View Full Version : Tuning Embarrassment

04-12-2003, 03:30 AM
Get this, I'm going over to jam at another person's house and I leave my electronic tuner at home and when I'm there I have to ask other people to tune my guitar because I still can't tune my guitar by ear! I tune by the harmonics method but can anyone give me tips on how to tune by ear? I know that after playing for more than a year I should be able to do this but I can't.

04-12-2003, 02:54 PM
I hate to tell you, but I think its all really just practice, the more you do it the better you'll get at it, it helps if you put on distortion so you can hear the difference in pitch, just listen for the pitches to "stop moving" and get "closer" and you'll be ok, it comes with time.

I think that made sense, and thats my two cents hope it helps


04-12-2003, 06:03 PM
You think it helps to put distortion on???? I think it might be harder.

04-12-2003, 06:53 PM
What do you mean by "tuning by ear"?

It sounds like you want to play two open adjacent strings (E & A for example) and tune it by recognizing the perfect fourth interval.

That is certainly tuning by ear. But so is tuning by using harmonics. Neither requires an electronic device of any sort, just your ear.

If you tune using harmonics, then distortion will help emphasize the beat frequencies. I think this is what metaljustice83 is referring to in his message.

It really does take quite a bit of practice to tune your guitar quickly and accurately, so don't get discouraged. :)

04-13-2003, 03:54 AM
yup thats what I ment sorry for not clairifying :)

Bongo Boy
04-13-2003, 05:38 AM
I thought he was asking how one learns to get an open string tuned to the correct absolute pitch--not how to tune it relative to other strings. I think he said he was okay with the harmonics.

04-13-2003, 11:03 AM
OK, if you are fine with the harmonics-method... all you need is to have one string in tune. So you could ask someone to give you a reference tone ( i.e. open A-String ), or hit an A on a keyboard, or put in a CD... ( i.e. "Hell´s Bells" by ACDC starts with an open A, and "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica starts with the open E-string ).
What I do when I tune is I listen for that vibration... if two notes are close together, but not at the exact same pitch, you can hear a slight vibration.
Kinda tough to explain.
Once I have one string in tune, ( i.e. the open A-String ), I fret the low E at the 5th fret ( A ) and tune it to the pitch of the A-String. The way I do that is: I listen to that "vibration", and I also have my left hand on the neck. You can really feel that vibration if the strings are not at the same pitch.
If you know how to tune by harmonics, you probably know what I am talking about. If you i.e. hit the harmonics on the low E-and A-String, and tune the A-string too far up or down, you´ll hear that "vibration" get faster... if you tune closer to the right pitch, it´ll get slower. Once it disappears, the A-string is tuned right.
So I kinda listen for it, and also feel it on the neck...

04-13-2003, 04:29 PM
Well I tune mostly by harmonics, especially when I play classical guitar. I guess I'll try harder to listen for those harmonics....

04-14-2003, 12:24 PM
I pretty much tune the same way Eric does with the 5th fret versus the open string and listen for the unison. I have also heard what Eric refers to as "vibrations" between to two notes as "beats." If you imagine each tone as a sine wave, what you hear when two tones are played is the addition of the two sine waves. When the frequency of the two waves get close to one another, that addition starts creating large peaks in the combined wave that are just off of the peak of each wave. You can hear these as "vibrations," or "beats." The closer they get to being in tune, the closer those beats will become, untill the two strings are in tune, and the beats magically disappear. I find that those "beats" are much easier to hear with heavy distortion, so I agree that tuning with distortion is actually easier than without. The same principle can be applied to tuning in fourths or fifths, only the product of the two sine waves is slightly different from a union, so you just have to know what to listen for. This may not be helpful to everyone, but this sort of image helps me. And as stated above, it simply takes practice.

On tuning with harmonics, there is a caution. If you are tuning using union harmonics (i.e. 7th fret versus 5th fret so the two harmonics are ringing the same note), you have to be aware that the harmonic at the 7th fret is not EXACTLY the relative fourth of that string. Western music uses a convetion called equal temperment which approximates the actual overtones of vibration. There is a whole bunch of math behind it, but all you really need to know is that the harmonics at the 7th fret are a little off. It won't really make a difference if you're only tuning one string; however, if you use the harmonics method and go from low E to high e, cumulatively, you'll have a problem.

Thus ends the "tuning for people with engineering degrees" lesson. ;)

04-14-2003, 11:59 PM
Thanks for your "tuning for people with engineering degrees" lesson. It's funny, I asked my classical guitar teacher before why I couldn't just do the open string/ 5th fret method. He told me that the tuning by harmonics was more accurate, at least with the classical guitar.

04-15-2003, 12:05 AM
Sarcastic mode on, huh ?

I didn´t consider WaterGuy´s reply as that hard to understand regarding physics. The thing about the waves actually is a good way to explain this in a more visual way.

Everyone has his own opinion about tuning, some prefer tuning with harmonics, with the "5th fret" method, or whatever.
Eric Johnson uses several methods ( 5th fret, harmonics ), starting from the G-string...
The harmonics-method MAY be more accurate and precise, but you gotta remember that in most cases, the guitar is not the most accurate or precise instrument, tuning-wise... at least compared to synths, keyboards etc.
Some people press down pretty hard with the left hand, so if they tune up using harmonics, the strings might still be off when they play, so tuning with fretted strings might be a good idea.

Anyway, I found some interesting points in this thread, and I hope your question was answered

04-15-2003, 12:46 AM
Hey Eric, just wondering, how exactly accurate are those electronic tuners?

04-15-2003, 01:40 AM
Well, these days they usually are pretty accurate, especially if you invest a bit more than like $20 bucks.
I i.e. use a Korg DTR rack tuner, and its very accurate.

A lot of guys like E. Johnson and others seem to like the old Strobe-Tuners a lot, I have seen those in many studios... they´re REALLY expensive, though.
But even for a low amount of money, you can get a pretty accurate tuner... I prefer chromatic tuners ( which recognize the pitch )
There are some things to consider though:

- Always double-check... tune the open string, then fret a note ( i.e. 5th fret ) and check whether that is in tune. If it is not, there might be something wrong with the intonation of the guitar ( you can adjust it then with the "12th fret harmonic / open string vs. note fretted at 12th fret method" ) or you are pressing down / fretting very hard.
- This applies to "tuning by ear" as well: When you tune, always hold the guitar in the position you usually play in. If you i.e. tune while the guitar is laying on your thighs, on its back, the tuning might change once you put it into upright-position.
- If you use a tuner, make sure there is no strong magnet around... if you i.e. put a cheap tuner with a needle-indicator ( instead of, say, LED´s ) onto your amp, close to the power transformer inside, you might get wrong results.
- If you wanna include the tuner ( if it has in- and output ) into your FX-chain ( to be able to tune whenver you want to without unplugging the guitar ), I´d recommend to get an A/B Box... go into the input of that box with your guitar, then go to the FX and / or amp from the A-output, and to the tuner with the B-output.
That way, you can switch to the B-channel and tune while there´s nothing coming out of your amp, and you won´t have the tuner alter your sound ( some cheaper tuners might affect your guitar sound if they´re included in your signal-chain )

- If you try to tune using one of those, and the indicator ( needle or LED´s ) goes forth and back like crazy constantly, there are three possible problems:
1. One or more of the other strings are ringing. This will "confuse" the tuner. If you i.e. wanna tune the B-string, mute all the other strings with one of your hands. If one or more of the others are ringing, your tuner most likely won´t work correctly.
2. The string has a bend between bridge and nut. You might not even be able to see it. But if there is a bend, it´s hardly impossible to tune up the string and keep it in tune
3. You might wanna turn down the volume of your guitar a little bit. This sometimes helps

Hope this helps, too :)

04-17-2003, 04:52 AM
My Boss TU-2 says it has accuracy to +/- 3 cents. This is "good enough" for most people, and definitely good enough for me! It's about $90.

My Matrix SR-4000 tuner was about $20 and it's not as accurate as the Boss. I don't think the Matrix is good enough for intonation adjustments, but the Boss does a nice job.

04-17-2003, 01:39 PM
Just wondering if anyone else uses this method. I play mostly acoustic guitar, so I just use an A 440 tuning fork. Strike it press it against the top, and then hit the 7th fret harmonic on the D string (that harmonic is supposed to be A 440 too..) So that puts the D string in tune.. then I just tune the rest of the open strings relative to each other by ear (what some have called the fourths method). However, I vary the tuning depending on what key I'm in, whether I want a tempered or pure B string.. etc.. This method has always allowed me to have better tuning agreement when jamming with other instruments or in recording situations. For electric guitar I just use one of those little tuners that emit an A 440 tone since the fork doesn't create much of a sound on the electric :-)... Well, don't know if any of this is relevant, but there it is..

Wyll Watts