guitar tunings

The range of a guitar with standard tuning

Guitar [1] This article describes the standard tuning used by the majority of guitarists, and also alternative tunings.

The phrase “guitar tuning” also refers to the adjusting of the string-pitches to their desired tuning, which is described in how-to manuals for guitarists.[2]

The standard tuning defines the string pitches as E, A, D, G, B, and E, from lowest (low E) to highest (high E). Standard tuning is used by most guitarists, and frequently used tunings can be understood as variations on standard tuning.

Nonstandard tunings are also called “alternative” or “alternate“. Some tunings are used for particular songs by professional musicians, and may be called after the song’s title. There are hundreds of such tunings, which are often minor variants of established tunings. Fewer alternative tunings are used regularly by communities of guitarists, who share a musical tradition.

The hundreds of alternative tunings have been classified into a smaller number of categories: open, both major and minor (crossnote), and modal; dropped; instrumental (based on other list of guitar tunings.


[edit] Standard and alternatives

In standard tuning, the C-major chord has three shapes because of the irregular major-third between the G- and B-strings.

This summary of standard tuning also introduces the terms for discussing alternative tunings

[edit] Standard

Guitar standard tuning (actual pitches sound one octave lower than notated).

Standard tuning (listen)

Making a standard tuning using overtones

Guitar tunings have evolved over the years. Standard tuning is currently the most popular tuning on a 6-string guitar and in the music industry it is the assumed default if a specific tuning is not mentioned. It consists of the following notes:

String Note Frequency Scientific pitch notation
1 (Highest) e’ 329.63 Hz E4
2 b 246.94 Hz B3
3 g 196.00 Hz G3
4 d 146.83 Hz D3
5 A 110.00 Hz A2
6 (Lowest) E  82.41 Hz E2

The pitches referred to above are referenced standard pitch (a’ = 440.0 Hz.). In some regions of Europe, especially Germany, Serbia and Poland, and in Russia and Ukraine, where classical musicians use the German system, the B natural is indicated with the letter H: in music notation, H is B (B natural) and B is B (B flat).

This pattern can also be denoted as E-A-d-g-b-e’. (See note for an explanation of the various symbols used in the above table and elsewhere in this article.)

Standard tuning provides simple fingering for many frets (index finger on fret 1, little finger on fret 4, etc.) only when the hand is in the first position; otherwise, the four fingers must stretch to cover five frets.

The separation of the second (b), and third (g) string is by a four-musical interval between consecutive open-string notes; such regular tunings are discussed below.

open 1st fret (index) 2nd fret (middle) 3rd fret (ring) 4th fret (little)
1st string e’ f’ f g’ a
2nd string b c’ c d’ e
3rd string g a a b b
4th string d e e f f
5th string A B B c c
6th string E F F G A
Chromatic note progression

[edit] Alternative

folk music, where the guitar emulates indigenous instruments with distinct drones and sound. Alternative tunings necessarily change the chord shapes associated with standard tuning, which eases the playing of some non-standard chords at the cost of increasing the difficulty of some standard chords.

Some tunings are used for particular songs by professional musicians, and may be called after the song’s title. There are hundreds of such tunings, which are often minor variants of established tunings.[3] Fewer alternative tunings are used regularly by communities of guitarists, who share a musical tradition, such as American folk or Celtic folk music.

The hundreds of alternative tunings have been classified into a smaller number of categories:[8]

[edit] String gauges and guitar adjustments

Many alternative tunings are difficult or impossible with conventional sets of guitar strings, which have gauges optimized for standard tuning. With conventional sets, some higher tunings increase string-tension until playing requires more finger-strength and stamina or even until a string snaps or the guitar is warped; with lower tunings, strings may be loose and buzz. Therefore, many alternative tunings benefit from re-stringing of the guitar with different gauges.[12]

Extreme tunings may require further adjustments to the guitar. Alterations of the citation needed]

[edit] Open

Ry Cooder plays slide-guitar with open tunings.

An open tuning allows a [14]

[edit] Major

Open D tuning.

Open D tuning (listen)

Major open-tunings give a major chord with the open strings.

[edit] Open A

  • Alternatively: E-A-C-E-A-C
  • “Slide” Open A: E-A-E-A-C-E (identical to Open G tuning but with every string raised one step or two frets).

[Open B

  • Alternatively: F-B-D-F-B-D

[Open C


This open C tuning was used by [16]

[Open D


Open-D tuning was used by Sevastopol.

  • Alternatively: D-A-D’-A’-D-D

This alternative Open D tuning was used by citation needed]

[Open E

E-B-E-G-B-E (use light gauge strings because three strings must be raised) (used by: You Can’t Always Get What You Want and by Bob Dylan on his 1975 album Blood on the Tracks)

[Open F

  • Alternatively: C-F-C-F-A-F (used by Elizabeth Cotten on her song “When I Get Home”)
  • F-Sharp Tuning: F-A-C-F-C-F

[Open G

Open G tuning (listen)

D-G-D-G-B-D (also known as Spanish Tuning or Chicago Tuning)

Open G was used in rock by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones as well as in Mississippi blues by Son House, Charley Patton, and Robert Johnson, and in “Fearless” by Pink Floyd.[19]

The Russian guitar’s tuning approximates a major-thirds tuning.

  • Alternatively: G-B-D-G-B-D (slack-key guitar taro patch)
  • Alternatively: C-G-D-G-B-D (used by Big Wreck on multiple songs, most notably “Inhale” and “Mistake”).
  • Dobro Open G: G-B-D-G-B-D (occasionally adopted for ordinary guitar, but requires lighter fifth and sixth strings).
  • Russian-guitar Open G: The tuning of the Russian guitar
is an open G tuning, approximately in [21]

[edit] Minor: Cross-note

The below open tunings use a minor third, and give a minor chord with open strings. To avoid the relatively cumbersome designation “open D minor”, “open C minor”, such tunings are sometimes called “cross-note tunings”. The term also expresses the fact that, compared to Major chord open tunings, by fretting the lowered string at the first fret, it is possible to produce a major chord very easily.

Cross-note or open E-minor was used by Bukka White and Skip James.[22]

Cross-note tunings include (low to high):

  • Cross-note A: E-A-E-A-C-E
    • Alternative: E-A-C-E-A-E (rare)
  • Cross-note C: C-G-C-G-C-E
  • Cross-note D: D-A-D-F-A-D (used by John Fahey on the song “Red Pony”)
  • Cross-note E: E-B-E-G-B-E (used by 3 (band) song “Bramfatura”)
  • Cross-note F: F-A-C-F-C-F (extremely rare)
    • Alternative: F-C-F-A-C-F (used by citation needed] requires light gauges)
  • Cross-note G: D-G-D-G-B-D

Sitar A tuning (listen)

  • Alternative Cross A: E-A-E-A-E-A. «Sitar A» – an alternative low guitar system. Recalls the sound of Indian sitar.

[edit] Regular

Regular tunings

For regular guitar-tunings, the distance between consecutive open-strings is a constant musical-interval, measured by semitones on the chromatic circle. The chromatic circle lists the twelve notes of the octave.
Basic information
Other names Uniform tunings
Advanced information
Advantages Simplifies learning by beginners and improvisation by advanced guitarists
Disadvantages Replicating the cowboy chords“) of standard tuning is difficult;
intermediate guitarists must relearn the fretboard and chords.
Guitar tunings

In the standard guitar-tuning, one major-third interval is interjected amid four perfect-fourth intervals. In each regular tuning, all string successions have the same interval.

Chords can be shifted diagonally in major-thirds tuning and other regular tunings. In standard tuning, chords change their shape because of the irregular major-third G-B.

With standard tuning, and with all tunings, chord patterns can be moved twelve frets down, where the notes repeat in a higher octave.

For the standard tuning, there is exactly one interval of a third between the second and third strings, and all the other intervals are fourths. The irregularity has a price. Chords cannot be shifted around the fretboard in the standard tuning E-A-D-G-B-E, which requires four chord-shapes for the major chords. There are separate chord-forms for chords having their root note on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth strings.[23]

In contrast, [24] and so they have symmetrical scales all along the fretboard. This makes it simpler to translate chords. For the regular tunings, chords may be moved diagonally around the fretboard. The diagonal movement of chords is especially simple for the regular tunings that are repetitive, in which case chords can be moved vertically: Chords can be moved three strings up (or down) in major-thirds tuning and chords can be moved two strings up (or down) in augmented-fourths tuning. Regular tunings thus appeal to new guitarists and also to jazz-guitarists, whose improvisation is simplified by regular intervals.

On the other hand, some chords are more difficult to play in a regular tuning than in standard tuning. It can be difficult to play conventional chords especially in augmented-fourths tuning and all-fifths tuning,[25]

[edit] Minor thirds

A square circumscribed by the chromatic circle specifies a minor-thirds tuning.


In the minor-thirds tuning, every interval between successive strings is a minor third. In the minor-thirds tuning beginning with C, the open strings contain the notes (c, d, f) of the diminished C chord.[26]

[edit] Major thirds

For every major-thirds tuning, the consecutive octave.

Major-thirds tuning is a regular tuning in which the [30]

Neighboring the standard tuning is the major-thirds tuning that has the open strings


A lower major-thirds tuning has the open strings


which “contains two octaves of a C augmented chord”.[31]

[edit] All fourths

The consecutive semitones.


This tuning is like that of the lowest four strings in standard tuning.[34]

[edit] Augmented fourths

A line segment bisecting the chromatic circle specifies an augmented-fourths (tritone) tuning.

C-F-c-f-c’-f‘ and B-F-b-f-b’-f’ etc.

Between the all-fifths and all-fourths tunings are augmented-fourth tunings, which are also called “diminished-fifths” or “tritone” tunings. With augmented-fourths tunings, the fretboard has greatest symmetry.[35] In fact, every augmented-fourths tuning lists the notes of all the other augmented-fourths tunings on the frets of its fretboard. Sethares wrote that

“The augmented-fourth interval is the only interval whose inverse is the same as itself. The augmented-fourths tuning is the only tuning (other than the ‘trivial’ tuning C-C-C-C-C-C) for which all chords-forms remain unchanged when the strings are reversed. Thus the augmented-fourths tuning is its own ‘lefty’ tuning.”[36]

[edit] All fifths: “Mandoguitar”

The consecutive open-notes of all-fifths tuning are spaced seven semi-tones apart on the chromatic circle. While the notes of the open-notes of the all-fifths and all-fourths tunings agree, their orderings are reversed.

New standard tuning substitutes a G for the high B of all-fifths tuning, resulting in only a minor third between E and G.


All-fifths tuning is a tuning in intervals of perfect fifths like that of a mandolin or a violin; other names include “perfect fifths” and “fifths”.[37] It has a wide range. Its implementation has been impossible with nylon strings and has been difficult with conventional steel strings. The high b makes the first string very taut, and consequently a conventionally gauged string would easily break.

[edit] New standard tuning

King-Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp developed new standard tuning, which approximates all-fifths tuning.

New standard tuning.

New Standard Tuning’s open strings.

All-fifths tuning has been approximated by the New Standard Tuning (NST) of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp. NST replaces all-fifth’s high b’ with a g’ in The original version of NST was all fifths tuning. However, in the 1980s, Fripp never attained the all fifth’s high B. While he could attain A, the string’s lifetime distribution was too short. Experimenting with a G string, Fripp succeeded. “Originally, seen in 5ths. all the way, the top string would not go to B. so, as on a tenor banjo, I adopted an A on the first string. These kept breaking, so G was adopted.”[38] Fripp’s NST has been taught in Guitar Craft courses,[39][40] which have served three-thousand students.[41]

[edit] Summary

The principal regular-tunings have their properties summarized in the following table:

Tuning Interval

(Number of semitones)

Repetition Advantages:

All regular tunings facilitate learning and improvisation.


All regular tunings are suboptimal for music written for the standard-tuning.

Major thirds Major third (4) After 3 strings
  • Chromatic scale on four successive frets.
  • Hence, reduced hand-stretching:
    • Major and minor chords are played on 2 successive frets;
    • others (seconds, fourths, sevenths, and ninths) on 3.[42]
  • Smaller range (without 7 strings)
  • Only three open-notes.
Ralph Patt
All fourths Perfect fourth (5) Non-repetitive[43]
  • Uses chords from lowest 4 strings of standard tuning.
  • Same tuning as bass guitar
Difficult to play folk chords Stanley Jordan
Augmented fourths Tritone (6) After 2 strings symmetry (“left-handed”) Only 2 open notes Ron Jarzombek (2 songs)
All fifths Perfect fifth (7) Non-repetitive[43]
  • Wide scope facilitates ensemble playing and single-note picking (rather than conventional chords)
  • Natural for all-fifths music (violin, cello, mandolin)
  • Very difficult to play conventional chords.
  • Requires extreme (light and heavy) strings.
Robert Fripp, League of Crafty Guitarists, and California Guitar Trio (New standard tuning)

[edit] Other tunings

Other tunings, such as dropped and instrumental tunings, are mentioned in the supplementary list of guitar tunings.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Denyer. Chapter “Playing the guitar”: ‘How the guitar is tuned’, pp. 68-69.
  2. ^ Denyer. Chapter “Playing the guitar”: ‘Tuning methods’, pp. 70-71.
  3. Weissman (2006, Off the wall tunings: A brief inventory (Appendix A), pp. 95-96)
  4. Roche (2004, “Categories of tunings”, p. 153)
  5. Roche (2004, “Open tunings”, pp. 156–159)
  6. Roche (2004, “Cross-note tunings”, p. 166)
  7. ^ Denyer (1992, pp. 158–159)
  8. ^ Sethares (2011)
  9. Roche (2004, “More radical tunings”, p. 166)
  10. Roche (2004, “Modal tunings”, pp. 160–165)
  11. Roche (2004, pp. 153–156)
  12. Roche (2004, “String gauges and altered tunings”, p. 169–170)
  13. ^ Sethares (2009, p. 16)
  14. ^ Denyer (1992, p. 158)
  15. Denyer (1992, p. 160)
  16. Sethares (2009, pp. 18–19)
  17. Sethares (2009, pp. 20–21)
  18. Grossman (1972, p. 29)
  19. ^ Johnson, Gordie (1 May 2008). “Hey Kid, What Tuning is That?”. Canadian Musician 30 (3): 25.
  21. Timofeyev, Oleg V. (1999). The golden age of the Russian guitar: Repertoire, performance practice, and social function of the Russian seven-string guitar music, 1800-1850. Duke University, Department of Music. pp. 1–584. University Microfilms (UMI), Ann Arbor, Michigan, number 9928880.
  22. ^ Cohen, Andy (22 March 2005). “Stefan Grossman- Country Blues Guitar in Open Tunings”. Sing Out! 49 (1): 152.
  23. 0-330-32750-X.
  24. ^ Sethares (2001)
  25. ^ Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  26. Sethares (2001, pp. 54)
  27. ^
  28. ^ Sethares (2001, pp. 56)
  29. ^
  30. Retrieved 10 June 2012.
  31. Griewank (2010, pp. 1–2)
  32. Sethares (2001, pp. 58–59)
  33. 16526869.
  35. Sethares (2001, “The augmented fourths tuning” 60–61)
  36. “The augmented fourths tuning”, p. 60)
  37. Sethares (2001, “The mandoguitar tuning” 62–63)
  38. ^ Fripp, Robert. Robert Fripp’s diary: Friday, 5th February 2010. Discipline Global Mobile, DGM Live.
  39., retrieved 25 March 2012
  40. ^ Zwerdling, Daniel (5 September 5 1998). “California Guitar Trio”. All Things Considered (Washington DC: National Public Radio). Html transcription (subscription required). Audio recording (free). Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  42. Griewank (2010, p. 2)
  43. ^ b No repetition occurs in six strings.

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article guitar tunings, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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