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Guitar tunings

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 8 years, 7 months ago

See also guitar overview

 

Intro

Like it or not, the guitar has influenced recent musical history like no other instrument. But what is a guitar?

 

As the flavour of the month, an enormous number of different instruments are labelled guitars. This page describes the tunings for a few of the more common and famous, and links to many, many others!

 

Our choice of what to call a guitar here is biased towards our focus on tunings. Ideally, we'd like to give a common name to any group of instruments with tuning patterns in common. This isn't always possible by any means! 

 

Standard (Spanish) six-string guitar tunings

Used for classical, folk, jazz, rock, C&W, and many other forms of music, played on both acoustic and electric guitars, with steel, gut or nylon strings.

 

This guitar is an unusual (but by no means unique) instrument in being available in both steel and nylon stringed varieties, with similar scale and identical standard tunings. Nylon stringed guitars include classical and folk instruments, and more recently some electric guitars; Steel stringed guitars include country and western, archtop, jazz and slide guitars, and the original electric guitars.

 

There is a sharp division between steel-string and nylon-string guitars, owing to the far higher tension of steel strings. Nylon string guitars are far more lightly built, have higher ratio machine heads, more compliant bellies and more sensitive pickups. There is no compatibility at all between the two sorts of strings: A steel string guitar fitted with nylon strings will be difficult to tune and produce little sound; A nylon string guitar strung with steel strings will be impossible to tune without destroying the instrument.

 

The scale of a classical guitar varies from about 25.6" (650mm, used by Antonio De Torres) to 26.1" (664mm). 26" (660mm) is the modern standard but Torres scale guitars are also readily available.

 

The scale of a full-size steel-string guitar varies from 24" (Fender Jaguar, most Fender Mustangs) to 25.5" (Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Country Gent).

 

There are both classical and steel string guitars of fractional scale length. Beginning in the 1950s Fender produced a number of reduced scale solid-body guitars with a scale length of 22.5" and 21 frets; These are sometimes called 7/8 scale and sometimes 3/4. Currently, they produce the 21-fret Stratocaster JR and the 20-fret Squier Mini both with a reduced scale of 22.72” (577mm); The Squier is described as 3/4 scale. Hohner produce the GEH250 1/2 scale electric guitar with a 22" scale length; J.Reynolds produce a 1/2 scale Les Paul copy with a 19" scale length and  21 frets. Dean Guitars make steel-string acoustic and electric guitars in 3/4 scale with scale length 22.7" and in 1/2 scale with scale length 18.75" - 19.25".

 

The Amada 1/2 scale classical guitar has a scale length of 21"; La Bella strings supply the following fractional scale lengths for classical guitar: 7/8 scale 24.5"; 3/4 scale 22.5"; 1/2 scale 21"; and 1/4 scale 17".

 

Standard six string tuning:

  • E-A-d-g-b-e'

 

String gauges:

DR Classical Guitar Hard Tension (nylon): .028 .032 .040 .030w .035w .044w

GHS ST-L Electric Guitar Roundwound Light (steel): .010 .013 .017 .026w .036w .046w

 

Nashville tuning (reentrant):

  • e-a-d'-g'-b-e'
  • e'-a-d'-g'-b-e' (double-reentrant Nashville tuning used by David Gilmore in Hey You)

 

Lute tuning:

  • E - A - d - f # - b - e'

With capot 3 this gives exactly the open tunings of a six-course renaissance lute, hence it is often used for lute guitars, instruments with the scale, action and strings of a classical guitar, but the body of a lute.

 

Other crossover instruments have a reduced scale, that is, the neck is three frets shorter to remove the need for a capot; This also makes the appearance of the instrument more lutelike. Standard classical guitar strings are used, and these shorter open strings are tuned:

  • G - c - f - a - d ' - g ' 

 

See also slack key guitar for open tunings used in this style.

 

Standard extended-range tunings

Seven and eight string guitars generally add extra bass strings, extending the pattern of fourths.

 

Seven string:

  • B'-E-A-d-g-b-e'
  • E-A-d-g-b-e'-a'  (less common, may require a special string, made famous by Lenny Breau)

 

See Russian guitar for some other seven string tunings.

 

Eight string:

  • F# ' - B' - E - A - d - g - b - e'
  • B' - E - A - d - g - b - e' - a'  (less common, may require a special string)

 

Beyond eight strings, the pattern is not consistently followed.

 

Nine strings and more

 

Nine String:

 

  • E' - A'  D - E - A - d - g - b - e'

 

Ten-string see ten string guitar.

 

Eleven- and thirteen-string see altgitarren.

 

Twelve string guitars are most often in six courses, and follow roughly a six string tuning, see twelve string guitar.

 

 

New Standard Tuning

The New Standard Tuning or NST was invented by Robert Frip in 1983, and hasn't taken over, so it's neither new nor standard. But it has its supporters.

 

  • C - G - d - a - e' - g'

 

Old Standard Tuning is what NST supporters used to call the standard E-A-d-g-b-e' tuning. Maybe they still do. The NST top string at g' is the same as the highest string on a twelve string guitar, and about the highest a conventional string can be tuned on a standard scale guitar.

 

Other registers of six string guitar

(listed from the shortest scale length to the longest)

 

Octave guitar

Particularly used by guitarists who want something of the tone of a mandolin. 

 

  • e-a-d'-g'-b'-e'' 

 

Six string alto guitar

Tuned a perfect fifth higher than the standard guitar. Both classical and solid-body electric versions exist. The classical version has a smaller body and lighter strings than the standard classical guitar, the electric a shorter scale.

 

  • B - e - a - d' - f # ' - b'

 

Six string tenor guitar

The name tenor guitar is sometimes applied to the standard classical guitar, to distinguish it from other registers of six-string guitar. Other usages of this name for six-string guitars are obsolete but may still be encountered in older documents.

 

  • E-A-d-g-b-e' (standard guitar tuning; for scordaturas etc. see above)

 

Six string baritone guitar

Classical, steel-stringed acoustic and solid-body electric models exist. Not to be confused with the Fender Baritone Custom, which is tuned as a six-string bass guitar, see about Fender and names. Tuning of the baritone guitar is:

 

  • B' - E -A - d - f # - b

 

String gauges:

D'Addario XL157 Baritone Guitar 29.75" Scale (steel): .014 .018 .026w .044w .056w .068w (these are light as steel baritone stringings go).

 

Six string bass guitar

Convergent evolution has led to two instruments with the same name merging back into one: The register of classical guitar tuned an octave lower than the standard, and the six-string Fender Bass VI, Fender Baritone Custom and similar instruments. Both are referred to as six-string bass guitars, and they are tuned identically. See bass guitar tunings for details.

 

  • E' - A' - D - G - B - e

 

 

Historic guitar tunings

For early four-sringed guitars see Historic guitar tunings.

 

Baroque guitar

Nine or ten string in six courses.

 

 

Other guitar varieties

In rough order of number of strings. See also the instrument names index.

 

Four string guitar

 

For the steel-stringed four string tenor guitar, four string alto guitar and four string plectrum guitar all developed in the USA in the 20th century, see four string guitars and banjos.

 

For earlier four stringed guitars, see 

 

Slide guitar (six string and upwards...)

 

Bottleneck guitar

Bottleneck is slide guitar played on a conventional steel-string guitar, in a conventional playing position.

 

Steel guitar

Steel guitar is slide guitar played on a guitar with a raised action, using a completely different playing position; The frets are unuseable and may be absent altogether. As you progress from lap steel through table steel to pedal steel, the strings tend to get heavier and more numerous and the instruments larger and more specialised.

 

Ten string guitar

viola caipira

 

Twelve string guitar

   

Harp guitars

 

 

External links

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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