Perfect Sound Forever

True Temperament

Anders Thidell in his store, holding a guitar with his own distinct guitar neck model.

by Pontus Fall
(February 2009)

True Temperament's guitar necks look as if they have been haphazardly constructed. But the construction of the seemingly warped frets gives them a sound very much in tune. Anders Thidell, the man behind the company, tells his story about the invention and demonstrates how they are produced.

So far, only fifty copies of True Temperament guitar necks have been sold while fifty more are planned to be produced very soon. But the modest production may be drastically increased in the near future. Major guitar companies have revealed interest in signing a license for True Temperament's guitar neck design, Thidell claims, although he remains reticent about their names.

Anders Thidell gives a guided tour in his smoky store in Stockholm, which both functions as a boutique and a combined workshop. Several different types of guitar necks are constructed there. His favorite one bears his name (Thidell Formula 1) and has a long history. When he began as a musician in the '80's, he played a lot of Jimi Hendrix and other music lots of distortion. If you add distortion to a guitar that is slightly out of tune, this will make matters worse. Thidell felt that a lot of enjoyment of music lied in the actual tone. Chords out of tune which roared from a Marshall amplifier were not a great musical experience. Besides Hendrix, he cultivated an interest in oriental music and became more and more concerned with tuning.

"Many musicians are sometimes bothered by tuning anxiety, when you simply start to feel bad about the sound of your music. I came to the point where I thought that if I couldn't construct a guitar that sounded the way I wanted, I should quit playing," he explains.

So he did. He started to build a guitar which could render the music ideal he had in mind, which was based on the just intonation scale. We will soon briefly enter the field of tuning theory but we can mention right away that it is difficult to build instruments that can render just intonation. Thidell would also experience this. When he was done, he had created a monster with 56 frets. Even a trained guitarist would have to practice a lot in order to get something out of his construction. He likens the problem with a programmer who has created a computer program which gives its users great opportunities but is also too complicated to handle.

He had to think again. By this time he had become friends with Paul Guy, who was a guitarist and a fellow guitar constructor. Paul was one of the first people outside of America who was given a license to install Buzz Feitens tuning system, which aimed to improve the tuning by adjusting the shelf nut and the bridge saddle. Guy initially shook his head at Thidell's attempts in the workshop, calling it "crooked frets" and "smoke and mirrors." In 2005, they joined forces and together, they now run True Temperament. Their collaboration resulted in guitar necks which have the twelve tone scale as its vantage point and therefore have the same number of frets as a common guitar. This meant a small compromise because such a guitar cannot render just intonation exactly- if you move one fret on one side of the guitar, the rest of the frets will be affected. This means that such a guitar can only be constructed to be perfectly in tune in just a few keys. Thidell Formula 1 is constructed to be able to play in all keys.

The workshop

"It does not go all the way, but it comes bloody close," Thidell says. He should know- he hasn't quit playing. Thidell Formula 1 plays in a different scale than other guitars, but Thidell claims that you can play his guitar together with common guitars. It adds color, he says.

You cannot really understand what Thidell's mission is without knowing some basics in tuning theory. When two frequencies interact in perfect harmony, they create a tone on the scale of just intonation. A human ear will interpret this tone as being in tune. The frequencies are without vibrating movement, and they are, as he puts it, in a state of "love-making." This absence of vibration is not imagined and is fully verifiable. "Humans are constituted to always refer to just intonation as the ideal," Thidell explains.

Children understand this, he claims. Given a choice, they prefer tones from the scale of just intonation. Musicians on the other hand can "get ruined by their environment" and become so used to the scale that is commonly in use that just intonation appears to be out of tune to them.

Just intonation is not linear- there are no even differences between tones. In a simplified way, you could just say that it is very difficult to create instruments that can render this scale in a large variety of keys. Therefore, the scale of equal temperament is used instead, which is a pragmatic compromise. The advantage is that it does not favor any tones harmonic-wise. No half notes are perfectly in tune when compared to just intonation, but they are equally out of tune throughout the whole scale, which makes it possible to play all intervals in all keys with the same relative accuracy. True Temperament produces a guitar for the equal temperament scaled which is called 12-tone Equal Temperament.

The common guitar is constructed in accordance with equal temperament. The frets divide the strings in even tone intervals based on the length of the string. As Thidell explains, "this is completely right in theory. But in reality, things are different. This is because guitar strings have different qualities and do not act in accordance with the theory. Straight frets are, the way I see it, a standardized simplification, a starting point for further work. It is a compromise of a compromise."

(True Temperament also produces a third type of guitar: Die Wohltemperirte, which recreates the scale Johan Sebastian Bach used for his music in the 18th century)

In sum, guitars with straight frets are not able to deliver the scale of equal temperament. Many guitarists solve this problem by bending the strings to compensate for the flaws of the instrument. When constructing one of True Temperaments guitar necks, Thidell simply identifies the spots on the guitar neck which deliver the exact tones he is looking for. Then he makes the frets to fit along the marked spots. The result? Frets that look as if they have been chaotically designed.

And what does a guitarist think about True Temperament? Cristofer Odqvist is an experienced guitarist who has been playing the instrument for 16 years. He has tried out True Temperament's guitar necks. He says that they are not difficult to handle even though their design differentiates them from common guitars. It is also easy to bend the notes, he affirms. "The equal tempered one feels more in tune in a clinical way than Formula 1. There is a color to Formula 1 with a more musical feel to it. You immediately start to listen more to the sound when you play it. This makes it easier for you to play by ear, I think." Odqvist is in good company too- Steve Vai is the most renowned guitarist who is supporting the True Temperament system.

See more detailed photos of Thidell and his guitar creations at

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