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Andrew's Tips: Chris Hamilton on using the Korg CA-20 Tuner

Christopher Hamilton is a Professional Grade piper, a EUSPBA adjudicator, instructor, moderator at the forums. Below, Chris explains how to use the Korg CA-20 Chromatic Tuner to tune bagpipes.

Korg CA-20 • Instructions for Pipe Band Tuning

by Christopher Hamilton

Korg CA-20 Tuner  
The Korg CA-20 Chromatic Tuner  

The Korg CA-20 tuner, while not designed for bagpipes, can be used for tuning pipe band drones and 'Low A's quite effectively. Here is the method that I've developed over the past few years.


0. Select one bagpipe in the band to be the "master". All others will tune to this one. Once the chanter is well set, tune the drones of the master bagpipe ... by EAR. Make sure the drones are perfectly in tune with Low A.

1. Turn on the tuner using the Power button.

2. Push the Manual button (once or twice) until the note selected is B-flat. The standard frequency will read 440 Hertz (Hz), or cycles per second, at this point. This does not mean that B-flat is 440 Hz, but rather that the B-flat is relative to an A of 440 Hz. Therefore, the B-flat is 466 Hz. (this "+26" formula will tell you your absolute pitch of Low A with these things).

3. Hold the meter up to the outside tenor of the well-tuned master pipe, and repeatedly push the Calibrate button until the Green LED lights steadily (and the red sharp/flat lights stop) and the needle is locked at 0 (zero) cents (the deviation from the master pitch). The number displayed (say 446) is of the note A relative to standard A. So if it's 446, you add 26 and know your Low A pitch is 472 Hz.

4. Tune the rest of the drones to this frequency. There are two ways to do it. First, you can go around while the whole band is playing and do all drones to the meter. In addition, you can have each piper blow up individually, tune their outside tenor to the meter, then tune the middle tenor and bass to the outside tenor by ear (can be much faster). I use both methods so that I'm constantly tuning drones regardless of what the P/M is doing. Note that there may be cases where the chanter does not "meet" the drones exactly. This can indicate a sharp or flat chanter, but minor variations are to be expected. A badly out-of-sync sound can point out a bad chanter. Make adjustments to the pitch as you play. On a hot day, expect to raise that pitch by several hertz as you get closer to competition time and the pipes get played in and the temperature affects them. Recheck the P/M for upward drift as you go.

If you go sharper than 476 Hz (the highest it can be "zeroed" to, no sweat. Just adjust you eye up the scale 1 or 2 or more ticks (5-cent increments, which *roughly* correspond to 1 Hz), whatever you need.

Watch pipers on which the needle goes up and down while they're blowing. This is tough to tune to, but you've kind of got to take an "average" or "most common" reading.

Unlike the CA-10, when you turn the power off on the CA-20, it "remembers" the last pitch you used and will display that as the standard when you turn it on again. Make sure though that you hit the "Manual" button to put it back into manual mode.


You can check the unison of the band Low A's by going around and, with the tuner already calibrated, holding it up to their chanter while the piper is playing Low A. Flat / sharp variations will be visible just as in drone tuning. Adjustments for sharpness or flatness can then be made to the reed.


The person(s) doing the tuning, in my opinion, should be pipers with a good ear themselves. The tuner is a supplement, an aid, and can be a disaster if used incorrectly. Also, make sure whoever is tuning is playing their own pipes enough so they're not going flat to the band, and has a known stable bagpipe.

Thanks Chris!

Chris Hamilton

Christopher Hamilton is a Professional Grade piper, a EUSPBA adjudicator, instructor, moderator at the forums, and for a number of years, the tuning guru for the City of Washington Pipe Band. After nearly a decade, in 2010, Chris closed his bagpipe supply business which was named for his nickname, Tone Czar Bagpipes. Chris granted permission for his reference articles to appear here.

Copyright © 2002 Tone Czar Bagpipes / Christopher Hamilton
Used by permission.

This page last updated Sunday, February 6, 2011
Page first created in February 6, 2011.

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