Relative Tuning Method for Guitar

Author: Ed Cupler

How To Tune a Guitar Without a Tuner (Relative Tuning)

Relative tuning allows you to tune your guitar without using a tuner. It is a method of tuning your guitar by adjusting the pitch of the strings relative to one another rather than tuning to specific, absolute pitches. Just like tuning your guitar using harmonics, with this method, you only need a single 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 needing an external reference pitch for every string, or using a tuner. Instead, you use one string as a reference and tune the other strings in relation to that reference string.

The most common way to achieve relative tuning is to start with one string that is already in tune. Usually, guitarists use the 6th (low E) or the 5th (A) string as the reference string. If your reference string is not in tune, it’s essential to tune it correctly using an external reference, a tuner, or any other reliable method before proceeding with relative tuning.

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Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to perform relative tuning using the 5th (A) string as the reference:

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 Low E 6th string at the 5th fret: Press down ( fret ) the 6th string at the 5th fret. This will produce the same pitch as the open 5th string (A). Adjust the fretted Low E string to the same pitch as the open A 5th string.

Guitar neck diagram tune Low E to A string. Low E fretted on 5th fret, A string played open.

Tune the 4th (D) string: Play the open 4th string and compare its pitch to the A 5th string fretted at the 5th fret. Adjust the pitch of the 4th string until both pitches sound the same.

Relative tuning guitar neck diagram tune D to A string. A fretted on 5th fret, D string played open.

Tune the 3rd (G) string: Play the open 3rd string and compare its pitch to the D 4th string fretted at the 5th fret. Adjust the pitch of the 3rd string until both pitches sound the same.

Relative tuning guitar neck diagram tune G to D string. D fretted on 5th fret, G string played open.

Tune the 2nd (B) string: Play the open 2nd string and compare its pitch to the G 3rd string fretted at the 4th fret. Adjust the pitch of the 2nd string until both pitches sound the same.

Relative tuning guitar neck diagram tune B to G string. G fretted on 4th fret, B string played open.

Tune the 1st (High E) string: Play the open 1st string and compare its pitch to the B 2nd string fretted at the 5th fret. Adjust the pitch of the 1st string until both pitches sound the same.

Relative tuning guitar neck diagram tune High E to B string. B fretted on 5th fret, High E string played open.

By following these steps, you can achieve relative tuning, and your guitar should be in tune with itself, even if it’s not tuned to an absolute standard pitch. However, keep in mind that relative tuning might not be as precise as tuning to an external reference, so it’s always a good idea to check your tuning against a reliable tuner from time to time.

Next - Guitar Tuning With Harmonics
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