Perfect Pitch Guitar Tuning Methods

SIDEBAR: Start-Playing-Guitar.com was redesigned and re-launched on November 28, 2007. As a result, this page was merged into other articles, including: Tune Your Guitar.

You can alco click here to visit the new Home Page, then look at the navigation bar on the left side of the page for all of the lessons.

These Perfect Pitch Guitar Tuning Methods help you tune each string to a reference pitch. Since you match an open string to a reference pitch, and not with your ear, you are tuning "perfectly".

SIDEBAR: Then again, nothing's perfect. Here are a few reasons why: When you initially pluck your strings, they ring slightly sharp, then stablize, then go slightly flat; Your fretboard is carefully laid out, but as you move up and down the neck, certain notes are slightly out of tune; As you press a string against the fretboard you are also bending it out of tune; As you grip the neck harder or softer as you play, the tension on the strings can change... taking them out of tune; Finally... Anytime you use a capo... which presses the strings against the fretboard... you alter pitch. Still... these methods are as close as you can get to perfect pitch guitar tuning.

What Makes a Pitch "Perfect"?

In a word: standardization.

The standard for Concert Pitch is an A-note with a frequency of 440Hz. To produce pleasing harmonies and melodies a group of instruments need to be in tune with each other. Over time, musicians agreed to use the A-note for tuning to each other. On a piano, this is the A above Middle-C. On your guitar it's either the fifth string or the fifth fret of the sixth string (low E).






An electronic tuner uses known frequencies to indicate when a string matches the desired note. The standardized pitches are:
  • 1318.51 Hz for String 1 (High e)
  • 987.77 Hz for String 2
  • 783.99 Hz for String 3
  • 587.33 Hz for String 4
  • 440.00 Hz for String 5
  • 329.63 Hz for String 6 (Low E)

Usually you'll tune to this set of standard pitches, but not always. You may want to use an alternate tuning method, such as Drop-D or Open-G. You might also intentionally tune up or down slightly.

SIDEBAR: Why would you intentionally tune so that your 'out of tune'? Isn't this page about "Perfect Pitch Guitar Tuning"? Well... Suppose you play with a group of friends and it turns out that the keyboard player's instrument plays Concert A at 449 Hz? He can't change that, but you can intentionally tune slightly higher. Most electronic tuners even allow you to change the definition of Concert Pitch for situations like this.

The Most Perfect

I describe three Perfect Pitch Guitar Tuning methods. They are listed from easiest to more difficult. The easiest method, 'Use An Electronic Tuner', is also the most accurate, and the one I recommend. The others produce a perfect reference pitch, but you must tune to that by listening to the tone, comparing this reference tone to the sound of your string, then adjusting your tuning keys. If you have difficulty hearing differences in pitch these won't work as well as the electronic tuner.

Use An Electronic Tuner

When practicing or playing by yourself this is the best perfect pitch guitar tuning method. Why? Because your reference tone is guaranteed to be correct and your tuner has perfect hearing.

And today's electronic tuners are high quality, and inexpensive.

The least expensive produce an audible tune that matches a perfectly in-tune note. Just as with Relative Tuning, you match that tone to a guitar string, using your ears. These tuners cost as little about $10.

For about $15, you can pick up a tuner that includes a microphone. The microphone allows the tuner to "hear" your guitar. A display, such as a digital needle, indicates when a string is below pitch, above pitch, or in-tune. Some have LED's that light up to assist with tuning. Red for above or below pitch... green to indicate "in tune". Tuners such as this work for the common notes played on a guitar, E-A-D-G-B-e.

But, the very best device for perfect pitch guitar tuning is an electronic adjustable chromatic tuner.

A chromatic tuner can play or hear any note of the scale. A non-chromatic tuner can play or hear only a subset of the notes of a scale (such as E-A-D-G-B-a on a non-chromatic guitar tuner).

With adjustable electronic chromatic tuners you play a note and let the tuner's built in microphone "listen" to the note (on some you can also plug directly into the tuner with an electric guitar or an acoustic electric). Unlike lower cost tuners, chromatic tuners can detect any note of the scale and determine if your string is above or below perfect pitch for that note. You can easily tune to the standard EADGBe tuning, or any alternate tuning or your choice. You can also modify "Concert-A" pitch if needed.

You can purchase adjustable electronic chromatic tuners for as little as about $20.

An adjustable chromatic tuner in use (left to right): Too Flat, Too Sharp, Just Right! Notice how the LED's and needle work together to give you visual references.

Use an Online Tuner

This perfect pitch guitar tuning method is for you if you don't have an electronic tuner yet, but you want to tune as precisely as possible. It's a simple matter of listening to a note and adjusting your guitar string to match.

The online tuner is also great if you want to use one of the Relative Guitar Tuning methods , since you must begin by properly tuning at least one string.

When you use an online tuner, you usually click on the note name (these tuners usually also show the string number), then adjust the pitch of your guitar string to match the note that you hear.

There is a nice online tuner at Get-Tuned.com

The advantages of online tuning are: it helps you develop an ear for what is in tune and how to adjust your strings; it's the cheapest for perfect pitch guitar tuning method!

The disadvantages are: it's hard to use if you are away from home; it's not available if the computer is in use by someone else or your Internet access is down; it's hard to use in a noisy environment; and, you need to train your ear to hear if two notes are the same and how to adjust your guitar string accordingly.

Use A Tuning Fork or Pitch Pipe

Though no longer favored by most guitarists, some still use tuning forks (sometimes called pitch forks) and pitch pipes for for perfect pitch guitar tuning.

Tuning forks are best used to match a single note. I can't imagine anyone carrying six or more tuning forks around to tune each string. A tuning fork costs about $9.

Pitch pipes are available for in two varieties: a six-note pipe, capable of producing the standard guitar tuning notes E-A-D-G-B-e; or, chromatic tuners that can reproduce 12 or 13 notes. Prices range from $3 to $20.

Using either requires that you create the sound (by striking the pitch fork, or blowing through the pitch pipe) then matching that tone with a string on your guitar.




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