Tuning (without a tuner)
Tuning Using Fretted Strings
This tuning technique is designed for scenarios when tuning a guitar is necessary, but no tuner is available–friend’s house, party, hot tub at the ski lodge, you know…the usual. It works well when the guitar used is pretty much in tune, but needs some mild/moderate fixing. Anyone should feel free to try this, but users will do better if they have a decent sense of relative pitch, that is, the ability to tell when a pitch is too high or too low, more-or-less. Again, anyone can do this with some practice. Ok, now onward…
Guitar strings in standard tuning are tuned to the relationship of what is called a “perfect fourth” (or simply a “fourth”) between the E, A, D and G strings, a “major third” between the G and B strings, and another fourth between the B and high E. A fourth is the distance of five frets on the same string, a major third is four frets. This means that to move up a fourth on our open E string we move from the open string to the fifth fret–that note is a “A” note, the same exact note as our next string, open A. Cool huh! Since these are the same pitch we can use the fretted E string note as reference for tuning the open A string. The same is true of the next two string pairs, A/D, and D/G.
Once you have that concept down you must play both strings so they ring together (and use your picking hand to reach around and adjust your tuner.) You can’t let your fretting finger roll over onto the string below–you have to hear both pitches before you start adjusting things. You’re listening for a wobbly sound underneath both fundamental pitches. This wobble is a natural occurrence when two pitches are very close together, but not in unison. Basically both notes really want to come together so there’s a wobble present from the tension involved. The faster the wobble the farther away from unison, the slower the wobble the closer the pitches are getting. Add a little distortion to make the wobble more obvious if you like (on electrics only.) When you’ve got it move to the next string pair in the same way, then the next. Tuning the open B string will be a done a fret back (fourth fret on the G string) because of the guitar’s tuning. The high E will be done by fretting the fifth fret, B string, as usual.
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