Guitar Tuning With Harmonics

Author: Ed Cupler

How To Tune a Guitar Without a Tuner (Harmonics)

Guitar Tuning With Harmonics for relative tuning is another technique that allows you to tune your guitar without a tuner. Harmonics are produced by lightly touching the strings at specific points on the fretboard while plucking the strings. These points are known as “nodes,” and they divide the string into segments, creating a bell-like sound.

Just like using the relative tuning method, with the exception of needing an external reference pitch to tune the initial string the others will be tuned to (this example uses an A note), this approach allows you to tune your guitar without using an external reference pitch for each note, such as a tuning fork or a tuner.

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Playing a harmonic note: Lightly touch the low E string directly above the 5th fret without pressing it down. Pluck the string while keeping your finger lightly touching the string. You’ll produce a harmonic at the 5th fret. For this lesson, all harmonics are produced by lightly touching the string directly above the fret, either on the 5th or 7th fret.

Here’s how you can tune with harmonics for relative tuning:

A (440) reference pitch

Tune the 5th (A) string: Start by tuning the 5th string (A) to the correct pitch using the A 440 reference pitch above.

Tune the 6th (low E) string: Play the 5th fret harmonic on the low E string and 7th fret harmonic on the 5th (A) string simultaneously. Adjust the pitch of the low E string until both notes produce the same pitch.

Guitar neck diagram - Guitar tuning with harmonics A to Low-E string

Tune the 4th (D) string: Play the 5th fret harmonic on the A string and the 7th fret harmonic on the D string simultaneously. Adjust the tension of the D string until both harmonics produce the same pitch.

Guitar neck diagram - Guitar tuning with harmonics D string to A string

Tune the 3rd (G) string: Play the 5th fret harmonic on the D string and the 7th fret harmonic on the G string simultaneously. Adjust the tension of the G string until both harmonics produce the same pitch.

Guitar neck diagram - Guitar tuning with harmonics G string to D string

Tune the 2nd (B) string: Unfortunately, the B string doesn’t work here the same as the others.  Fortunately, there is a work around. Play the 7th fret harmonic on the Low E string and the open B string simultaneously (you can also use the 12th fret harmonic on the B string.). Adjust the pitch of the B string until both the low E harmonic and the open B string produce the same pitch.

Guitar neck diagram - Guitar tuning with harmonics B string to Low E string

Tune the 1st (high E) string: Play the 5th fret harmonic on the B string and the 7th fret harmonic on the high E string simultaneously. Adjust the tension of the high E string until both harmonics produce the same pitch.

Guitar neck diagram - Guitar tuning with harmonics High E string to the B string

By using harmonics for relative tuning, you can ensure that your guitar is in tune with itself, as each string’s pitch is related to the one before it. However, just like any tuning method, it’s a good idea to occasionally check your tuning with an external reference to maintain accuracy.

Next - Guitar Tuning Tips
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