Standard tuning on guitar (EADGBe)

guitar with standard tuningThe guitar is normally tuned EADGBe, meaning that the notes from lowest to the highest strings sound as the tones e, a, d, g, b and e.

If you play guitar you want your guitar to be tuned just like that (there are also alternate tunings, more about that later). How do you it and why is the guitar tuned in this particular way? This article is trying to answer such questions.

EADGBe is read from left to right as from the lowest (thickest) string to the highest (thinnest). The reason why the sixth string is written in small letters will be explained later.

How to tune the guitar?

Now that you know which tone each string sound like you must tune the guitar thereafter. There are some methods to choose from.

1. Use an electronic tuner

Snark electronic tunerThis is probably the easiest way, especially if you’re a beginner. Nowadays, it has become popular with small electronic tuners that you can attach directly on the guitar head without a cable between. The picture to the right shows an example of a tuner of that kind, Snark SN-5 Tuner. Some guitars also have a built-in electronic tuner, commonly placed on the side of the body.

Using an electronic tuner is the simplest approach since you only have to pick a string and when the tuner indicates which tone it is and you will justify the tuning pegs until the correct tone is matched.

To get a higher note turn the pegs away from yourself and to get a lower note turn the pegs towards you (assuming you have the guitar in your knee or in front of you). So for example, if the display on the electronic tuner indicates D# you should turn the peg away from you (counterclockwise) to reach E.

How to turn the pegs:
1st string: A › A# › B › C › C# › D › D# › E ‹ F ‹ F# ‹ G ‹ G# ‹ A ‹ A# ‹ B
2nd string: D › D# › E › F › F# › G › G# › A ‹ A# ‹ B ‹ C ‹ C# ‹ D ‹ D# ‹ E
3rd string: G › G# › A › A# › B › C › C# › D ‹ D# ‹ E ‹ F ‹ F# ‹ G ‹ G# ‹ A
4th string: C › C# › D › D# › E › F › F# › G ‹ G# ‹ A ‹ A# ‹ B ‹ C ‹ C# ‹ D
5th string: E › F › F# › G › G# › A › A# › B ‹ C ‹ C# ‹ D ‹ D# ‹ E ‹ F ‹ F#
6th string: A › A# › B › C › C# › D › D# › E ‹ F ‹ F# ‹ G ‹ G# ‹ A ‹ A# ‹ B

2. Tuning by ear

This can be done by playing on specific strings, for example the so-called 5th Fret Guitar Tuning Method, and get the right tune by comparing the sounds. The method can be quite difficult if you’re a beginner, but you can watch this video and listen to the notes and at the same time play the strings on your guitar and turn the tuning pegs until you get a similar sound.

3. Tuning to a keyboard

A third way is to compare the tones from the guitar strings to references on the piano keyboard. The image below illustrates the relationships.

Keyboard with guitar strings

The numbers indicate which octave on the keyboard the tone should be played. E2 will then be the e tone on the second octave and so on.

Short explanation of standard tuning

So why are e, a, d, g, b and e chosen to be standard for this instrument? It's plainly because it is suitably in many ways. It makes it easier to play chords in the most common keys and it is also beneficial for playing scales. In other words, the cause for the arrangement of the tuning is pragmatic.

As you may notice it's easy to play open chords like C, D, E, G, A, but to find open shapes near the nut for chords like C#, D#, E#, G# and A# is much harder.

The guitar strings name or letters may confuse some. For instance, why is the second e written in small letters when the rest is written as capitals? This is done to distinguish them: the second e (the  highest string) is two octaves above the other.

The octaves are as follows:
E – 2nd octave
A – 2nd octave
D – 3rd octave
G – 3rd octave
B – 3rd octave
e – 4th octave

This means that e on 2nd octave, for example, has more bass sound than e on 4th octave.

The intervals of the open tones on the guitar are perfect fourths in five cases and major third in one case:
E-A perfect fourth
A-D perfect fourth
D-G perfect fourth
G-B major third
B-e perfect fourth

The slight asymmetry is once again because of pragmatic reasons in the sense of playability.

History and development

It is not clearly known when the first six-stringed guitar was built, but according to most sources it happened in the late 18th century. Sometime in the beginning of the next century the tuning of EADGBe was established.

Since when many alternative tunings have emerged and two of the more popular is Open D tuning and Open G tuning. As said, the standard tuning are used because it offers most playability generally, but the use of alternate tunings is for creative reasons and have served many experimental guitarist’s. And in particular cases, alternatives can be preferred, open tunings are for example more suitable for playing slide guitars than the standard.