It's useful to know guitar tuning harmonics if you want accurate
tuning for playing alone (this doesn't work for playing with other,
perfectly tuned instruments) and you don't have an electronic tuner at
This particular method
isn't used as much as the 5th
fret method because it takes a
longer to master. But hopefully by the end of this lesson you'll be
ready to use it for life.
Just like the 5th fret method,
harmonic tuning tunes the guitar to itself almost
perfectly (and tuning can never be perfect on a fretted instrument made
wood!). This is known as relative tuning.
Harmonic tuning uses the
natural, open string harmonics of your guitar (also known as "natural
harmonics"). You can tell a harmonic from its high
pitched resonance. Take a listen...
...then you're not pulling your finger
away quick enough after you've picked the string. Also, check it's
positioned on the fret wire not the space between
the fret wires.
and hit the string with the very end of your plectrum
to get the sharpest strike possible - this will enhance the harmonic's
I know it's easy to say, but
perfect". Seriously, the more you train your finger to position
accurately as outlined above, the quicker you'll be able to throw up a
harmonic when you need it.
Let's look at how to use
these harmonics to accurately tune our guitar...
Tuning up the guitar using harmonics
Starting with the low E
string, this will be our base,
as this method of tuning is about "tuning the guitar to itself", also
known as relative tuning.
It's useful, however, to know roughly what a low E should sound like
(over time, you'll be able to get a closer approximation of perfect
So, at the 5th fret
wire we're going to
use the harmonic technique outlined above for the low E string. Once
the harmonic is ringing out from the E string, play the A
string harmonic at the 7th fret.
They should both be ringing
out together, like this (click diagram to hear)...
Now, when you've struck the harmonic for both these strings and it's
ringing out for both at the same time, you will hear a kind of "wobble"
effect, as if the note is oscillating. If it's already tuned perfectly,
however, you won't hear this effect.
What you need to do is listen
for this vibrating sound
between the two harmonics and tune up or down until the vibration
slower and slower... until it stops.
Listen really closely to this
next clip and hear the wobble!
Did you hear it? Turn your
volume up and you'll hear me tuning the A string up
until the harmonic vibration is straightened out. This occurs when the
imperfect interval between the two notes becomes perfect (or at least
perfect to our ears).
If the A string is tuned too
high, it will have a
similar oscillating effect, but you'll need to tune down and then back
(this is because tuning up helps to lock the
string's tension, keeping it in tune longer).
Again, listen closely for the
pitch and vibration effect...
So, once you get the harmonics
of 5th fret E string and 7th fret A string nice and constant, the two
strings should be tuned to each other perfectly, or
at least almost perfectly!
What about the other strings?
Well, follow the same
procedure with the A and D strings (tuning the D
string up or down), and then the D and G string (tuning the G string up
The green square indicates the
string you need to tune up or down to straighten out the harmonic
and D string tuning
A string harmonic @ 5th
D string harmonic @ 7th
D and G string tuning
D string harmonic @ 5th
G string harmonic @ 7th
OK, stop here, because when you get to the B string
the tuning intervals change. All we need to do is change the position
of the harmonic. See the diagram below, then it's just a case of
following the same harmonic procedure...
string tuning harmonics
Low E string harmonic @ 7th
B string open
And finally, back to the same
as before with the high E string...
B string @ 5th
G string @ 7th
You should now have a well tuned guitar! Strum a few chords and tweak
Using tuning harmonics can be
a very quick and accurate way to tune up your guitar, but it's not
known by many guitarists.
Learning to play harmonics
also comes in handy with lead guitar, as an interesting effect you can
use, especially under high gain/distortion, so it's a good technique to