A Page About Tuning and Tunings


The following information although primarily aimed at guitarists should hold up for any fretted stringed instrument - also bear in mind that any instrument is only as good as the strings you have on it - new strings work best in working out tuning problems.

Method of tuning without using a tuner

Why use this method?

— Because it works

— It is more accurate than a tuner on some instruments

— It avoids multiplication of errors by tuning all the strings to one reference rather than to each other.
In noisy gig situations electronic tuners are great but at all other times I use this method.

For an excellent article on the pitfalls of tuners and how to work round them go to  tuning nightmares 

This method tunes to equal temperament using the top E string as a reference — I use a tuning fork to get the E string in tune to concert pitch but you could use a tuner or another instrument : Tuning fork is good as it starts you off using your ears and sense of pitch rather than a visual representation (tuner).

This process requires patience to acquire a good ear - with practice our ears are good at spotting differences at high frequencies which is why the harmonics are useful in this method.

Once you have the top string in tune you should not re-tune it at all during the following process.


The coloured dots are all harmonics giving exactly the same pitch as the fretted notes

Step 1

Play the harmonic found at the 12th fret on the 2nd (B) string — this gives a nice pure B note which you then compare to the B note found at the top string 7th fret (make sure you're just gently fretting the note - too much pressure may sharpen it) tune the 2nd string until both notes are the same.

Step 2

Play the harmonic found at the 12th fret on the 3rd (G) string and tune the 3rd string to the top string 3rd fret (G).

Step 3

Play the harmonic found at the 5th fret on the 4th (D) string and tune the 4th string to the top string 10th fret (D)

Step 4

Play the harmonic found at the 5th fret on the 5th (A) string and tune the 5th string to the top string 5th fret (A).

Step 5

Play the harmonic found at the 5th fret on the 6th (E) string and tune the 6th string to the open top string (E).

Step 6

Go back to step 1 and do the whole process again ! This is to double check but if your guitar has a tremelo system you may need to do the process several times to balance out the string tension with the trem.

Once you have accurately tuned by this method your guitar should play in tune — if it doesn't you probably have an intonation problem which your local luthier can advise you on —Important Note Equal Temperament means that all chords should sound equally out of tune — i.e. no one chord is going to be perfectly in tune, this is in the nature of equal temperament which is really a compromise to allow us to play in any key. Go  here  for more information on this.

Never use 7th fret harmonics for any tuning purpose

One way out of the slight "out of tuneness" of equal temperament is to restrict yourself to one key and put your guitar in an open tuning — this means (usually) tuning the open strings to a chord.


A common tuning is D major — the notes are — D A D F# A D
( in ascending order - All these tunings are written out in this way)

To retune a guitar from standard tuning do the following;

Tune down top E string to the D note found on the second string third fret

Tune second string down so that the note at the fifth fret is the same as the retuned top string

Tune third string down so that the note at the third fret is the same as the retuned second string

Fourth string stays as it is on D

Fifth string stays as it is on A

Tune sixth string down so that the note at the seventh fret is the same as the open fifth string

Finally pick through the open strings to hear what should be a nice open chord of D major and tweak any notes that don't sound quite in tune - because you are playing in one key you don't have to worry about equal temperament and can use your ears or a tuner to get the chord to sound "pure"

This tuning can be pitched up to get open E, for example, or down to get open C or C#

Another common tuning is G major — the notes are — D G D G B D Keith Richards uses this tuning on some Rolling Stones tracks although he dispensed with the bottom D string altogether and used a 5 string guitar ( this once led me to do a job of cutting a neck down in width to the size of just 5 strings for a customer who was "Keith" in a Rolling Stones tribute band ! )
To get to this tuning from standard tuning do the following;

Tune the top string down to D = the note found on the 3rd fret 2nd string

Leave the B G and D strings as they are

Tune the 5th string down to G = the note found on the 6th string 3rd fret - or as an octave to the open 3rd string.

Tune the 6th string down to D = comparing the note at the 5th fret to the retuned 5th string or as an octave to the open 4th string.

The D Modal — DADGAD tuning originally devised by Davy Graham (who incidentally was a visitor to my workshop — a real gentleman and I was saddened to hear he recently passed away) and subsequently much used by many folk guitarists such as John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Joni Mitchell and Bert Jansch — it was also used by Jimmy Page in the Led Zeppelin tunes Blackmountainside and Kashmir.

To get this tuning simply tune the guitar as outlined above for the D major tuning but without re-tuning the 3rd(G) string.

Robert Fripps "new standard tuning"— C G D A E G

I did some work for the California Guitar Trio who all use this tuning and found it gave a novel approach to guitar playing — I had a guitar tuned this way for a bit but found it involved a bit too much relearning for my taste.

Also you really need a specific set of strings to try this one out ( 60 50 40 20w 12 8 roughly gives you the set) — nice interesting sounds though.

Nashville or Highstrung Tuning — this is not strictly speaking an altered tuning as all the notes are the same as standard tuning but the bottom 4 strings are tuned an octave higher than normal exactly as if you had a 12 string guitar but left out the heavier strings of each pair — as the name implies it is used a lot in country music to get a different voicing with standard chord shapes.

26w, 18, 12, 9, 16, 12, is roughly the set of strings you need to try this one. Go to  audiotuts  for an excellent article on this tuning.

Baritone Nashville tuning as used by Pat Metheny see my article  here .

G 6 tuning - probably originally a Hawaiian slide tuning but I like this one for non slide playing as well. You can get both major and minor chords with this — it goes, in ascending order — D G E G B D — follow the instructions for the G major tuning above and then tune the 4th string up a tone to E

An extremely odd tuning of my own devising which you can just about get away with retuning a standard acoustic set of strings(a plain third is advisable)the notes are — C F F oct A# G C
Some of the ordinary chord shapes seem to work in this tuning in a strange sort of way and the octave drone you get on the 4th and 5th strings gives this tuning a unique flavour. The third string is actually tuned higher than the second.The way I tune is to get the top string to a C then tune the second string normally to the top i.e. at the 5th fret —I then finger an Asus2 chord shape and tune the middle pair to sound exactly like the top pair, i.e. top pair open = middle pair at fret 2 - I then tune the 5th string an octave below the 4th and then tune the 6th normally at the 5th fret.
Give this cranky tuning a go and you might be surprised at the results.

Dadd 9 F# A  D  F# A  E, in ascending order, this is a top recommended tuning for getting a sweet, spacious sound on acoustic guitar with very little effort - it almost plays itself. To get it from standard simply tune down your 2nd (B) string down a tone to A, your 3rd(G) string down a semitone to F# and your bottom (E) string up a tone to F#. Fairly straightforward to tune to — I sometimes tune the bottom string down to a D as a variant.

F# Minor9 F#  A  C#  F#  G#  E - this is another very spacious tuning similar to the one above and is easiest found by tuning as above and then dropping the 2nd string a semitone and the 4th string a semitone — this one again is quite easy to play and can give a nice moody, jazzy texture.

Another unusual tuning that I have toyed with briefly and enjoyed is Fmaj9F A C G C E — its kind of an A minor 7th with an F on the bottom which again makes major and minor chords possible within the tuning
Simply tune your 2nd string up a semitone, your 4th string down a tone and your bottom E up a semitone.

I started using tunings originally to play slide guitar ( the first two in the list D and G + the G6 tuning) but have since experimented with many tunings and found them excellent for breaking out of cliched guitar styles in standard tuning and for generating ideas for songwriting.

More about tunings from the Gibson site  here  and  here 

© Nick Marchant Guitars