Checking The Guitar Tuning

Use Machines But Verify By Ear

Even if you tune your guitar using an electronic tuner you will need to check whether the result is good enough and more often than not you may need to do the fine tuning by ear. The tuning method that was described in an earlier post is too basic and will work only if you play mostly in the first position. So let's take a look at other methods.

1. Checking Your Tuning With Octaves

  • Press the 1st (thinnest) string down at the 3rd fret and compare its sound with the open 3rd string. These are both G-s but sound an octave apart. Listen very carefully if the 3rd string isn't sounding too high.
  • Press the 2nd string down at the 3rd fret and compare with the open 4th string. It often happens that the 2nd string is too high or 4th can sound too low.
  • Compare the 3rd string 2nd fret with the open 5th string
  • Compare the 4th string 2nd fret with both open E-s (1st and 6th)
There are many more octaves but these are the ones you should check in the first position of your guitar. Note that you will always need to press down the strings gently and precisely next to the fret. Otherwise you will alter the sound of the stopped string. Note! When it turns out that after having tuned the open strings with the online guitar tuner you find the octaves very wrong then you should definitely check your guitar setup (12th fret versus open string, bridge placement, string tension and quality).

2. Checking Your Tuning With Chords

Take a simple triad  - G, D, E or C and play it string by string listening carefully if everything sounds OK to your ear. Major triads are the simplest chords and should always sound well. When you don't like the sound of some chords then go back and check the octaves to find out which string is out of tune. In the most common shape of G-major you have three G's: 1st string 3rd fret, open 3rd string and 6th string 3rd fret. Play those separately and hear if they sound well. In C-major check both C's (2nd and 5th strings). In C-major you should also pay attention to how the 5th and 1st strings sound together. Often you will have to raise the 5th string slightly. Then also check the 5th and 3rd strings in C-major. The intervals are respectively a major third and perfect fifth which should sound very clean and beautiful.
Note! When you fine tune your guitar so that C-major sounds perfectly then E-major will be out of tune. So don't try just one chord but rather try to make a compromise between 3-4 chords so that each one sounds good enough. It makes sense to check your tunings with the chords that you are going to play.

3. Checking Your Tuning With Higher Unisons

Like you already know, the 1st string of the guitar is E. The same E will sound when you stop the 3rd string at the 9th fret. Again, press the string down very gently because the third string is fat and soft and any excessive pressure will alter the sound considerably. Now compare the two E's. Often you might find that the 3rd string is too high. Then go on and play the same E from the 4th string 14th fret. When you manage to tune your instrument so that both the lower and higher unisons and chords are in tune then you probably have a guitar that's set up properly. When you find that the 1st position chords sound OK but the higher octaves not then it's because of the strings or the guitar or both. (Can also be the player 🙂

4. Tune Everything Against One String

On classical guitar it often works when the music is in G or C major that tuning everything to the G-note gives a fairly sufficient compromise. To try it, tune your open 3rd string as precisely as you can, with our online guitar tuner and then check the following pairs:
  • 12th fret harmonic of the G-string = 1st string 3rd fret = 2nd string 7th fret
  • Open G-string = 4th string 5th fret = 5th string 10th fret
  • 15th fret artificial harmonic of the 6th string = open G-string
When you play in D-major then try tuning everything to the D-string. Happy tuning!

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