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Guitar - Tuning to Perfection
by Mike Beatham

There's an old and tired joke that "guitars are tuned at the factory" - unfortunately, wood bends and warps, strings lose tension and the forces of nature make sure your guitar needs tuning every time you pick it up. Read that last bit again, because the sooner you get into the habit of assessing your guitar's tuning, the more rewarding your playing will be.

It doesn't matter how dazzling you are on guitar, one strike of an unharmonious string will destroy any charisma you had.

The problem is, too many guitarists neglect tuning as though it is some 5 minute job to "get out the way" before you practice or noodle. Get out of this mindset immediately. You need to spend time tuning your guitar to make sure chords all over the neck sound in tune and harmonious.

Unfortunately, fretted instruments made of wood can never be tuned perfectly (sorry, I mislead you slightly with the title there!), but there are quick methods you can use to accurately tune your guitar to the human ear...

The resource at the end of this article will take you to more indepth lessons - these are just for introductory purposes...

1) 5th fret method - the classic tuning method which most beginners favour. This method simply involves fretting a string (at the 5th fret, except for the G string) and matching the note with the next open string. Your ear has to be well trained for this to be accurate, and there is an awkward exception involving the B string, which on most guitars needs to be manually adjusted to be in-tune on most chords.

2) Harmonics - tuning harmonics are a quick and accurate way to tune your guitar to itself. It involves creating a resonating harmonic on two strings at a time, and picking out what sounds like a vibrating effect between them. This "wobbling" effect is created when two naturally harmonious intervals are off-kilter, so all you need to do is tune up or down to resolve the vibration into one, straight resonating harmonic. This is a really accurate way to tune, because you're tuning an open string to another open string, rather than a fretted string to an open string which causes natural inaccuracies. You can learn more about creating the harmonic and this great tuning technique at the end of this article.

==Tweaking and double checking==

3) Comparing note for note, string for string - this is basically where you find a note on your fretboard, and compare it with the same note, or its octave, on another string at another fret. E.g. comparing the G note on the E string at fret 3 with the octave G note on the D string at fret 5 - these two notes should sound the same (but of course, the octave will be higher in pitch). This is seen as a more practical method of "tweaking" your tuning because you're comparing notes on strings that will likely appear simultaneously within chords - therefore, if they're even slightly out of tune with each other, the chord will be ruined. More obviously...

4) Comparing double tones in chords - chords that use 4 or more strings often include double tones (e.g. the root note appears twice in the chord), and open position chords down at the first few frets (e..g E major, G major, C major etc.) double open tones with fretted tones. Try playing the E major open position chord, one of the first chords you will have learned - the A string at fret 2 should be almost perfectly harmonious with the open B string, because they are the same note, just an octave apart. You may find the notes are slightly off, so adjusting will give you a more practical compromise when it comes to tuning for chords.

==General good tuning practise==

There are several ways to tune your guitar, but it's important that you tweak after you've tuned up (or think you have anyway!)

What I do is use a few tuning methods, like the ones detailed above, because often you'll find you can reach a good compromise between the few methods to really get well-balanced tuning. By well-balanced, I mean that some chords (e.g. full barre chords vs floated chords that mix open strings and fretted strings) will need to be compromised to ensure any chord you play sounds acceptably harmonious.

At first, you don't notice, but as your ear becomes trained, you begin to pick up on nuances in the tuning of your guitar. The key thing to remember is you must spend time tweaking your tuning, no matter which method you use.

Just don't become too obsessed - remember to leave some practice time to actually play some guitar ;o)

Mike Beatham runs a free, easy to follow and growing guitar lessons resource. You can learn more about effective guitar tuning at

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