Advances in guitar manufacturing have solved many of the tuning problems associated with the budget guitars of yesteryear. The entry level models available from major manufacturers such as Yamaha and Fender are entirely suitable for beginners and when tuned are stable throughout the three octaves. All guitar stores sell tuning forks and electronic tuners. A tuning fork provides a single reference note for tuning and for this reason an electronic tuner will be more useful to the complete beginner.
When new strings have been put on a guitar they often fall out of tune very easily. New strings will stretch until they reach a point where their elasticity diminishes and then they will remain at the correct tension and frequency. Strings need to be broken in. It will take time to work all the slack out of the strings but the process can be sped up. Put on new strings and tune to just below concert pitch using an electronic guitar tuner. Then pull each string an inch away from the fretboard and this will instantly put them out of tune. Use your electronic guitar tuner to retune the strings to just below concert pitch and repeat the process. After a while the slack should be gone from the strings and the guitar can be tuned to concert pitch and should stay in tune.
Tuning the GuitarEdit
Sound is created by the disturbance of particles in the air. The vibrations of a struck string causes the air particles to moves in waves which the ear receives and reproduces. When a string is attached to two points, as the strings on a guitar are, then striking it causes a sound to be produced at a certain frequency. The length, thickness and tension of the string determines the pitch of the note it produces. If you had a string of a certain length and tension stretched across a wooden board which produced a known frequency (sound) and you wished to double the frequency to produce the note an octave above - you simply halve the distance that it is stretched across and keep the same tension. That is exactly what happens on a guitar when you fret any of the open strings at the twelfth fret.
There are many different tunings for the open strings of the guitar but the most common is known as standard tuning or E tuning. In standard tuning the open strings should be tuned to the notes E A D G B e.
The diagram below illustrates standard tuning. Note that the upper case E represents the thickest string and the lower case e represents the thinnest string. The diagram is oriented towards the player's view.
e|-----------------------| B|-----------------------| G|-----------------------| D|-----------------------| A|-----------------------| E|-----------------------|
Each fret on the guitar is a half-tone. In an octave there are twelve half-tones. To find the octave of any note on the same string, move up 12 frets. Two notes are called an interval and we use intervals to tune the guitar. The first tuning method most guitarists learn is Regular Tuning.
Regular tuning is sometimes called the fifth-fret method or 4-5 method. It involves tuning a single string to the correct pitch and using that as a reference note for tuning the other strings. A tuning aid is essential to ensure that the first string is correctly tuned. Regular tuning uses the open A string as the reference note.
If you don't have a tuning aid then you will have to tune by ear without a reference note. This is perfectly acceptable but there is a good chance that you will not be tuned to concert pitch. Concert pitch is an internationally agreed standard that assigns A = 440 Hz and is also the note that the Oboe sounds as a tuning reference note for the rest of the orchestra. Tuning to concert pitch will allow you to jam along with your favorite artists. It must also be noted that the guitar is a transposing instrument and is notated an octave higher than its actual pitch to avoid having to use the bass clef. The notated middle C is played on the third fret of the A string though the pitched middle C is to be found on the first fret B string. A = 440 Hz is the fifth fret of the high e string but for convenience the open A string (110 Hz) is used for the reference note.
The diagram below is to give you a quick reference to where the fretted notes are.
e|-------------------0---| B|---------------0---5---| G|-----------0---4-------| D|-------0---5-----------| A|---0---5---------------| E|---5-------------------|
Follow these six steps to tune your guitar using the 4-5 Method:
It is recommended when tuning to bring the string up to its correct pitch. By tuning down to a pitch, you introduce slack into the string and it goes out of tune much faster. If the string is too high, it is best to tune it very low and then bring it back up to the correct pitch. The 4-5 Method of tuning has the disadvantage of increasing inaccuracies by the accumulation of mistakes.
Another more advanced method of tuning is called harmonic tuning. In this method one uses particular harmonics produced by the strings in order to tune. The harmonic note lacks the fundamental and this produces a series of overtones which are more defined. It is easier to tune using harmonics because even minor changes in pitch are noticeable. To play a harmonic lightly touch a string directly above the location of a node without depressing the string. Then pluck the string and quickly remove your finger. This should produce a high pitched silvery tone known as the harmonic. For more information, please see the Harmonics chapter of this book.
The fretboard diagram below shows the pairs of harmonics that are used. You start by tuning the harmonic on the 7th fret of the A string to the harmonic on the low E string. Then the harmonic on the 7th fret of the D string is tuned with the harmonic on the 5th fret of the A string. Tuning the G string to the D string is done in the same manner. Tune the harmonic on the B string to the harmonic on the 4th fret of the G string. Tune the harmonic on the e string to the harmonic on the B string.
e|-------------7*------------| B|--------5*-----------------| G|------4*-----7*------------| * = Play a harmonic at this fret D|--------5*---7*------------| A|--------5*---7*------------| E|--------5*-----------------|
It is also to be noted that this method will not provide a perfect equal temperament tuning. It is extremely similar but many guitar players prefer the previous technique.
This method uses the open high e string as the reference note. You tune the unison and octave E notes that are found on the other strings to the open high e. This method is recommended because it applies the concept of equal temperament. Hold the fretted note down as you turn the tuning peg and you will feel the string move under your fingertip. This involves striking the strings with your right hand and then using the right hand to turn the tuning pegs. If may feel awkward at first but with practice it should become second nature. Some guitarists and luthiers recommend that the fretted note on the 5th fret of the B string should be tuned wide by the amount of two beats per second in relation to the high e string. Experiment with tuning the B string wide.
Problems with TuningEdit
If your guitar absolutely will not go in tune, be patient and remember that even the best guitarists sometimes have trouble tuning. If the guitar has trouble staying in tune ask an experienced guitarist to take a look at it or take it to a luthier.