The Guitar Is Tuned Wrong

This isn't an article showing you the Rule Of Fifths or explaining how to tune your guitar a certain way. This is more of a way to explain why tunings work the way they do. This is also a pretty short article.

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So you know that standard tuning is EBGDAE.You learned that from the first day you played guitar.And you may have just lived with the fact that standard tuning is always going to be EBGDAE.But for people like me, I always wanted to know why it was tuned the way it was, because that didn't happen by just messing around with notes, just hoping to get a good combination. (1.)Mainly guitarists read tablature everyday that looks like this:
E---------------------
B---------------------
G---------------------
D---------------------
A---------------------
E---------------------
from the high E to the low E.Am I right? (2.)Well,the way it was originally intended for it to be written was:
E---------------------
A---------------------
D---------------------
G---------------------
B---------------------
E---------------------
The 1st way that it's almost always recognized and written doesn't show the correct way. Because of the intervallic structure behind it.Let's analyze that: E-B:perfect fifth B-G:minor sixth G-D:perfect fourth D-A:perfect fifth A-E:perfect fifth Now, for those of you who don't know: THE GUITAR IS TUNED TO FOURTHS. In the first analysis behind the standard look of tablature, there's only one perfect fourth.The majority of them are perfect fifths with one minor sixth. That doesn't sound right to me, personally. The 2nd way that possibly very few people write out music with is going to be analyzed...now!: E-A:perfect fourth A-D:perfect fourth D-G:perfect fourth G-B:MAJOR THIRD(Explanation!) B-E:perfect fourth Now that makes much more sense, doesn't it? With the exception of the B string of course.Because there's a major third in place of a perfect fourth, THE GUITAR IS THEORETICALLY TUNED WRONG. I remember I used to tune my B string to a C when I didn't know how the Rule Of Fifths work. So if you tune your B string to a C string, you're not out of tune, essentially, because you're following a rule. But sound-wise? I don't think it will sound very good... So if you were wondering how I got the perfect fourths:
1. Take the major scale of the low E string:
E F# G# A B C# D# E
1 2  3  4 5 6  7  1
 
Perfect fourth:A
 
Now take the A major scale:
A B C# D E F# G# A
1 2 3  4 5 6  7  1
 
Perfect fourth:D
 
Now take the D major scale:
D E F# G A B C# D
1 2 3  4 5 6 7  1
 
Perfect fourth:G
 
Now take the G major scale:
G A B C D E F# G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7  1
 
Perfect fourth:C(major third:B)
 
Now take the B major scale:
B C# D# E F# G# A# B
1 2  3  4 5  6  7  1
 
Perfect fourth:E
 
If you were to take the C major scale:
C D E F G A B C
 
Perfect fourth:F
I have never tried tuning the high E to make it a high F. So don't ask me what it sounds like, because I cannot say anything. Conclusion: The guitar is theoretically tuned wrong. Because the B string is tuned to a major third rather than all perfect fourths. Granted, maybe it as a good idea making standard tuning wrong by default, because standard tuning sounds fine the way it is, but in the end, the guitar is still tuned wrong.

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    TommyRack
    krypticguitar87 wrote: you are exactly the type of person that i figured would post a response.... if you think about it theoretically, when would you think of this tuning if it didn't exist..... seriously I'm not saying that theory says you should tune it that way, I said that logically, from the stand point of only knowing music theory, why would you think to tune that way and not say, chromatically or to a chord or something like that..... logically looking at theory and theory alone (not anything to do with guitar or any other instrument) the idea of choosein EADGBE doesn't make sense, there is no real formula to come up with this... however there is a formula to come up with EADGCF... or CGCGCE.... or EBF#C#G#D#.... or ABCDEF..... would they all work? maybe maybe not, that isn't the point. the point is that they make more sense than the choices, from a logical standpoint, with out taking playability into account..... Obviously the way it is tuned makes sense from a playability standpoint.... I'm not arguing that... because there is no point to argue it.....
    Logically you would design an instrument's tuning so that it can be USED effectively. Your argument using theory and theory alone is just completely irrelevant. If you don't take into account the practicality of the instrument, the types of things it is required to play, etc., then what there is NO point whatsoever in discussing tuning methods. I'm all for the idea that different tuning types can yield a variety of results, but to suggest that just because of "theory" (which, by the way, you appear to be using as a get-out-of-jail free card here) comes out neater if you tune in fourths, fifths, or whatever other arbitrary system you are suggesting. The point I'm trying to make above is that, without taking into account practicality and playability you're just naming intervals in an abstract space. There is a logical reason for tuning a guitar in the way it is, i.e. the practical reasons I've mentioned before, and if you refuse to acknowledge these aspects your argument is at best null. If you think you can design a tuning system just by picking notes out of the air and not thinking of the implications that they would have on a performer's ability to produce the music written for the instrument, then I really just cannot agree with you.
    t21n
    i'm sorry to say, but personally i think this article is retarded...and i'm happy to see that i'm not the only one who thinks so. it's somewhat interesting to talk about, but only as "food for thought" based on music theory--it's not practical for playing. as other people have mentioned, the tuning of the guitar serves a function--it's worked quite well for...hell i don't even know, but a loooong time. whatever though, i'll be with everyone else using "normal" tunings that make more sense. i appreciate you exploring the idea though, with the mindset of "ok just b/c it's been done like this 'forever' doesn't mean it's the only way" but sometimes the best way to do things has been figured out...if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
    Freepower
    This is literally the worst, most useless and most totally out of the ballpark wrong article I have ever read. It's a disgrace that this is on the front page of a guitar website.
    isaac_bandits
    You ****ed up. G to D is not a perfect fourth. Its a fifth. All of the intervals you named are just inverses of what the actual intervals are anyways, so its not as if that even means anything. E and A are a perfect or a perfect fourth apart, depending on which one you choose to start on. Its the same thing with all the other strings too. You also haven't provided an explanation of why you feel the high e string should be at the bottom of the tablature staff. Standard notation, which people who read stuff other than tabs often use, has lower notes closer to the bottom of the page. It makes sense that tab would be the same.
    Ackj
    katalyzt13 wrote: I think I read somewhere that Eddie Van Halen used to tune his B string a little sharp and that is why he is able to play open major chords distorted and they don't sound like crap..
    That's a really cool concept about microtones. Most music we have is based off of 12 tones, but there are obviously some frequencies in between. Some of them happen to resonate together better than combinations that we're limited to with 12 tones. I think there's also something about how some of the microtones are more natural, and (I forget which note) but when you're singing, a few of the notes may sound perfectly in key to you, but they will not be "tuned" to the same frequency of a piano or other instrument. I don't really know much about it, so before I make a fool of myself, I'll just refer you to http://www.freenotemusic.com , he uses a guitar with a bunch of frets between our normal frets to achieve the microtones.
    BOYERxBREAKDOWN
    krypticguitar87 wrote: TommyRack wrote: In a word - no. In a few more words - instruments are designed to be as musically useful as they can be within their limits. The guitar, as a polyphonic instrument, is tuned in a way that allows chordal work to fit under the fingers. Theory doesn't say anything about how it makes sense to tune to perfect fourths because it just isn't as practical on the instrument. you are exactly the type of person that i figured would post a response.... if you think about it theoretically, when would you think of this tuning if it didn't exist..... seriously I'm not saying that theory says you should tune it that way, I said that logically, from the stand point of only knowing music theory, why would you think to tune that way and not say, chromatically or to a chord or something like that..... logically looking at theory and theory alone (not anything to do with guitar or any other instrument) the idea of choosein EADGBE doesn't make sense, there is no real formula to come up with this... however there is a formula to come up with EADGCF... or CGCGCE.... or EBF#C#G#D#.... or ABCDEF..... would they all work? maybe maybe not, that isn't the point. the point is that they make more sense than the choices, from a logical standpoint, with out taking playability into account..... Obviously the way it is tuned makes sense from a playability standpoint.... I'm not arguing that... because there is no point to argue it.....
    Alright stop replying even though you have been officially pwned. It just doesn't make sense from a playing perspective. Theoretically it's a sound argument but when it comes down to ACTUALLY PLAYING THE GUITAR it doesn't make sense.
    joshmckinnon
    I think the real message is just tune your guitar so its sounds good. drop d is not a perfect fourth tuning, neither is open g. check out this link
    thats how you play haha
    TommyRack
    And just as another aside - unless I'm reading the article incorrectly - the talk about the tunings and the originally intended tunings is wrong anyway. The guitar IS tuned in fourths, with the exception being the major third from G to B. The original post claims that it is in fact tuned top to bottom (i.e., the B string being the second thickest string followed by the G, etc.). It seems to be that the original poster doesn't actually understand guitar tuning whatsoever.
    TommyRack
    krypticguitar87 wrote: I love how many people here actually think he's telling you to chnage your tuning..... seriously he's just pointing out that theoretically the tuning doesn't make sense.... not from a playing stand point but from a theoretical stand point.... for ease of playing the tuning makes sense, but if you had a stringed instrument that you had to come up with a tuning for, why on earth would you decide to choose such a, semmingly, random assortment of notes, why not to a chord or to perfect fifths.... if you look at the way it's tuned the first four are in perfect fourths, so theoretically, i'll repeat it (since so many people are going to miss the word the first time), theoretically wouldn't it make sense to tune the whole thing to perfect fourths...
    In a word - no. In a few more words - instruments are designed to be as musically useful as they can be within their limits. The guitar, as a polyphonic instrument, is tuned in a way that allows chordal work to fit under the fingers. Theory doesn't say anything about how it makes sense to tune to perfect fourths because it just isn't as practical on the instrument.
    CoreysMonster
    This is one of the worst articles I've read in a long time. The guitar is not "tuned wrong", the tuning evolved that way because it was considered the tuning in which it was the easiest to play the largest variety of chords and scales. Just because something isn't symmetrical doesn't mean it's broken. Serious facepalm on this article.
    buttcord
    You have no reason for it being "Wrong" aside from "They're not all the same intervals" There's plenty of good reasons for it to be tuned this way 1) Highest and lowest strings are the same note, makes it a lot easier to move from the bottom strings to the top 2) Given people's limited finger stretching range, it opens up a bunch of chord voicings and double-stops that would otherwise be painful on the lower strings Your analysis is based entirely on how simple to understand the tuning is, not how it adds to or subtracts from the playability of the instrument. When trying to understand why it's tuned the way it is, you should try actually playing the guitar instead of drawing diagrams and abstractions of it.
    Ultima2876
    Who said that every string has to be the same interval apart? The interval change for the B string in standard tuning is designed to make it easier to finger many chords. Without that the guitar would not be as versatile and easy to play.
    TommyRack
    One simple reason for guitar tuning being as it is - barre chords. One of the most common elements of western music being major/minor triad based chords, it just makes sense.
    Darjoscn
    Well, if you try doing (for example) a G barre chord with a tuning that have all perfect fourths intervals it would be like F - 2 C - 2 G - 5 D - 5 A - 4 E - 3 = Quite hard to play
    Nightfyre
    ...and the G-D perfect fifth. Great, now I'm making myself look bad because I'm not used to reading tunings backwards XD
    Nightfyre
    Oops, forgot to correct G-B at the last portion of my post. Make that a minor sixth. Really though, I can't begin to fathom how this got to the front page of UG.
    Nightfyre
    E-B:perfect fifth B-G:minor sixth G-D:perfect fourth D-A:perfect fifth A-E:perfect fifth
    Really? REALLY? Let's correct that real quick, shall we? E-B:perfect fourth B-G:major third G-D:perfect fourth D-A:perfect fourth A-E:perfect fourth You count the interval between the actual notes in question (top to bottom: E4, B3, G3, D3, A2, E2), not via some arbitrary designation. In fact, if we look at your tuning:
    E-A:perfect fourth A-D:perfect fourth D-G:perfect fourth G-B:MAJOR THIRD(Explanation!) B-E:perfect fourth
    It's actually E-A:perfect fifth A-D:perfect fifth D-G:perfect fourth G-B:MAJOR THIRD(Explanation!) B-E:perfect fifth I couldn't read beyond that. Seriously asserting that the guitar is tuned "wrong" and then not even getting your intervals right... What the f*ck is this garbage?
    myheadvstherail
    krypticguitar87 wrote: I never said I agree with tuning it in such a strange way, or that it would make more sense to tune that way, the point I was making is that If I had to guess where to start (hypothetically speaking, there is no internet and the guitar has never existed before today), I would be more likely to start at these places...
    if the guitar didnt exist then there would be no need in trying to figure it out because it would be useless and you wouldnt have an idea to start with besides using other instruments. you wouldnt be starting simply because you would have to come up with the guitar and then overtime afer trial and error figure a little bit out and it probably wouldnt even be in yours lifetime or your grandchildrens' lifetime and so forth before they would have any recollection on where we are nowadays
    shred_wizzard
    oh duh! I just realized, from my days as a violinist. We basicly referred to a bass as a violin tuned backwards, and since a bass is tuned the same as a guitar (save the b and e strings ofc), the proper tuning is that of a violin
    michael.mcnett1
    I think the author is using the word "wrong" in sort of a tongue in cheek manner. I'm glad he posted it though cause scrolling through all the comments I was able to figure out my question, which was why isn't the 2nd string tuned to C. The answer being that over the course of guitar history it made sense to tune it to B even though a notice guitar player like myself might wonder why. Basically, there is no reason not too and it makes chords and such easier.
    jasonstatement
    so it was just a lapse of judgement to call the g-d interval different from the other intervals. i thought i might have been missing something. this article should be taken down or something
    mhb
    the guitar's standard tuning was made this way so you only needed to fret three notes per string when running up and down a scale since you only have four fingers and a thumb to hold it with. alternatively on the lighter side, it was made this way so people could SHRED! lol
    ReynboLightning
    I actually have written quite afew songs with the b tuned up to a c, makes ringing chords sound alot better IMO
    rob904
    shred_wizzard wrote: correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't the current tuning based on Pythagoras' theories of harmony? Very cool tho
    almost nobody uses pythagoras' rules for harmony, one of the fifths ends up being botched, and actually is considered a diminished 6th, which in theory would be a enharmonic interval to the fifth, but because of the ratios pythagoras used to tune it ended up being a slightly wider fifth, limiting the harmonic exploration you could do with music
    crazysam23_Atax
    seemeel wrote: This is claimed by who? When? We need more info man.
    Dude, if you're looking at the guitar tuned strictly by fourths, that'd be the tuning. It's supported by basic music theory. He didn't need a source.
    metalgod97
    You make a good point there, but every band has their signature tuning. Whether it be drop B tuning or Standard or anything in between. Find the tuning that you're most comfortable with & experiment. It will soon pay off--i guarantee it
    stilt37
    i chuckled at the typo in the first sentence. dude, think you say faggot enough? lol FAGGOT!
    Creative-Noise
    All the people bashing this article have good points and all, but the real reason this article is bad is because it implies that there IS such thing as tuning wrong. How could you consider the guitar tuned wrong? Who decided there was a "right"? The closest thing to a correct tuning would be the way most people do it, which is what you're saying is wrong in the first place. I suppose you could say it's tuned wrong if you somehow screw up and your strings are in between notes (like between B and Bb) but even then if you go to a different culture it could very well be considered right again. This article just doesn't make sense...
    cheesecakes4
    What a pointless article. The guitar is tuned like it is because it's the easiest and most versatile way.
    DrPooh
    Gotta love the faggots quoting the mods right after their comments, faggots.
    ljpfahey
    Such a horsecrap conclusion. You say that it's 'wrong' just because it's not perfect fourths (or perfect fifths, depending on your outlook on life) all the way through. You could dig a little deeper and find out the reason why it's not perfect fourths all the way through and then find out why it's tuned correctly. It's like saying scales are wrong because they're not whole tones all the way through.
    thegear
    just because something is symmetrical that doesnt make it right f*ckshot, and who the hell says what is wrong and right in tuning? u make no freaking sense, you failed, now live with it...
    maXterbat0r
    this is actually the worst article I have ever read, ever, and it actually makes me think less of the site that this was actually featured here
    r0ckth3d34n
    I could tune my guitar to E----- E----- E----- E----- E----- E----- And that theoretically wouldn't be wrong, unless the pitch was off.
    Skullivan
    EADGBe is "standard" tuning. The best explanation of this improper G-to-B tuning system is for the adadptation of chords. Considering guitars were created for classical music, classical music can casually combine chords and melody, perhaps this (tuning system) was just more convinient when the majority of music was written. Maybe the real question is, "Why is there no B#/Cb or E#/Fb in the chromatic scale?"
    sfedf1
    hehe thats why the bass guitar is better always perfect fiths suckaaaaas even when you add a low B AND a high C and so on the standard tuning should still be the same... in fifths
    Let It Be0o0
    well if the theoretically CORRECT tuning of guitar sounds like sh*t i think ima stick with standard >
    THEdevilYOUknow
    Nightfyre wrote: E-B:perfect fifth B-G:minor sixth G-D:perfect fourth D-A:perfect fifth A-E:perfect fifth Really? REALLY? Let's correct that real quick, shall we? E-B:perfect fourth B-G:major third G-D:perfect fourth D-A:perfect fourth A-E:perfect fourth You count the interval between the actual notes in question (top to bottom: E4, B3, G3, D3, A2, E2), not via some arbitrary designation. In fact, if we look at your tuning: E-A:perfect fourth A-D:perfect fourth D-G:perfect fourth G-B:MAJOR THIRD(Explanation!) B-E:perfect fourth It's actually E-A:perfect fifth A-D:perfect fifth D-G:perfect fourth G-B:MAJOR THIRD(Explanation!) B-E:perfect fifth I couldn't read beyond that. Seriously asserting that the guitar is tuned "wrong" and then not even getting your intervals right... What the f*ck is this garbage?
    You know that you just inverted all of your intervals, right? He never changed the tuning at this point. It was, low to high, EADGBE. He was just talking about tablature being written backwards, which has nothing to do with the tuning at all. The part about tuning was when he implied it should be EADGCF, once again, low to high, since this would be perfect fourths all the way across, instead of P4,P4,P4,M3,P4. To sum it up, his thoughts are that, from a theory standpoint, guitar should be tuned to perfect fourths for the sake of being consistent.