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1. Tuning Tips

2. 440Hz

3. Tuning Fork

4. String G

5. Intonation

6. Trem / Tremolo / Vibrato Arm Adjustments

7. Tuning Drums

8. Drop D tuning for Heavy Metal

  1. Tuning Tips
Tuning Your Guitar by Ear: Which would you rather listen to? The best player in the world playing an out of tune guitar, or a beginner playing a simple tune on a guitar that's perfectly in tune? I know which I'd prefer ... There's truly nothing worse than an out of tune instrument and it's one of the easiest things to fix, especially in this day and age of electronic tuners that cost almost nothing. But, even without a tuner, it's not all that difficult to get your guitar nicely in tune. All you need to do is read very carefully as you go through the steps outlined in the information I've posted on this page below. Music is all about listening, even more so when you're creating it, so the sooner you hone your listening skills, the better it will be for you and your audience.

An electronic tuner may be useful to the novice guitarist for whom tuning their guitar is probaby more demanding than actually playing it. Invest in an electronic guitar tuner. Most music shops sell them, starting at about £20 - Nov 1999. Ask to be shown how to use it if not sure. Thanks June.

Ensure tuner receives maximum signal from guitar. Playing open harmonics at fret 12 particularly useful for bass guitar tuning. Beware of erroneous results from alternative string vibrations. If problems persist check battery condition.

When tuning strings at fret 12 consider to use open harmonic note. Hold finger lightly against string directly above fret and remove immediately after plucking string. The middle of the string is pacified whilst the two halves vibrate a clear bell like tone. Most useful for ensuring an accurate steady note for comparing/tuner. Also allows hand to turn tuning machine whilst note is sounding. Natural harmonics can usually be found at frets with position markers.

When tuning a stringed instrument always "tune up" with the string under tension to ensure it stays in tune and does not slip due to latent friction e.g. at the nut, tuning peg, string guide.

When tuning - ideally using an electronic tuner, if you find a string is a little sharp DO NOT detune it. Stretch the string by pulling it away from the fretboard in about three positions (over pickups, over twelfth fret and over fifth fret). Check tuning again - repeat until spot on. String will stay in tune longer with this road tested method.

Use this mnemonic to aid learning names of open guitar strings:
Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big ears

Jet Harris, formerly with the Shadows instrumental group, used alternative tuning on a six string guitar to record the hit single Diamonds. All strings were tuned one tone down. Many groups use alternative tuning. A favourite is to tune the guitar a semitone down e.g. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Slash of Guns & Roses, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Metallica. This facilitates easier string bending as less tension is required to tune a lower note. The tone or voice of the instrument alters and may become distinctive. In particular, American guitarists use the semitone flat tuning which is also known as Texas Blues tuning. It has been suggested that this may be due to American guitarist Chuck Berry being inspired for his trademark guitar solos by a pianist who favoured flat keys e.g. Eb and Ab. Novice guitarists in USA learning the popular Chuck Berry style would find it easier to tune their guitar a semitone low whilst learning from playing along with Chuck Berry recordings.

Slack - semitone flat tuning:

Listen for pulsing sound as you tune two notes together. Pulsing is caused by the sum and difference of the two notes you are comparing as you tune. The pulsing gets slower as you approach closer to being in tune and eventually stops when optimum tuning is achieved.

Pipes can be obtained for single notes as well as for all six strings of the guitar. Single pipes are usually set at "A" with a frequency of 440Hz which matches the fifth fret of the first string. Tuning forks are an alternative to a single pipe and some people prefer the cleaner sounding tone that they produce. Pipes and tuning forks are relatively cheap and easy to carry.

Sounding board for an electric guitar without amplifier e.g. tuning in a dressing room; hold headstock against cupboard or door to enhance volume.

  2. 440Hz

After the early morning BBC2 Open University transmission the test card with the young girl and blackboard has a 440Hz "A" tone.

Useful tuning reference, providing you wake up in time ;)

Guestbook feedback: "The French telephone dial-tone is also at 440Hz." Thankyou.

Unknown source: You can dial up 440Hz to tune your violin in Vienna, Austria.

3. Tuning Fork
A tuning fork may be faint to hear at a live gig. Hold the vibrating fork over an electric guitar pick-up for amplification through amplifier.

BTW: A vibrating tuning fork held against a spider's web will simulate a struggling entangled insect thus enticing the spider from it's lair. Remember where you heard it first ! ;)

4. String G
If on a restricted budget and strings require changing due to tuning/intonation problems consider changing string G (3rd) only. This is the most critical string, especially to the rhythm guitarist, as it is used in most chords and tends to be the first string to impair intonation.

5. Intonation
String saddles at bridge are adjustable for optimum intonation. Modern electronic tuners make this task easier. Always make your guitar intonation checks in the playing position as they may vary when guitar is laid on a bench.

The open harmonic note (lightly momentarily touch string at fret 12 as you play it to produce octave bell like tone) should be the same as the note fretted at the 12th fret for each string. If the string is too long or short intonation will suffer.

If the harmonic note at fret 12 is higher than the fretted note at fret 12 the string is too short.

If the harmonic note at fret 12 is lower than the fretted note at fret 12 the string is too long.

Change the length of each string by string saddle adjustment after detuning to allow movement of saddle, then retune to check.

Only attempt this with new strings fitted and be aware that different types of string may require fresh intonation adjustments.

PitchPerfect Musical Instrument Tuner free software is ideal for setting the intonation on a guitar with adjustable bridge saddles. It gives a visual display on your computer. Google it.

  6. Trem / Tremolo / Vibrato Arm Adjustments
The word trem or tremolo is a misnomer as it means a variation of volume. It is often used instead of vibrato meaning a variation of pitch.

Pitch-diving is a wonderful means of expression but increases the risk of tuning problems on a.

Some modern styles of Stratocaster have graphite nut (string guide) roller nut / locking nut with fine tuners and locking machine heads etc.

On a vintage style of Stratocaster, Vaseline grease (first choice) or a drop of lubricant e.g. WD40 applied to the string guide / grooves of the nut, when strings are changed, reduces friction and helps keep guitar in tune especially when using the tremolo / vibrato arm. Take care not to apply lubricant to rosewood fretboard as it may stain.

I use a clean nail varnish bottle and brush (to store and apply WD40 - especially useful when required for electrical contacts) as aerosol can is too coarse for fine application.

Alternatively use a teflon based spray lubricant.

Graphite in the form of pencil lead is also an effective and convenient lubricant but may look unsightly on a white nut.

Take care to remember that the mechanism is balanced by strings and springs, consideration for both is required to avoid damage. The Stratocaster tremelo / vibrato features a "floating" bridge which will often require repeat tuning until finally settled. If a string should break then all the other strings will be affected due to the change in tension on the mechanism.

Consider to lubricate / grease all moving points of contact e.g. springs / screws to plates if appropriate, within mechanism. Aim to reduce all string and mechanism friction to a minimum. Protect non varnished wood from lubricants to avoid staining.

Use outside screws on bridge plate to set angle of bridge plate from guitar body. Any inner screws set 1/16 inch or 1·5 mm high above bridge plate. The bridge will now pivot on outside screws, leaving inner screws (if fitted) for bridge stability. Lubricate bridge contact points. This excellent tip was sourced and adapted from Tremolo Tricks and Tips by Jack Schwartz in Fender frontline magazine Volume 26 July-Dec 1999.

I use a stiff adjustment on the springs with bridge plate heel set 1/16 inch or 1·5 mm above body achieved by adjusting the two large spring plate screws located under plastic cover at back of guitar body and above mentioned bridge plate screws.

Set the springs, my guitar has three, tight enough to ensure no movement of tremolo / vibrato arm when string G (3rd) is bent one tone at fret 12. In fact I achieve required tension by screwing in the two large Tremelo springs adjustment screws so that spring plate is 1/8 inch or 3 mm away from adjacent internal cavity wall.

For maximum pitch dive-dive effect hold tip of arm over centre of strings. After use consider bending strings, that are prone to stick sharp, one tone near fret 12 to release friction if necessary. Incorporate this into end of solo.

Many guitarists use the following gauges on their electric guitar:

·009   ·011   ·016   ·024   ·032   ·042 inches.

0·23   0·28   0·41   0·61   0·81   1·07 millimetres.

Alternative "Rory Gallagher" custom electric guitar string gauges which result in a "skinny top heavy bottom" are:

·008   ·011   ·014   ·028   ·036   ·050 inches.

0·20   0·28   0·36   0·71   0·92   1·27 millimetres.

Consider to apply a thin tinning of solder to ball end of string windings to prevent slippage. Caution: avoid inhaling fumes from soldering.

The application of this information results in a firm action likely to ensure an enhanced return of mechanism.

Now I can "Dive-bomb" to my heart's content :)

p.s. For serious use of tremolo / vibrato then a locking unit is recommended.

  7. Tuning Drums
Snare: Top skin push down and tighten as much as possible to take out all wrinkles and be really tight. Tune bottom skin to be one tone lower than top skin. Snare springs not to be too tight.

Tom Toms: also top skin tune one tone higher than bottom but not as tight as snare - just enough to take out wrinkles.

Tune high Tom Tom one tone higher than side drum and tune intermediate Tom Tom between these two.

p.s. some drummers tune their kit to the open strings of a bass guitar. Thanks Brian.

Hi Bob, just came across your site, re your drum tuning tips you should mention that the tension bolts are turned by the opposite and by equal ammounts, if you have ever had to tune hand tuned timpani not (pedal timps) you will know what I mean.
All the best, Kevin Halford (BA mus)RSC,LRAM

  8. Drop D tuning for Heavy Metal
Drop D tuning makes playing power chords easier as it only requires one finger to play. Tune your bottom E string to an octave below your regular D string. Power chords can now be played using one finger to play the bottom (in pitch) three strings. You can still play guitar solos using the other five strings that are not affected by the drop D tuning.

Heavy Metal music is also associated with the Devil's Interval: Root, Octave and then flattened Fifth. These notes were banned years ago. The distonality of the third note...