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Tuning – (Part 4)

Nice to see you again,

It’s been a long and winding road (sorry for the Beatles pun), but it’s time to bring our series on tuning to a close.

When we left off last time, we had discussed a method of manual tuning that used open strings.  To finish things off we’ll look at using natural harmonics to get everything tuned up in tip-top shape.  Are you a little fuzzy on harmonics?  Take a look back through our previous series on them to get back up to speed (you did save them, right?).

Manual Method – Harmonics

To use this method, we will be using natural harmonics.

As with all manual tuning methods, the first thing to do is get a good reference note (typically the low E).  We went over a few of the best ways to do that last week:

  • Use a piano
  • Use a mobile app that will produce a tone for a perfect E note

Once your low E is tuned to proper pitch, play a natural harmonic at the 5th fret.  The resulting pitch is an E note, but it is two octaves higher than the open low E.

Here’s where the relationship between the strings in standard tuning comes into effect – that harmonic just happens to be the same one that you get when you play a natural harmonic on the 7th fret of the A string.

You may be saying “who cares”?  I’m saying “you should” -because that’s how you get you A string tuned relative to your E string!

A few quick tips:

  • Similar to tuning with open strings, let both notes ring out together so you can hear the differences between them. You can then tune up to get them just right (no pulsating beat).
  • When playing a natural harmonic, place your finger directly over the fret (not behind it as you typically would) and use just enough finger pressure to get the harmonics to ring out. You should never be pressing the string down to touch the fret; just a little bit will do ‘ya).

So now your E and A are tuned – good deal!

To do the rest:

4…

For the D string, play the natural harmonic at the 5th fret of the A string.  That is the same as the harmonic on the 7th fret of the D string.  Adjust the tuning machine for the D string as needed.

3…

On to the G string (here you do the same thing).  A natural harmonic at the 5th fret of the D string is a doppelganger for the one at the 7th fret of the G string.

2…(hey – wait a minute)

Next the B string – here’s where things get a little goofy.  Because of the way standard tuning is laid out there is no set of harmonics between the G and B strings to get things tuned up to each other.  Here you have to go back to the open-string method that we talked about already.

Fret the note on the G string on the 4th fret (actually, fret the note – don’t try to play a harmonic).  Then tune up the open B string.

1…(back to normal)

Now we can get back to the harmonic thingy.

Play the harmonic on the 5th fret of the B string.  That’s the identical twin for the 7th fret harmonic on the high E (1st) string.

Got it?  Good – once you go through the entire process, your guitar should be properly tuned up and ready to go!

Alternate Tuning

The majority of songs that you’ll hear will be played with guitars set to standard tuning (EADGBE, low to high).  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t spice things up a bit…

Here are a few examples.  The tunings are from low to high and I’ve put a reference song or two with them:

  • Drop D (DADGBE): “Unchained” – Van Halen
  • Double Drop D (DADGBD): “Going To California” – Led Zeppelin
  • Open G (DGDGBD): pretty much anything from Keith Richards (he actually does away with the low D string altogether)

Keep this in mind – once you start going away from standard tuning, any chord shapes that you have learned will give a different result (since the notes aren’t the same).  Sometimes that’s a cool thing though – you may find that you like it!

Alternate tunings are certainly a topic that needs its’ own blog series so we may get to them in future installments – I just wanted to quickly mention them here so you are aware that there are options out there.

Conclusion

Our discussion on tuning over the last few weeks has covered several topics.  You should now know what tuning is and how important it is in order for your guitar to sound as it should when you’re playing.

We also discussed several different types of electronic tuners (which always should be your first choice), and then took a look a few manual methods to get things tuned up to where they need to be.

Then, just as a bonus (because that’s how I roll), we did a quick fly-through on alternate tunings.  In fact…we may revisit that topic at some point because it can be so useful to add variety.  I just don’t want you to get “tuned out” since we are “tuning in” about all of this tuning stuff…

The bottom line is that you should have a much better understanding of everything that is involved with tuning, and there should be no reason for you to ever play a horribly out of tune guitar ever again! 

Thanks for sticking with me here…

That’s it for this series – but that doesn’t mean we’re done.  Not by a long shot!  Check back next week for our next topic…

Until next time…Peace out!

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