Tuning methods article – pre-release feedback (Guitar World)

I’d love some feedback from my fellow guitarists on something…any insights that end up in the final article will of course be fully credited!

E713 copy

I write online lesson articles at the moment, and for some reason Guitar World commissioned me to come up with a better ‘general tuning method’ for the guitar as my next one (probably based on whatever microtonal/vibratory knowledge I have from Indian classical music).


The full article draft goes into more detail on the whole sequence, including on how I think you can use the tuning process to enhance your ear strength, cognitive focus, dexterity, and fretboard awareness as well as maximising tonal accuracy (there’s a much deeper explanation here too, covering the scientific side).


But I’m mainly interested in whether the actual tuning steps below would be useful for you. They all in some way aim to improve on a common tuning technique. Let me know what you think of them!


e.g. Would learning them lead you to habitually tune better? Are they enticing enough to end up replacing your existing method? Which checks does your guitar’s intonation get on with the best? Am I overestimating the hand-stretch shapes? And does the overall process seem flexible, efficient, and hyper-accurate?


It’s more like a combinational, ‘best of’ other methods rather than anything very new, but I want it to be as good as it can be for guitarists everywhere. Can give your thoughts on the commentable Google Doc, or at george@ragajunglism.org.


Fret-matching the Astr back-and-forth


IM Fretmatching

(tune the A to a reference pitch beforehand for concert pitch)


+ minimises error compounding (they don’t carry over between strings)

+ quick to run through, and gives strong, clear volumes to work with

+ gives you an concise overview of the guitar’s intonation quirks

hard to use if reference string is corroded, damaged, set too high, etc


Melodic unison check phrases


IM Melodic Check Phrase


+ more interlinked and balanced than the usual 5fr-matching approach

+ avoids the familiar ‘cliche phrase’ with quasi-melodic movements

+ opens up your general awareness of when open strings can be used

somewhat harder to remember (and play) than the ‘standard’ method

on badly-intoned guitars, phrases may never settle with each other


Natural harmonic note pairs


IM Harmonics Checks

(<12> = lightly touch above the 12fr)


+ even, rich resonance of N.H. allows us to hear details clearly

+ we avoid the deviant <7fr> N.H., which is actually slightly sharp

+ harmonic ‘sweeps’ at the end are great if you know the right sound

quieter and more complex: takes your ear a while to ‘zoom in’

can mislead you if there are more nuanced intonation issues


Octave-heavy ‘check chord’ shapes


IM Chordal Checks


+ places the frequencies in a musical context (fit to your music too)

+ open Emaj isn’t ideal due to temperament issues around thirds

+ increases your familiarity with high neck positions

+ some of the shapes function as hand stretches too (e.g. 07×950)

complex for the ears, which can always mislead anyway

particular confusions on guitars with shaky intonation


Let me know how you get on with it – can comment on the Google Doc, or wherever you came across this, or email me at george@ragajunglism.org. Everything will of course be credited. The full upcoming article has a lot more, including some quick breathing and focusing exercises to incorporate into the overall flow. Thanks in advance if you get the chance!



George Howlett is a UK-based musician and writer, specialising in jazz, rhythm, Indian classical, and global improvised music. I studied Hindustani music under Pandit Shivnath Mishra in Benares, and now play guitar, tabla, and santoor in London alongside teaching and writing for organisations including Darbar, Jazzwise, and Guitar World. Recent releases include No Kanjira, a collaboration with Indo-jazz sax master Jesse Bannister – see the rest of the site for more.


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