Basic To Advanced Tuning

This lesson assumes you have no knowedge of tuning, and will taker you through the basics of note adjustment all the way to relative resonant tuning.

Ultimate Guitar
Basic To Advanced Tuning
This lesson will assume you know nothing about tunings. It will begin by explaining steps and notes, onto the basics such as standard tuning and step tunings, and then when you feel confident about relative tuning, I will go onto introducing and explaining the theory and logic behind relative resonant tuning, which is basically being able to hear inperfections based on two or more notes being played at the same time. I hope this lesson covers everything you need, but if it doesnt, feel free to email me at the email address at the bottom of this lesson!

1. Notes And Steps

Before learning to tune, you should be able to name every note, and understand steps. There are 7 full notes. A B C D E F and G. You then, get sharps and flats for each note. A sharp (#) can be explained by saying its pitch is increased slightly than the note before it. So a flat is a notes pitch, lowered slightly than the note which comes next. The only exception is B to C and E to F. B does not have a sharp, and C doesnt have a flat. The same with E and F. So using this knowledge now, you can build up the whole 12 notes, sharps and flats there are:

A -> A# or Bb -> B -> C -> C# or Db -> D -> D# or Eb -> E -> F -> F# or Gb -> G -> G# or Ab

Where it says "x# or yb", that means they're enharmonic. Enharmonic means two names for the same thing, so basically, A# and Bb both sound exactly the same.

- Steps.
A step consists of two things. A whole step, and a half step. A Whole Step is going up two pitches, for example, going from A, through A# and onto B. So that process is a whole step. So, from that, its obvious what a half step is: from from one pitch to half a pitch ahead or behind. For Example, going from A, to A#. If you think "but, is a whole step up from B, C?" then no, because if you think of it as C being enharmonic to B#, then you would go, B -> B# or C -> C#. So, a whole step up from B is C#. Half a step up from B is C. The same goes for E and F.

2. Standard Tuning

Now, moving on to standard tuning. When you tune your guitar, you will most probably tune it to Standard tuning. The notes for standard tuning are EADGBe. When naming notes from a tuning, you always start with the thickest string, and end on the thinnest. So, if you were to play the thickest string open in standard tuning, then you would produce an E note. If you played the one next to that open, you would produce an A note and so on. So, now you have your first tuning. Standard tuning, you know what the notes are for it, and its name. You also know how you find the notes! (By playing the strings open, and finding the notes out on a tuner or by ear).

3. Fretboard Patterns

Now that you know standard tuning, there are some patterns which you need to know in order to retune your guitar. I'll start with the easiest to remember, the frets. Each fret represents a half step. So, theres a half step difference between the 1st fret and 2nd fret. Theres a half step difference between 5th fret and 6th fret and so on.

The 12th fret.
As stated in the notes chapter, there are a total of 12 full notes, sharps and flats. So what happens when you reach the 12th fret and you've run out of notes?! Easy, you start over again. So, using this knowledge of the notes, frets and 12th fret, you can build a diagram of the fretboard.

1 2 3 4 5 6 Frets
e|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|
B|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|----F-----|
G|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|
D|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|
A|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|
E|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|

7 8 9 10 11 12 Frets
|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|
|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|
|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|
|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|
|----E-----|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|
|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|
What this diagram is showing is the strings, and the notes on each fret. The bottom line is the thickest string, the top line is the thinnest. Remember what I said about the 12th fret? If you play the E string open, the 12th fret also becomes the E note. Then just start the cycle over again. So the 13th fret is exactly the same as the 1st fret, just an octave higher. The 14th is the exact same as the 2nd and so on. Now you know the 12th fret, there's the 5th fret rule.

The 5th fret.
This, in standard tuning is invaluble. It's used to retune your guitar, a lot, as long is it stays in a variation of standard (IE tuning all the strings half a step down or a whole step down etc). Basically, the 5th fret note of any string (except the G string) is the note of the string below it open. Take the Low E for example. The 5th fret is an A note, so is the string below it. The A string's 5th fret is a D note. And so on.
The only exception is the G string, in which case it's the 4th fret. Using this information, you can now find out how to tune to a variation of standard tuning, as long as one of your strings is already in tune. (I'll explain later on in the lesson).

4. Finding The Notes And The Logic

The very basics of retuning is to be able to relate two notes of the same pitch on different strings to one another. Basically translated, if your retuning a string to the note B, look for the B note on the string before it. Therefore, you need to find the notes in order to retune! We've covered the 5th fret rule in the chapter above, so this is how you use relative tuning. If you want to tune to standard, or a variation of it, its simple. The first step is to get or find at least one string thats already in tune.

So pretend for simplicity, the Low E is already tuned (You can tune it to a piano, or a song etc). The other strings are completely out of tune, but you know already, from the 5th fret rule, that the string next to it, played open, is the same note of the 5th fret OF the Low E. Basically, the 5th fret of the Low E, is the same as the A string open. So to tune the A string, play the 5th fret of the Low E string, and the A string open, then retune the A string till it sounds exactly the same as the 5th fret of the Low E: 

Now, you have two strings tuned, you want to tune the string next to the A string, (the 4th string). So, again, the 5th fret rule says that the 5th fret of the A string will be the same as the D string open. So, to tune the D string. Play the 5th fret A string and the D string open:

Continue this until the G string, where you match the B string with the 4th fret of the G string. In the end, you'll get something like this: 

There, now you can tune to standard, and hopefully you can understand the logic behind it. Basic summary of tuning to standard:

1) Remember the 5th fret rule
2) Play the 5th (or 4th) fret and the string below it open
3) Retune the Open string.

The logic behind tuning is this: Find the notes you want to tune to, then find them on the string below it. And that's basically it.

5. Changing Individual Strings

Ok, now we've got standard tuning out of the way, it's onto changing individual strings. You may have heard people talk about Drop D. Basically, it's dropping the low E string to a D note. So like above, you have to find the same note on another string (this isn't always the case, as you'll see in a minute). But, the Low E is the lowest string on the guitar, theres no string before it to tune!

This problem is easily overcome by looking at the D string. Now, you want to tune to drop D, which implies you need the Low E to be a D note. So why not, play the D string open, making a D note, and also playing the Low E to be able to retune it! However, the pitch is alot different, by around an octave. So, to overcome this, play the 12th fret Low E, and the D string open. That way, when the 12th fret sounds like the D string, you've achieved drop D! So if you look at what we did:

^ ^
1 2
1) The note which needs to be moved
2) The place it needs to be moved too.

The note (1) needs to be moved 2 frets to the right. The other way, is where you don't need to find the note you want to tune to. For example, you want to tune to Drop D, but you don't need to use the D note. You know from the 5th fret rule that the 5th fret of a string is the string below it's open note, so you know the 5th fret A string is the same as the A string open. Also, the D note on the E string is two frets from the 12th fret, so just add two frets from the A note, which gives you the 7th fret.

So, all you have to do, is retune the 7th fret Low E to match the A string open. That way, your making the 7th fret an A note! You can do this with other notes too, for example, you want to tune the Low E to a B. The B is 2 frets from the A note, so, when you theoritically move the B note to the 12th fret, take two frets from that and you get the 10th fret. So, play the 10th fret Low E and the A string open, then retune your 10th fret Low E to match the A string!

6. Matching Up Notes

So, the basic logic behind tuning is to match up notes as best as you can. These are the things to take into consideration:

- Matching up notes - whether it be the note you want to tune to, or a note relative to another string.
- Try to always match notes to open strings where possible.
- Try to match the same pitch notes to make it easier for untrained ears.
- Remember how many frets difference there is between notes.
- Try work out what the notes on the fretboard should look like in the end.

Now, we can move onto more complex tunings. If you bare all this in mind, you can tune to anything with ease. And I mean anything. For instance, I'll take DADADD - Open D5. So, we'll look at the first three notes: DAD. The A and D strings don't need tuning, so they can be your start point for the other strings. Basically, all you're doing in this part is Drop D. So, you can match the 12th fret Low E to match the D string open, or the other method I mentioned. So, your halfway there!

The next part: ADD. The G string needs to be tuned up an entire step, so thats going from G -> G# -> A. So, going back to the 5th fret rule, the A note on the D string is the 7th fret. So all you have to do, is play the 7th fret D string and the G string open and retune the G string! So now you have DADA, and you need the other DD. Now you have your G string tuned to an A, dont forget to rearrange the notes on the G string, they all move towards the nut by two frets, so, the D note is note located on the 5th fret. So, all you have to do, is match the B string open, to the 5th fret G string.

And the last string is easy, because you already have the B string tuned to a D, simply play the two strings open, and retune the High E string! Now you're in DADADD tuning! I hope that was clear to everyone.

7. Advanced Tuning - not need for basic tuning

This chapter assumes you know how to tune and have a good trained ear. This part will teach you how to further develop your trained ear, and how to physically feel the inconsistancies within two strings. I aim in this chapter to make your tuning perfect, and when I say perfect, and I mean perfect, it'll sound even more amazing.

First of all, I'll start with being able to hear the inconsistancies. This is a branch off harmonic tuning, which I will discuss later. Basically, when you get a string vibrating it produces a frequency. As you may or may not know the frequency is like a wiggly line which goes up and down. Now, this wave determines what the vibration is going to sound like, otherwise known as its pitch. Imagine you take this frequency, and another one the exact same. If you over lap them perfectly, it'll only look like one frequency, right? This is what you are aiming for and is refered to as two frequencies being in phase. If you were to theoretically "stretch" one of these wiggly lines, it would not be able to fit behind the other one perfectly. This is refered to it being out of phase.

Now, you may be wondering, what's this got to do with anything? Well the answer is, these frequencies, like E said before, give off different sounds and pitches. Now, do this. Turn the tuner of the Low E string slightly. This will make your Low E out of tune, obviously. Now, play the 5th fret of the Low E and the A string open, as you would in standard tuning with a lot of distortion. It sounds horrible right?! That's because those two frequencies have different wavelengths, and this makes it easy to recognise by producing a horrible noise! Now, it may just seem like a nasty noise to begin with, but do this, turn the tuner slowly in different directions. Now, you can hear that nasty wobbling noise get faster and slower right! This is two vibrating strings being at different wavelengths, and as you change the tension in the string by altering the tuner, that wavelength adjusts accordingly.

So, think about it, if that fast wobbly noise is nasty, then an extremely slow, or non existing wobbly will be nice! So all you have to do is retune your E to Standard, but listen to this resonating. As you re-tune, you are aiming to get the wobble or the resonance to completely dissapear. If you listen closely, you'll be able to hear when it stops, and then you will have two completely, perfectly in tune strings. You can do this with any fret, anywhere on the fretboard. It doesnt matter where harmonic points are or anything. As long as you have distortion, you'll be able to easily hear this resonance. Now we have covered being able to hear this resonance, we can move onto being able to feel it.

When you play the guitar, you may feel it wobble slightly. This is because the wood absorbs the shockwave created by the string, and turns it into energy in the wood. This energy is dissipated by making the wood shake slightly. You can use this to help aid in resonant tuning (mentioned above). Play the slightly detuned 5th fret Low E and the A string open again. You can hear the two frequencies resonating out of phase. Now, pay attention to feeling it. The wobble in the wood will be the same as the wobble you can hear. When you retune the guitar to perfect standard, this wobble in the wood will slow down too. And that concludes Advanced tuning! That's as perfect as you can get it with the ear (if it's a well-trained ear! ). This type of resonant tuning will also greatly improve your trained ear.

8. Harmonic Tuning

This is another type of resonating tuning. And as the name of the chapter suggests, it utilizes natural harmonics. This is ideal for acoustic guitars. It works on the principal of getting two natural harmonics to resonant clearly together. To do it, you play two natural harmonics, on two different strings located next to each other at the same time. For instance, if you want to retune the Low E string, play the 5th fret harmonic on the Low E, and the 7th fret harmonic on the A string. You'll hear that resonating again, and like above, just retune till it stops!

Now, it gets a bit messy on the B string because in normal tuning, you dont use the 5th fret of the G string to retune the B string, you use the fourth. The 4th fret G string doesn't have a harmonic that you can match up to with another to create a sustainable tuning guide for the B string, so you need to find a relative one to use on the 7th fret B string. It can be overcome, by playing the B string open, and playing the harmonic on the Low E string at the 7th fret. So, for harmonic tuning, you match these harmonics: 

A * (asterisk) indicates a natural harmonic.

Well, that concludes my lesson on tuning, hopefully now, you should know the basics of alternate tunings, how advanced tuning works, for example resonant tuning and harmonic tuning, and so on. Just one more thing. A copy of the complete fretboard with notes!

1 2 3 4 5 6
e|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|
B|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|----F-----|
G|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|
D|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|
A|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|
E|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|

7 8 9 10 11 12
e|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|
B|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|
G|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|
D|----A-----|-A# or Bb-|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|
A|----E-----|----F-----|-F# or Gb-|----G-----|-G# or Ab-|----A-----|
E|----B-----|----C-----|-C# or Db-|----D-----|-D# or Eb-|----E-----|
If there's anything you want to talk to me more about, feel free to email me at spatulator@hotmail. com, or PM me on Ultimate-Guitar! Anywho, best of luck with your alternate tunings!

186 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Well I thought it was a great lesson. To the people who were saying it was dull... That's the reason why its in the beginning section. I've been playing for a year exactly now(started on my B-day...guess what today is)and I figured out the fret trick and the resonating trick; but the moving off the wood...Idk how I missed it. First lesson today too... I hope all my others are as good as this!!!
    lIl Jo$hY
    hey nice job! i was wondering, drop b is just drop c tuned down half a step isnt it??? :|
    I messed up on a previous post so i'm fixing it. To tune something down, tune the E string (fattest string) a half or full step depending on what you want. drop d e B G D A D (down a step, to the 7th fret.) flat tuning (the 'b' means flat)(down a half step) eb Bb Gb Db Ab Eb (to make this drop d just do it as you would normally) dropped d (all strings down a step) D A F C G D(tune the rest of the strings down to this string as you would normally tune.) Drop C D A F C G C (drop the bottom string down one step from dropped d tuning) Dropped C i don't know what the open notes are.
    p.s. chords sound really cool on dropped d tuning or dropped c tuning.
    yah this would have been great a few months ago but i already figured out the wobble thing. oh well kinda dull at first but not bad
    CoventryEngland wrote: not to be showing off but i knew this already and i found it not hard at all not even a little
    Then why ****ing read it.
    would holding down the E string on the second fret and tuning the guitar into E with a guitar tuner tune it down to D when i take my finger off the fret? if you know what i mean.
    Very good article, thought me a whole lot! Thank you very much logz It got me kickstarted =D
    Wow very cool. I only knew the 5th fret rule.Now I know evrything about tuning. Its weird cause once I read your guide I started hearing the vibration a lot clearly. NOw I can do perfect tuning. My friend is going to freak lol. Thank you very much!!
    ^ You can do it that way, althought they wont sound exactly the same because the Low E string open will sound an exact octave down from the open D. The reason i stated playing the 12th fret Low E and the D string open is because then both the notes are in perfect unison.
    could you tell me how to get the tuning of a 7-string guitar on a 6-string guitar?
    the notes behind the "|" is what the note the strings would be at before tuning.
    hahaha,, this lessons is the thing i do everytime i am tuning my acoustic guitar.. ! amazing!
    This is awesome info, but I`m still stumped on how to tune to: Bb F Bb Eb G C I still need help on this tuning.
    Loving the thinly veiled physics lesson in bpt 7. Its not often you hear guitarists talking about phase differences. (Except the pickups nerds)
    say i know how to tune i know my octaves (more commonly C) but anyways i was wondering i hear alot about these chromatic tuners can you use them for a gig (e.g. my 2nd song would play in standard but i want my 3rd song to play in drop-c without touching the tuners can this tuner be used for that requirement?
    devilex121 wrote: could you tell me how to get the tuning of a 7-string guitar on a 6-string guitar?
    you can the last string (biggest) is B,E,A,D,G,B,e, you want to hit fret 7 on your low-E listen for the correct pitch and your in
    Well I guess that is a kind of umm... in depth sounding way of saying the 5th fret is the same as the open string below it... Very good lesson though!!!
    EldonsName24 wrote: say i know how to tune i know my octaves (more commonly C) but anyways i was wondering i hear alot about these chromatic tuners can you use them for a gig (e.g. my 2nd song would play in standard but i want my 3rd song to play in drop-c without touching the tuners can this tuner be used for that requirement?
    They just show you what note you're hitting, so you can tune accordingly. I suggest the boss TU-2, good stuff. If you want something like that, waste money on a gibson robot guitar or something.
    If I was to play an acoustic guitar with an electric guitar that has been tuned down, do I tune down the acoustic also. Can I play regular open chords on the acoustic guitar after down tuning? Or is it bar chords and capo time?
    Wow Logz...nice one. I knew the 5, 5, 5, 4, 5 fret trick for standard, but i didn't know about that for Drop D or for open D5 tuning! I just did drop D by ear and everything else w/ a tuner xD but this helps alot thx m8! 5*
    Execellent Article, To be honest I couldnt find the 12th Fret Drop D trick anywhere else. Good Job
    ^ the best way to tune half a step and a step down in standard is; for half step down: 1) Play the 4th fret Low E and A string open, retune the A string to match 4th fret Low E. 2) Tune to standard around the A string for whole step down: 1) Play the 3rd fret Low E and A string open, retune the A string to match 4th fret Low E. 2) Tune to standard around the A string
    I only know the basics of tuning with a EADGBE tuner
    oh ok well thanks anyways logz u've been a help already ! btw do you think i can just transpose the notes to different places on the fretboard but keeping the same notes just changing it to normal tuning?? or would that not work for some reason?