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  • How To Tune Your Guitar

    By Chris Loeffler |

    How To Tune Your Guitar

    ...because you can't tune a fish...


    by Chris Loeffler




    First thing first… do you want to know something 99% of guitar players don’t know? I’m going to assume you responded “YES!” The question few people asks is, “Why is the standard tuning for guitar EADGBE?” Ascending perfect fifths would seem to make the most sense, but when one takes into account the size and playing position of a traditional guitar (horizontal neck), fourths create closer notes for easy physical fretting. Why not perfect fourths, then? While fourths would seem to be the logical order based on the evolution of stringed instruments, EADGCF is a ghastly tuning that would create a nightmare on the higher strings. Don’t believe me? Try it… I’ll wait.


    Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the most important thing you can do to your guitar… tune it!


    Tuning typically starts at the top (low E) and works its way down.


    If you have a Chromatic or Pitch Tuner, tuning is as simple as feeding your instrument’s sound, either acoustically or electronically through an instrument cable, into the tuning device and turning the tuning peg on the string you are currently tuning until it matches the tuning device gives feedback that the string is in tune (usually through centering on a meter, arrows depicting the direction away from the desired pitch the string is currently tuned to, or lighting the corresponding note green to indicate you nailed it).



    How to Tune a Guitar by Ear?


    If you don’t have a tuner readily available, learn to get a perfect low E. Listen to the note, memorize it, and make it a part of your musical repertoire. Once you do, you can tune up from the low E, which you’ve tuned by ear, using the fifth fret to produce the pitch the next string up should be for the fifth, fourth, and third strings. When you get to the third string, place your finger down on the fourth fret to get the pitch for the second string (remember that whole “not perfect fourths” thing?), then return to the fifth fret on the second string to get the pitch for the sixth string.


    How well did you do? Compare the first and sixth strings for pitch and see how far (if at all) you drifted.


    What if there’s a piano around?


    You’re in luck! All you have to do is tune your sixth string to the E two octaves below middle C. From there, you can tune your guitar to itself or continue to match each pitch to the right notes as you go up the keyboard.




    You’ve got standard tuning down. Remember… the best playing and most expensive gear won’t get you anywhere if you can’t get in tune.  -HC-





    rszchrisphoto-21e10e14.jpg.1bef06edbaa2dc72ffb6458ff401a44d.jpgChris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 


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    I wonder why it wasn't mentioned that it is preferable to "tune up".  That is, to tune down below the note and tune up to it, thus removing the slack between the machine and the nut that may allow the string to change pitch after it's tuned.

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    The problem with fretting one string to get it to the pitch of the next higher string is that frets aren't always that accurate, and even if they're spaced mathematically accurate, the bridge is in the correct place, and the instrument is set up well, you're still at the mercy of the tempered scale - unless of course you have one of those kinky oddly fretted fingerboards that attempt to compensate for what was designed for Mr. Bach's Well Tempered Clavier.


    One system that works better most of the time is to compare octaves. It's easy enough to hear if two notes an octave apart are identical by listening to beats and tuning so there aren't any. You'll have to fret a bit, like tuning the D string by fretting it at the 2nd fret and matching this E to the 1st or 6th string, which you've already tuned by octaves to match.


    Or better yet, get a clip-on tuner, tune each string to it, then correct it by ear. At a workshop at a Newport Folk Festival many years ago (back when a "festival workshop" consisted of a pole stuck in the ground in the field, with a sign on it and a chair, someone asked Reverend Gary Davis why he always tuned his B string a little sharp. He replied "Well, it's SUPPOSED to be that way.



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