Harmonic Tuning

How to tune your guitar with harmonics. It's very accurate and works fine if you have a decent guitar and distortion.

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Ok, motivated by all the positive feedback I got from my Reading Guitar Tablature II article, I decided I should write more. Hopefully help some more people out there. Today I'm going to teach you what I have only just learnt, Harmonic Tuning. It is so cool. Ok, there are a few things you must have though, a good electric guitar, an amp and some form of distortion. A quick view on harmonics: Ok, harmonics are kinda hard to explain but I'll try anyway. Harmonics are a different kind of sounds, which I believe are unique to guitars, the strongest harmonics are found on the twelve frets. You know what a fret is right? *considers writing an article on what frets are* I'm going to make you play your first ever harmonic sound! Ok, on the bottom string, put your finger very lightly above the twelth fret's metal bar. It has to be directly above the metal bar and it has to be barely touching the string. Now, pluck the bottom string. You should hear a ringing sound, if you take your finger away from the fret the sound should still be there until the string stops vibrating. Try it. If I've explained it right and your guitar is decent and you're doing it right then you've just made a harmonic. I believe, harmonics are shown on a tab like a normal note but in brackets. Say you were playing Welcome Home (Sanitarium) by Metallica, then this is what the first three notes are like this:
E|------------------(12)-----------------------------
B|------------------------(12) ----------------------
G|---------------------------------------------------
D|---------------------------------------------------
A|---------------------------------------------------
E|-----0---------------------------------------------
it really helps if you know the song though. Lol. Yeah, well anyway, that's how harmonics are shown and yeah. The first few times you play them you'll probably mess up and just hear a pluck. You just have to brush the string ontop of the fret slightly. It's hard to explain. If you've got it right, you can take away your hand from the string and the note will still be sounding. Ok, so I'm trusting the top note is in tune? Tune it to another guitar, a keyboard, piano, or a song or something. Now, turn distortion on and perform a harmonic on the fifth fret of the top string and then, as it's ringing play a harmonic on the second string, seventh fret. Both harmonics should be ringing and sound the excact same! This is the clever bit! If the second string isn't tuned to the top string then you'll hear a ripple! The faster the ripple, the worse the note is tuned! The slower the ripples, determines how good the notes are tuned. So in otherwords, you're going to get two high pitched noises, if they ripple they are out so adjust the second string's knob so the ripples are less often until they are finally gone. Did you ever play that game where someone hides something and you're looking for it and they'll say Hot if you're closer or Cold if you're not? Lol. Just me then! But yeah, it reminds me of that. If you're close you don't get many ripples. If you're not close you get loads of ripples. So now, the A string is in tune with the Low E string! Ok, so now, you want to tune the D string, in other words, the third string down! You do this in the same way! Do a harmonic on the fifth fret of the second string and a harmonic on the seventh fret of the string below it, the ripple thing is the same, if it's making weird sounds then it's out of tune so adjust it so it's in tune. Yup? It's very precise and easy! Do the excact same with the third and forth string to tune the forth string (G)-Fifth harmonic on D, seventh on G, compare and change according to ripples. To tune B (the fifth string down) is a bit different and harder. You want to do a harmonic on the forth fret of the forth string, and a harmonic on the fifth fret of the fifth string. Compare and make any adjustments needed and then do the fifth fret harmonic on the fifth string and seventh fret harmonic on the sixth string and compare and adjust. Your guitar should now be in tune.

61 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    ZombieModeRocks
    dont a tuner work better? seriously. cause if not then im gonna learn this if not then i might just go back to running scales and not waste my time
    jojobeasty
    againstme91 wrote: can u tune with harmonics on an acoustic guitar too?
    yah u can i dont know what this guy is talking about with the "ripples" but you can deffinitely hear it with the acoustic - just make the harmonics sound the same
    dead_fish
    This is an Awsome way of Tuning, i think better than a Tuner! You've gotta stop using a Tuner at one point in your life, u might as well get used to hearing the notes now. Anyway, Brill Lesson, cuz ive never got around to learning Harmonic Tuning, Best way of Tuning now! Anyway, some of you have been asking about wat one is, i dont know the musical terms but i do physics so... Heres a Complicated Explenation... Harmonics - They are the result of "standing waves". When u pluck a string it vibrates all the way from one end to the other, similarly, when u pluck it with your finger on say, 3rd Fret, it vibrates from 3rd fret to the the Bridge ( i think im not good with termonolgy) as you already know. but, creating a standing wave involves getting a string (u can do this with a slinky) to vibrate at a certain pitch so the waves are going so fast from one end to the other that the double up on themselves and you end up with a Node in the centre where Nothing moves, this is what u create with your finger. http://www1.union.edu/newmanj/lasers/Lig... Fret 12 is the strongest cuz its in the centre of the sting. but u can create nodes anwhere along the guitar u just end up creating more nodes. Thats the physics side, im not sure about the sound/music side, such as WHY the standoing waves cause a high pitch sound i think its to do with the pickups sensing the high speed the strings are moving at. Anyway, if you google, "Standing Waves" there are plenty of Images. Anyway, Sorry if this Confuses you more...
    dead_fish
    Ive only just read some recent posts after i posted that ^ but u cant get harmonics past the 12th easily bcus thats the centre of the sting, u can however do pinch harmonics, there cool, learn them...(19th are about 3rd of the way so theyre easier but not very clear...) the more nodes u create the faster the string needs to be played. This is better than the normal way cuz u can get the strings tuned REALLY accurately, like a tuner, bcus of the "ripples" u can hear yourself get closer to hitting the right note. Considering you can get harmonics on almost ALL instruments, Acoustic is no exception, u can get harmonics but they are alot harder. and ive used pinch but they are REALLY hard.
    childofbodom14
    READ THIS BEFORE U READ THE REVIEW the guy forgot say hes left handed so wen he says the 5th string he realy means the 2nd
    childofbodom14
    u also made alot of mistakes u said to tune the 2nd string 7th fret to the 6th string and then you said now ur A string will be in tune. how does tuning the b string put the a string in tune???
    Rory's_strat
    I cant relly find any harmonics past the twelth fret apart from the ninetinth. can anyone else get any?
    necromancer666
    to get harmonics after the 12th fret what i do is press the string against the fretboard normally strike the string and (really really quickly) take the finger away from the fretboard and let the string vibrate.
    necromancer666
    on another note i do something similar without using harmonics..... what i do is play the fifth fret on hth 6th (top) string and then while it is playing i play the open 5th string and then i clear out the "ripple".....it has to do something with interference of waves
    Supreme
    I always wondered how people did harmonic tuning, I knew about harmonics and that somehow you could get precise tuning with them but yeah. Thanks loads!
    pantha90
    spankyy wrote: i dont mean to be offensive, but this was really badly done and alot of things are wrong. anyways, the only way i know of to tune the B string with a harmonic off the G-string is by using an artificial harmonic on the B. you use the 5th fret harmonic on the G-string, then press down on the 1st fret of the B-string, place your index finger of your other hand over the 8th fret(the actual bar) like you would with a normal harmonic and pluck the string with your thumb. you should look up how to do artificial harmonics if you dont quite understand. ive looked for a natural harmonic that can tune the B-string but everything is alway slightly of. it might be my strings or something, but ive tried all of the possible harmonics that i could find on my strings and couldnt find one that works. i might have missed one but i can always get one wherever i touch so it would be small. a good tip for using harmonics is to pluck, pick strum etc. closer to the base of the strings.
    ure a fool u got it wrong m8. artificial harmonics can be played from a single fretted position in about approximately 20 different tones and keys depending on how you play them. this may work for you but will simply just confuse evry1 else. i prefer sullies methodTo tune your B string using harmonics (standard tuning) Harmonic at 7th Fret on big E will sound the same as the harmonic at 12th fret on the B string. Good ole octaves. is good Be Happy
    fleh
    imagine grabbing a piece of string and hadnging it in the air then spinning the end. youll notice that depending how youw spin it (speed/size of circles) that it doesnt stay straignt and may change orientation like /^\./ well sort of anyway you might have to actually do it underatand. this doesnt have a lot to do with harmonics exactly but may help you visualise the way they are produced if you think of that as being a guitar string and where it curles is where your damping the string. i think so anyway. im probly wrong.
    fleh
    n yea u can all_the_rage it doesnt matter how the string is tuned as harmonica are devisions of the length. open or alternativve tunings you can atill obviously do harmonics but you probly couldnt tune in exavtly this way would need to use different frets if the strings are tuned different relevant to each other.
    graffitio_0321
    you dont need to have an electric guitar, distortion or an amp...and Sullie, for those of us that cant tell what note we're singing, that methid wont really work
    PCboy
    jojobeasty wrote: againstme91 wrote: can u tune with harmonics on an acoustic guitar too? yah u can i dont know what this guy is talking about with the "ripples" but you can deffinitely hear it with the acoustic - just make the harmonics sound the same
    he was talking about the waving sound, or whatever that is that doesn't sound very smooth).
    MangledPhox
    MangledPhox : Good, but for tuning the b string tune your high e To your low e using harmonics, then tune your e to your b using the 5/7 harmonic method
    *B to your e*
    MangledPhox
    Good, but for tuning the b string tune your high e To your low e using harmonics, then tune your e to your b using the 5/7 harmonic method
    rockstar_jones
    just wanna add... you can get harmonics on drums... thats right drums... tap the rims/hoops above one of the lugs... you should geta ringing... my guitar tuner picked it up a few times on different lugs..
    zumiezbmxdude
    Ive used harmonics to tune my guitar a few times...I dont really like using it...is there an easier way to tune it?
    blargag
    Just to clarify the harmonics: A string always has 2 nodes; one at the bridge and one at the nut or fret. The string will vibrate in a standing wave if played. The string's length is its wavelength, which gets shortened when the nodes are added. The nodes are where the wavelengths start and stop. Playing harmonics adds more nodes, which raises the frequency(pitch). The 12th fret harmonic is strongest because you're only adding one more node. Additional nodes increase the pitch, and higher pitches need more energy to keep the same amplitudes(volume) as the lower pitches. That's why other harmonics get softer. Also, anything that can vibrate(practically everything) has harmonics. This is demonstrated in Ocean's 13 where they find the harmonic of a hotel to get it to vibrate(very unlikely/difficult, but not at all impossible). If you're really bored you can go around your house with your guitar and play notes really loud next to random objects to get them vibrating and producing pitches of their own. One of my friends found during a race that at a certain speed(40mph or so) the fork of his road bike began to hum and vibrate like crazy, making him bounce a little and loosened his grip. Pretty wild stuff. Anyway, that's what random crap I've learned from AP physics and friends in music classes at school, and I could go deeper but really there is an article about harmonics that you should go read anyway.learn about this sorta stuff though because it really opens up your understanding of your instrument so you can experiment with it effectively.
    ArneZ
    thanks man..the harmonic was easy at the beginning but harder after a while..lol. I like the sound of it and been sitting here for a long time now...tell me if you know other cool stuff;D
    annihilation
    i use this style of tuning, but i press on the frets to get the ripple. It works for me, because I do a lot of retuning, from standard to drop d to drop c etc.
    Sullie
    To tune your B string using harmonics (standard tuning) Harmonic at 7th Fret on big E will sound the same as the harmonic at 12th fret on the B string. Good ole octaves.
    0bakaSan
    used harmonic for a long time too but i find the tuner more useful but if ur in a hurry use ur own voice lol
    Red Shift
    A considerably precise and fast way to tune your guitar(esp. accoustic) is: tune the E6 string(for those who are still confused, the string that has the maximum diameter) by ear,keyboard or whatever, then pluck it hard with your finger on the 5th fret and tune the A string so it resonates with it at maximum amplitude, do the same for the next two strings, when your tuning the b-string pluck the G-string on the 4th fret and tune the b to resonate with it, then tune the E1 with the B at 5th fret in the same way. This should get you pretty close, for further precission you can tune by harmonics. the ressonance method helps if your guitar is alot out of tune and you dont know how much, just see at which fret the next string ressonates and then tune it up or down to the correct note. I wrote all this because I was surprised no one else discovered this, really helps if your playing an accoustic guitar.
    dogsballs
    so can you get n harmonics on an acoustic???? good article dude, i was wondering what ywingy malmsteen was on about!
    allenm
    very good article, i never knew how to tune by harmonics before this. but to correct one thing, harmonics exist for all string and wind instrruments AT LEAST. im not sure about other instruments, but i suspect they are the same. u learn about this stuff in year 11 physics. but thanx for teaching me about this stuff.
    dkmfan4189
    good article...i saw the owner of my local guitar shop tuning with harmonics. i wanted to ask him how to do it but i had to get going. well neways,i saw another little fact in a "guitar player" lesson on harmonics. its said that the places where harmonics can be played on a guitar( called nodes, apparently) are precise fractions of the strings total vibrating length. just thot id say something
    mtboarder12
    ok harmonics are NOT i repeat NOT just for guitar. Every pitch creates infinate amounts of harmonics. Here's where it get's really confusing It took my practcing artist and he's a professional clarinetinst from the colorado symphony orcrestra to explain it like an hour in a half. Ok, Harmonics are inside every pitch. For example if anyone playes trumpet you know that playing the same fingering but buzzing your lips faster creates a different note so if you finger a C and buzzz faster you get a G then even faster another C then i think it's a F# or something but those are all harmonics of C. Harmonics also go up and up and up for ever with each one less influencial then the last one. Meaning if you had a guitar with like 100 frets on it and did the harmonics thing not nesserally to tune but just to hear them, you would hear each harmonic higher up the fretboard less and less loud then the one before it. Now you can also hear harmonics on a piano. it has to be real no electric keyboards here. Now if you press real lightly so that you are pressing down a G with out the note actually coming out and hit the C below it REALLY hard and let go quickly then you hear the G tone becuase it is a harmonic. Now you can hear all the harmonics as high as you want (meaning if you knew which harmonics go to which note you could play them as high as you can untill you cant hear them anymore if you have a good ear, I've heard the third harmonic) Anyway please read this because it took me a long tome to write it and i dont mean any disrespect or anything i just wanted to make sure that people got the right info
    xenolith42
    Hmm.. Interesting lesson. Good for people who don't know how to tune using this method. But... I tried tuning the B string using a 5th fret harmonic on that string and a 4th fret harmonic on the G string, but it was really out of tune when I played it normally. Is this just me?? If it sounds out of tune when you try it, don't tune it that way. How you can tune it though is to tune the high e string against the low E. Play a 5th fret harmonic on the low E, and then a 12th fret harmonic on the high e. Tune these, and then work backwards, using a 7th fret harmonic on the high e, and a 5th fret harmonic on the b string. Cheers!
    rzrzero
    very cool man, I wasn't getting harmonics all this time b/c my amp volume was too low...
    allenm
    also, i can get harmonics on my accoustic easily, im gonna have to see if i can tune like that.
    numbfinger
    good article..and you can do harmonics on the acoustic is just a little bit harder to do them
    barcila79
    After tuning my guitar the normal way, this harmonics tuning gives it the touch of perfection.i had already seen this been done before but never got the hang of it.great explanation
    wails a virgin
    you can use natural and artificial harmonics on a damn acoustic but u cant use pinch damn when u kids gonna learn artificial sounds really good on acoustics in the solo for mr big's just to be the next to be with you he uses a natural harmonic on an acoustic