Total Guitar

Advanced Guitar Tuning


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In this lesson we'll talk about the fine art of advanced guitar tuning .

If you followed the instructions in the beginner's lesson your guitar should be tuned and ready to play. Actually, when you do play it, you will probably notice that some notes or chords don't suond quite right. Tuning an instrument really is an art: a perfectly tuned piano (each string exactly tuned with a digital tuner) would sound awful, and no piano player would dare tune his own instrument if he were not also an experienced piano tuner.

The problem is that the notes played on an acoustic instrument are not sine waves, pure notes, so to speak. They also contain harmonics which are less audible notes of different pitches that 'colour' the sound and give each instrument its particular timbre and soundwave.

So every note is like a chord in itself and when you play two or more notes together, all the harmonics interact and you have to find the right balance in your tuning.

It's much easier to tune a guitar than a piano, but the accuracy needed to tune it to play on the beach with your friends is quite different from that you will need in a recording session.

A guitar tuner is really handy and can quickly get your guitar almost 'perfectly' tuned but you will need some more small adjustments to be really satisfied.

First, check that your strings are not too old and worn out: though on an distorted electric guitar the sound may not seem so dull, you may have tuning problems and they can break easily.

Then check the harmonics tuning by alternately playing an harmonic and a fretted note on the 12th fret on each string: their pitch should be exactly the same. The natural harmonic played on the 12th fret is exactly one octave higher than the open string pitch, you actually divide the string in half doubling the frequency.

If the two pitches are different, it means that the 12th fret is not exactly where it should be for that particular string (string gauge and neck action affect this parameter, so if you change any of them you better check the harmonics) and that the pitch of the fretted notes will get slightly more and more out of tune as you approach the 12th fret.

On electric guitars you can adjust the saddle on the bridge individually for each string and correct the problem. You could also check the action or the truss rod if you changed string gauge.

On a floating tremolo bridge you'll have to check that the 'resting' position of the bridge is the same after you change strings or else it means that the overall length of the strings has changed also and your tuning will be affected. Change your strings one at a time and tune the guitar before changing another so the bridge will always remain in the same position.

On acoustic guitars there's not much you can do unless you're an expert. If you have big tuning problems you better have your guitar checked by a Luthier.

If your guitar is ok, you will still have to use your ears to get that perfect guitar tuning. I usually leave the B string on my electric guitar a little flat because I noticed that distorted chords using the 3rd and 4th strings sound weird if its perfectly in tune.

I also tune the low E (and low B on a 7-strings) a little flat to compensate for the fact that my fret are high and sometimes the pressure on the strings makes the pitch rise.

Before recording with an acoustic guitar, you may want to play all the chords and fretted notes in the song and see if they all sound right and maybe make little adjustments and compromises.

This wraps up this little lesson on advanced guitar tuning: remember use your ears as much as your tuner.

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