Guitar/Tuning the Guitar

Advances in manufacturing have solved many of the tuning problems associated with the budget guitars of yesteryear. Entry level guitars are available from major manufacturers such as Yamaha and Fender which are entirely suitable for beginners. 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 Guitar edit

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 the brain interprets. 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 regular frequency. The length, thickness and tension of the string determines the pitch of the note it produces. If you have a string of a certain length and tension stretched across a wooden board which produced a known frequency 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 the open strings and the twelfth fret. Note that the upper case E represents the thickest string and the lower case e represents the thinnest string. The diagram is orientated towards the player's view.



Four-Five Tuning edit

Four-Five tuning uses the open A string as the first reference note. A tuning aid is useful to ensure that the open A string is at concert pitch.

Concert pitch is an Internationally agreed standard that assigns A = 440 Hz. The guitar is a transposing instrument and is notated an octave higher than its actual pitch to avoid having to use the bass clef in standard notation. 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 of the 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 as the reference note.

The diagram below shows the notes to be fretted.


Follow these six steps to tune your guitar using the Four-Five method:

  Step 1   Step 2   Step 3   Step 4   Step 5   Step 6

It is recommended that strings be brought up to their correct pitch when tuning. The Four-Five method has the disadvantage of progressively increasing tuning inaccuracies by the use of multiple reference notes.

Harmonic Tuning edit

This method of tuning uses harmonics. By lightly touching a string directly above its fret-wire the fundamental of a note is silenced leaving only a series of overtones. Any note played on any instrument consists of a fundamental and a harmonic series of overtones. The twelfth, seventh and fifth nodes are the easiest frets with which to sound harmonics. After striking the string the finger should be removed quickly to produce the harmonic.

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.

G|------4*-----7*------------| * = Play a harmonic at this fret


Tuning with harmonics can progressively increase tuning errors due to the use of multiple reference notes. The fundamental is the most dominant frequency of the harmonic series and it is recommended that a further tuning check be made using fretted notes.

Tempered Tuning edit

This method is recommended because it applies equal temperament with the use of a single reference note. 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 string. 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 becomes familiar. The open low E string is the only string to be tuned to the high e string without fretting. 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.


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