Tuning the Guitar

Tuning the guitar basicly means to prepare the pitches of the strings so that they are in certain interval relations to one another, so as to be in tune. When strings are out of tune - pitch are either too high or too low, corresponding to sharp or flat, respectively.

See also

The intervalic relation between the strings

With one exception, the interval relation between the strings is a perfect 4th (P4), that is, five halvsteps (frets). The exception is between the third and the second string, which is a perfect fourth (M3), four halfsteps.

  P4 P4 P4 M3 P4           
  /\ /\ /\ /\ /\           
 E  A  D  g  b  e'         
 |  |  |  |  |  |          
 |  |  |  |  |  |          
 |  |  |  |  |  | 3d fret  
 |  |  |  b  |  |          
 A  D  g  |  e  | 5th fret 
 |  |  |  |  |  |          

This fact is used in the ordinary tuning method of fretting the fifth fred and tune the next string in unison with it.

To understand what standard tuning means to the layout, see Fretboard.

What makes tuning difficult

One of the diffuculties of tuning is that each pitch, has its individual “color” or timbre, Even tones in unison from different strings can sound quite different.

Another difficulty is the twangyness or unstabillity of each individual note, or pitch - inducing all sorts of overtones that makes the tone seem to change and turn a bit over time. Some pitches are less twangy than others, however, and thus more easy to tune. Notice the difference in twangyness of the diffenent notes of your guitar. You will find that notes like B and Eb has almost no twanging, while others twangs slow and others fast, oscillating, others again twangs with a strong resonnance, so that you can feel it in your stomack. Thats the color of each individual note.

A third difficulty is the noice that is introduced by how and where you strike the strings. A really good advice, to get a clear tone, is to pick just over the twelfth fret. The reason is that the string vibrate or oscillates less, and behaves more stable when hit over the twelfth fret, and because then the whole string oscillates in it's whole length in one frequency. Notice how different the strings oscillates in proportion to where it's hit, and how chaotic different frequencies occurs in parts of the string. Notice that hit near the nut, the bridge and the 12th fret, the strings oscillates less. But notice the more beautiful one bow swinging you get when plucking over the 12th fret. Experiment and analyse!

Tuning systems and methods

If you don't have perfect pitch, you need to start by tuning a string in unison with some reference pitch - a tuning fork, another tuned instrument, a guitar tuner on the internet. or some electronic tuner… If that's unavailable, a trick is to try to match the pitch of the 6th string with your voice, bacause, for many of us, the pitch of the thick E string often is as low as your can sing.

A tip on unison tones: Tones with the same pitch is the easiest interval to tune, because unison is the most consonant interval while near unison is the most dissonant. Note; Ear training will make you more acutely aware of tuning discrepancies.

Sharp or flat when unsure?: Without ear training, perfect tuning is not easy to attain. So if your not sure if a string is a bit out of tune, hopefully not painfully so, it is better to be on the sharp side than on the flat.

Alternate tuning

See also