached you!

        All the best,


  8. Pingback: How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything « Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s