What String to What Note on a Guitar: All You Want to Know

by Madonna

Tuning is one of the most fundamental aspects of playing the guitar. It ensures that the instrument produces the correct notes and harmonizes well with other instruments. Proper tuning is essential for achieving a pleasing sound and for the guitar to function correctly in different musical contexts. When a guitar is out of tune, it can sound dissonant and unpleasant, making it difficult to play music accurately.

Tuning affects the sound of the guitar by adjusting the tension of each string, which in turn changes the pitch of the notes produced. Proper tuning ensures that each string vibrates at the correct frequency, producing a harmonious and musically coherent sound. Without proper tuning, chords and melodies will not sound as intended, which can be frustrating for both the player and the listener.


Standard Tuning

Standard tuning is the most common tuning for the guitar, and it is the tuning in which most beginners start learning to play. The standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-e. This means that the strings, when played open (without pressing down any frets), produce the notes E, A, D, G, B, and e, from the lowest (thickest) string to the highest (thinnest) string.


The Concept of Octaves

An octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. For example, the low E string (6th string) in standard tuning produces an E note. The high e string (1st string) produces an E note as well, but it is two octaves higher than the low E string. Understanding octaves is crucial for navigating the guitar fretboard, as the same note can appear in multiple places on the neck at different octaves.


String Identification

Identifying each string by its number and note is essential for tuning and playing the guitar. Here’s a clear breakdown:

6th String (Low E): This is the thickest string and produces the lowest pitch. In standard tuning, it is tuned to E.

5th String (A): This string is tuned to A.

4th String (D): This string is tuned to D.

3rd String (G): This string is tuned to G.

2nd String (B): This string is tuned to B.

1st String (High e): This is the thinnest string and produces the highest pitch. It is tuned to e (two octaves higher than the 6th string).

The differentiation between the high e (1st string) and low E (6th string) is crucial. The high e string is much thinner and produces a higher pitch, while the low E string is thicker and produces a lower pitch.

Tuning Methods

There are several methods for tuning a guitar. Each method has its advantages and can be useful in different situations.

1. Using a Tuner

Electronic tuners are widely used for their accuracy and convenience. They can be clip-on tuners, pedal tuners, or app-based tuners. Here’s how to use an electronic tuner:

  • Turn on the tuner and clip it to the headstock of the guitar if it’s a clip-on tuner.
  • Pluck the string you want to tune.
  • Read the display on the tuner, which will indicate whether the string is sharp (too high) or flat (too low).
  • Adjust the tuning peg until the tuner shows that the string is in tune.

2. Tuning by Ear

Tuning by ear requires a good sense of pitch and practice. This method involves tuning one string to a reference pitch and then tuning the other strings relative to it. Here’s a common method for tuning by ear:

  • Tune the 6th string (low E) to a reference pitch, such as a piano or a tuning fork.
  • Press the 5th fret of the 6th string to get an A note.
  • Tune the 5th string (A) to match this A note.
  • Press the 5th fret of the 5th string to get a D note.
  • Tune the 4th string (D) to match this D note.
  • Press the 5th fret of the 4th string to get a G note.
  • Tune the 3rd string (G) to match this G note.
  • Press the 4th fret of the 3rd string to get a B note.
  • Tune the 2nd string (B) to match this B note.
  • Press the 5th fret of the 2nd string to get an e note.
  • Tune the 1st string (high e) to match this e note.

3. Using Reference Pitches

Using reference pitches involves tuning the guitar to external sources like a piano, a tuning fork, or an online pitch generator. This method is similar to tuning by ear but relies on a stable, external pitch source.

  • Find a reference pitch for each string, such as from a piano or an online pitch generator.
  • Tune each string to the corresponding reference pitch.

Tuning Tips

Maintaining the guitar in tune and troubleshooting common tuning problems is essential for consistent performance. Here are some practical tips:

Regularly Check Tuning: Guitars can go out of tune due to changes in temperature, humidity, and the stretching of new strings. It’s a good habit to check the tuning regularly, especially before playing.

Stretch New Strings: New strings tend to stretch and go out of tune quickly. After putting on new strings, gently pull on them and retune until they hold their pitch.

Use Quality Tuners: Investing in a good-quality tuner can make a significant difference in maintaining accurate tuning. Clip-on tuners, pedal tuners, and smartphone apps are all reliable options.

Proper String Winding: When changing strings, ensure they are wound correctly around the tuning pegs. Proper winding can prevent slippage and help maintain tuning stability.

Check for Hardware Issues: Sometimes, tuning problems can be due to hardware issues like loose tuning pegs, a poorly cut nut, or a slipping bridge. Regular maintenance and setup can prevent these issues.

Environmental Factors: Extreme temperature and humidity changes can affect tuning stability. Keep your guitar in a stable environment and use a case with a humidity control system if necessary.

SEE ALSO: Finding the Perfect Snark Tuner for Your Guitar

Alternate Tunings

While standard tuning is the most common, there are many alternate tunings used in different styles of music. Here are a few popular ones:

1. Drop D Tuning

Drop D tuning is commonly used in rock and metal music. It involves tuning the 6th string down one whole step from E to D, resulting in D-A-D-G-B-e. This tuning allows for easier power chords and a heavier sound.

2. DADGAD Tuning

DADGAD tuning is popular in Celtic and fingerstyle guitar music. It involves tuning the strings to D-A-D-G-A-D. This tuning creates a droning, open sound that is well-suited for folk music.

3. Open G Tuning

Open G tuning is often used in blues and slide guitar playing. It involves tuning the strings to D-G-D-G-B-D. This tuning allows for easy major chords with open strings.

4. Half-Step Down Tuning

Half-step down tuning involves tuning each string down one half step: Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-eb. This tuning is popular in rock and metal music for its slightly lower pitch and richer tone.

5. Open D Tuning

Open D tuning involves tuning the strings to D-A-D-F#-A-D. This tuning is used in slide guitar playing and creates a rich, open sound.

Each alternate tuning offers unique tonal qualities and can inspire new musical ideas. Experimenting with different tunings can expand your playing techniques and musical creativity.


Understanding what string is what note on a guitar is fundamental for both beginners and advanced players. Proper tuning ensures that the guitar produces the correct notes, and knowing the standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-e) is essential. Identifying each string by number and note helps in tuning and playing. Various methods for tuning, such as using a tuner, tuning by ear, or using reference pitches, cater to different needs and preferences. By mastering the basics of guitar tuning and exploring different tunings, you can unlock a world of musical potential and enjoy a richer playing experience.


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