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Tuning

Introduction

Guitars are usually tuned to concert pitch which is E-A-D-G-B-E, from fat to thin strings. By tuning to this you should be able to pick up most guitars and play them the same as one another. There are other (alternate) tunings which can be used to play styles which would be to hard to play in concert pitch, but we will discuss this later. There are several ways to tune your guitar, which really just boil down to either doing it by ear (comparing the sound until it is right), or using an electronic tuner to tell you when the pitch is right. Before I show you how to tune I would like to tell you that twelve string guitars are tuned in a slightly different way: The same concert pitch applies but the first 4 pairs of strings are tuned one octave apart (i.e. same note, but higher). And the last two strings are tuned in unison (exactly the same).

Electronic Tuners

Tuners come in two varieties - chromatic or standard. Chromatic tuners simply listen to the note that you are playing, identify which note it is and tell you if it is flat, sharp or correct. Standard tuners on the other hand let you pick the note to check and then tells you if it is flat (b), sharp (#) or correct. Tuning the guitar using a tuner is pretty straight forward, and needs little explanation, other than knowing what pitch each note is supposed to be (see above or the alternate tunings section).

Tuning by Ear

This involves listing carefully to the note your playing, and checking it with a note that you know is in tune. There are several ways to do this:

Piano

First of all you play the note that you are listening for on the piano (use the sustain pedal to keep the note ringing while you check) and then you pick the string on the guitar. Keep turning the string's machine-head until the note is the same and repeat for all strings. Below is a diagram of the notes on the piano:

[Image - piano_notes.png]

Tuning Fork

A tuning fork is a two-pronged fork shaped piece of metal that when struck resonates at a specific pitch. You can buy them in different pitches, and as long as you buy one with a pitch of one of the strings on the guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E) you will be OK to use this method of tuning. First of all you strike the fork, and then you pick the appropriate string. Again turn the machine head until the correct pitch is found. To do the other strings without a tuning fork for all strings read the next method.

Tuning from Other Strings

Once you have one string in tune (which should really be the fat E for ease) you can tune the other strings using this one. To tune the A (5th) String from the Fat E place your finger on the fifth fret of the Fat E string. Now pick this and then the A string. Tune the A string until the pitch of the two strings are the same. Do this for the D, G and thin E strings, but when you want to tune the B string (2nd) string you must place you finger on the fourth fret of the G (3rd-string). To clarify this process see the diagram below:

[Image - tuning_from_strings.png]

You can also tune from the harmonics of strings. A harmonic is when you place you finger very gently on a string, right above the fret and pick the string. There are certain frets where harmonics are clear and clean - 5, 7, 12 and 24 (usually hypothetical fret). To tune using this method you get the fat E in tune using a method above and then place your finger lightly on the 6th string on the fifth fret, so as to get the harmonic. You then place another finger on the 5th string on the seventh fret, again getting the harmonic. You then compare these two notes and tune the A string until the two notes are the same. You follow procedure until the third string, where you must place your finger on the 4th fret on the G string, and another finger on the B string on the 5th fret. The diagram below illustrates this:

[Image - tuning_from_harmonics.png]

Alternate Tunings:

Alternate tunings enable you to play things otherwise hard or impossible to play in concert pitch. Alternate tunings are often used for slide guitar playing, as it is hard to play notes on different frets, so to play a chord all on one fret you need to open tune the guitar. Tuning the guitar differently can be done by doing as little as changing the pitch of one string to changing them all. Most tunings involve taking strings down in pitch, which should not break you strings (unless there is a sharp edge somewhere on your guitar that a string could catch on). But some tunings involve taking the strings up in pitch, which will put extra tension on the strings, and could snap them. It will also put extra tension on the neck and body, but should be okay as long as you are not going up several notes. Below are listed some common alternate tunings:

Open Tunings

These are tunings which, when the strings are strummed one after another, produce a chord (which is usually major):

Open G (Slack Key)
6th string goes down to D, 5th string goes down to G and 1st string goes down to D.
6thD
5thG
4thD
3rdG
2ndB
1stD
Open D
6th string goes down to D, 4th string goes down to F#, 2nd string goes down to A and 1st string goes down to D.
6thD
5thA
4thD
3rdF#
2ndA
1stD
Open E
5th string goes up to B,4th string goes up to E and 3rd string goes up to G#.
6thE
5thB
4thE
3rdG#
2ndB
1stE
Open C
6th string goes down to C, 5th string goes down to G, 4th string goes down to C and 2nd string goes up to C.
6thC
5thG
4thC
3rdG
2ndC
1stE

Dropped Tunings

These tunings dropped on certain strings pitch, but do not form a chord when strummed:

Dropped D
This simply involves tuning the Fat E down two steps to D.
6thD
5thA
4thD
3rdG
2ndB
1stE

Crossnote Tunings

These tunings are a subset of open tunings, but the chords are usually of a minor chord, rather than a major:

Crossnote D (D Minor)
6th string goes down to D, 4thstring goesdown to F, 2nd string goes down to A and 1st string goes down to D.
6thD
5thA
4thD
3rdF
2ndA
1stD
Crossnote E (E Minor)
5th string goes up to B and 4th string goes up to E.
6thE
5thB
4thE
3rdG
2ndB
1stE

Modal Tunings

These tunings are like open tunings, but the chord is a suspended 4th:

D Modal
6th string goes down to D, 2nd string goes down to A and 1st string goes down to D.
6thD
5thA
4thD
3rdG
2ndA
1stD

Other Miscellaneous Tunings

Sawmill
6th string goes down to D, 5th string goes down to G, 2nd string goes up to C and 1st string goes down to D.
6thD
5thG
4thD
3rdG
2ndC
1stD

All tutorials and content written by Rick Bull unless otherwise stated
Page's last update: Friday, 15th January 2010; 12:52:21 GMT +0000
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