Tuning by Ear

Posted by Andrew Hobler on Friday, July 8, 2016 Under: Tuning
Why Electronic Tuners Are Not the Complete Answer.

When I first started work in a music shop, one of my jobs was to tune each guitar every day. This was before electronic tuners were just starting to become available. Now, of course, people just clip on a tuner and away they go. 
While electronic tuners (tuners from now on) are great in many ways, guitarists tend to tune the open strings and hope for the best. Unfortunately, when the guitar is slightly out of tune many players can't tell just by listening because they rely only on the tuner.

What is This System?

This simple system relies on tuning the notes up and down the fingerboard. Not just open strings or using the 5th fret method. We are not using harmonics exclusively either (even though that impresses the heck out of people!) as they are not always accurate reflections of the note.
This system of tuning everything to the open high E string (1st string) relies on:
  1.  the strings being in good condition, 
  2. the frets being in good condition
  3. the neck relief being properly adjusted
  4. the nut slots being filed to the correct height. 

So any problem in either of these will need to be fixed not just for tuning purposes but for making the guitar as playable as possible. 

So here it is!

Tuning to Open E


Tune string 1 (E) or assume that the high E is in tune. This can be done with a tuner or just 'by ear'.
Go to the 5th fret on the 2nd string. Tune this note to the open E (1st string)

3.    Go to the 9th fret on the 3rd string. (E) Tune this note to the open 1st string.

4.    Go to the 14th fret on the 4th string. (E) Tune this note to the open 1st string.

5.    Play a harmonic on the 5th string at the 7th fret. (E) Tune this to the open 1st string.

6.    Play a harmonic on the 6th string at the 5th fret. (E) Tune this to the open 1st string.

 This summary should help. You can still use a tuner or your ear.

1st string

2nd string

3rd String

4th string

5th string

6th String


5th fret

9th fret

14th fret

Harmonic 7th fret

Harmonic 5th fret




There are several advantages to this system.

The ear only has to listen to and compare one note and not change for each different string.

We tune the guitar across the fingerboard rather than just the open strings. This makes our guitar sound in tune up and down the fingerboard.

Old strings or a guitar that is not set up properly may cause some tuning problems.

Hope this has proved to be useful!

In : Tuning 

Tags: "guitar tuning" "tuning" "open e string"