Relative Tuning

Saturday, December 2, 2006

With your first string in tune, it is possible to tune the rest of the guitar string by string.Here’s how:

  • Put a left-hand finger just behind the fifth fret of the second string and sound the stringwith any right-hand finger. It should sound the same as the first string open (i.e., withno frets used). If it doesn’t, tighten or loosen it until it does.
  • With the top two strings now in tune, put a finger behind the fourth fret of the thirdstring. When you play it should sound the same as the second string. If it doesn’t,tighten or loosen as above.
  • With the top three strings in tune, place a finger behind the fifth fret of the fourthstring. Adjust it to sound like the third string.
  • With the top four strings in tune, place a finger behind the fifth fret of the fifth string,and align it to the fourth string.
  • Finally, place a finger behind the fifth fret of the bottom string and tune it to the fifthstring. That’s all there is to it.

Tuning seems tricky at first but it comes with practice. In general don’t be too delicate inturning the tuning keys—a very small increment won’t make any difference. Sometimes it iseasier to off-tune by an easily audible amount and then come back.

Electronic Tuning

Tuning can also be made almost foolproof with electronic tuning machines, in which eithera meter or colored lights tell you when you’re in tune. The cost of these is naturally higherthan that of tuning forks or pitch pipes, but they are accurate and easy. The best kind allowyou to play a note and then watch a needle that shows whether you’re sharp or flat.

String Stretch

After putting on a new string, there is a tendency to believe that the string is slipping,because the pitch will drop slightly over a period of time after being tuned up. Actually thisis the string stretching, and until the settling point is reached it will be necessary to tightenthe string periodically. Professional players hasten this process by taking hold of the stringand twisting it to get the stretch out.

The Least You Need to Know

  • The action (or height) of the strings on your guitar is crucial to making it playable.
  • Changing strings is easy, but the process is slightly different for classical, folk, andelectric guitars.
  • Buying the right type of strings for your instrument is important to maximize soundand playability.
  • Tune your guitar with a pitch pipe or tuning fork, on a piano, relatively on the instru-ment itself, or with an electronic tuner.