Guitar tuning onepager: a flexible, combinational approach


Quick summary of my Ultimate Tuning Guide article for Guitar World (Jan 2020), running through how to combine the best of four key methods – fret-matching, melodic phrases, chordal checks, and natural harmonics – while also warming up the ears, hands, and mind. Aimed to save time and effort! Feedback:


Part of RJ’s ‘World of Tuning




What’s so special about tuning? Why all the fuss?


Tuning lies at the heart of broader guitaristic mastery. But how many of us really feel we do it as well as we should? We all fall into lazy habits, allowing the compulsion to jam right now to override our better judgement. Even Hendrix struggled with it sometimes.


Yes, electronic tuners are great, but developing the ear is the only way to really balance our guitar’s quirks with the demands of the music. This quick, ‘combinational’ approach is essentially my ‘highlight reel’ of the most useful bits from existing techniques. It’s an approach to tuning rather than a prescriptive method. Let me know what you think!


There’s nothing wrong with using an EADGBE sample as a ‘first run’ before fine-tuning with the methods below. The quality of these online can vary wildly – so here’s a pitch-precise one made from Guitar Pro’s sample library (60+ more on my Menu of Altered Tunings):



Pic RJ narrow


Step 1: Overview

First, get a rough idea of where things are. Slowly go through the open strings in sequence, and then the 12fr natural harmonics, taking a deep breath and focusing in on the sound textures. What sounds off-colour? Where is the dissonance? What physical quirks might the guitar have?


IM Overview


Quickly move your ear ‘through the spectrum’, sweeping your focus from the lowest bass right through to the highest overtones. Also, think about what you actually need to tune to. Does the guitar need to fit with other instruments, or just be ‘in with itself’?




Step 2: String Matching

Get your 5str A as ‘in’ as you need to (i.e. concert pitch or not), and tune the open strings to notes along it. Then, tune a selection of fretted As on the other strings back to the open 5str. Always use the ‘under-tug-up’ method – i.e. tune lower than the target, tug the string around slowly but firmly to remove slack, then raise the pitch.


IM Fretmatching Astr


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

+ Quick to run through, and gives strong, clear volumes

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


– Misleading if reference string is corroded, damaged, set too high, etc




Step 3: Quick Checks

Next, we sample from three other methods to shore things up – melodic fret-matches, natural harmonics, and chordal checks. Find your own balance of them, and test out key passages from the music too. Stay flexible and let you ears ‘zoom in’:


—Check method: melodic phrases


IM Melodic Phrases


+ More interlinked than the ‘classic’ fret-matching approach

+ Avoids the familiar ‘tuning cliche’ with quasi-melodic movements

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


– Somewhat harder to play than the classic fretmatch method

– Phrases may never settle with each other on badly-intoned guitars


—Check method: natural harmonics


IM Harmonics Good


+ Even, N.H. resonances bring out overtone detail clearly

+ We avoid the 7fr harmonic, which is actually slightly sharp

+ ‘Sweeps’ at the end are great when you know the right sound


– Quieter, more complex: takes your ear a while to ‘zoom in’

– Can fail to highlight nuanced intonation issues


—Check method: chord shapes


IM ChordsNEWdone


+ Places the frequencies in a more musical context

+ Can add in key chords from your upcoming pieces

+ Usual major shapes aren’t ideal due to temperament issues

+ 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 mislead in many ways

– Can get very chaotic on guitars with shaky intonation




Step 4: Musical Focus

Notice how each method can produce subtly different results? This is inevitable – as explained in the full article, no instrument can ever be tuned perfectly. Anyway, things can often sound better with a little microtonal ‘spice’. So now, we check our tuning against the music at hand (absolutely vital on guitars with shaky intonation), and focus.


—Slowly strum the 12fr harmonics, and take another deep breath. Relax, acknowledge any nerves, and then calmly orient your full attention towards the music. Call to mind your first piece, and the sentiments you want to get across with it.


—Try out some of its chords and phrases. Are undesired frequencies dampening the emotional effects? Focus on the music’s physical locations, and keep adjusting until you’re happy – everyone will ultimately be grateful for it.


—Pause for a moment once you’re satisfied, and rake the 12fr harmonics again. Take both your hands away from the strings, and empty your mind as best you can for a few seconds. Try out different meditative methods – slow breathing, silently counting a rhythm, visualising, etc…


Now, you should be ready to play. And next time around, focus on the most effective phrases, cooking up your own flexible ‘tuning recipe’.





Full explanation and detail here (the ‘how’ and ‘why’). I hope these ideas will intensify your sound – gaining finer control over this area is one of the few ways to instantly sound better. Many thanks to Guitar World for such an open-minded commission. Try it on for size, let me know how it can be improved, etc.


Raga Junglism’s ‘World of Tuning’



George Howlett is a South London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla drums, and santoor (Himalayan dulcimer), and write about topics loosely related to jazz, rhythm, and global improvised music. Currently I’m a musicologist for Darbar, write ‘Beyond the Repertoire‘ lessons for Guitar World, and release music as Rāga Junglism. See the site for more – or email


Home | Articles | Recordings | Lessons | Teaching



raga – ‘that which colours the mind’

Raga Junglism’s ‘World of Tuning’


‘World of Tuning’ homepage: Lessons, resources, and ideas stemming from my tuning work for Guitar World in early 2020. A fascinating, underappreciated field, which offers up unique insights into the nature of music and sound. Everything will stay ad-free and open-access – questions and feedback welcome!




Everything you didn’t realise you wanted to know about guitar tuning…fresh perspectives from ancient Chinese manuscripts to modern psychoacoustics via jazz, Hendrix, and Hawaiian slack-key.



Audio ‘menu’ of 60+ altered guitar tunings – ‘palate expander’ of various 6-string tunings from around the world, with sound samples, listening links, technical discussion, harmonic interrelations, etc


Tuning onepager: a flexible, combinational approach – my ‘improved tuning method’ commission for GW, aimed at saving time and effort while also warming up your hands, ears, and mind (the ‘what’)


Guitar World’s ‘Ultimate Tuning Guide’ – more detail on the process, explaining how to combine four key methods: fretmatching, melodic phrases, chordal checks, and natural harmonics (the ‘how’)


The ‘impatient meditation’: guitar tuning in fine detail – in-depth exploration, approaching from many different angles: theoretical, physical, historical, psychological, spiritual, etc (the ‘why’)


Indian tanpura samples in all 12 keys – bathe your ears in the clashing, cascading colours of the overtone series with some HQ Indian drones, great for adding texture to your improvisations (free to download)


Musical puzzle: James Taylor’s ‘stretched’ tuning – is it possible to reach his microtonally-tweaked setup with no electronic technology, using a modified ‘harmonic beating’ method? (for frequency nerds)


Open canvas: Joni Mitchell’s visual imagination – how does Joni’s intriguing, ‘colour palette’ approach to composing in altered tunings draw from her lifelong passion for painting? (GW – forthcoming)


[—Soon: more global tuning ideas, including microtonal concepts from Arabic maqam and Javanese gamelan. Currently writing Darbar’s Index of Hindustani Raga, so plenty on Indian classical tunings too]




Dedicated to my two tuning gurus – jazz master Guy Harrup from Bath, and Pandit Shivnath Mishra of the Benares sitar lineage. Questions & criticism encouraged – I’ll try and keep this project ‘in tune’, updating it continuously as more viewpoints come in. All contributions credited, all content to stay free. Tell me what I’ve missed, what else to add, etc!



George Howlett is a South London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla drums, and santoor (Himalayan dulcimer), and write about topics loosely related to jazz, rhythm, and global improvised music. Currently I’m a musicologist for Darbar, write ‘Beyond the Repertoire‘ lessons for Guitar World, and release music as Rāga Junglism. See the site for more – or email


Home | Articles | Recordings | Lessons | Teaching



Few except Nigel Tufnel give tuning its due respect


Tanpura Samples: HQ Indian drones in all keys


Some high-quality practice tanpuras in all 12 keys, each pitch-corrected and cut to 25 mins – fantastic for improvisation, meditation, calming focus, etc. Free to use, and I’ll add more over time:


Part of RJ’s ‘World of Tuning


BlackLineNARROWERSa-Pa Tanpuras






























More on the tanpura itself: India’s droning lutes provide texture rather than melody or rhythm. Their intricate cascades of frequency interaction are an ever-present sonic bedrock for the other musicians, compared by some to a prism refracting white light into different colours. Its tones bring out the ‘harmonic series’ – the mathematically ‘fundamental’ notes of the universe. Let your ear zoom in…


Read more about the tanpura on the Darbar website (I’m currently their part-time writer and musicologist – see Living Traditions: 21 articles for 21st-century Indian classical).




George Howlett is a South London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla drums, and santoor (Himalayan dulcimer), and write about topics loosely related to jazz, rhythm, and global improvised music. Currently I’m a musicologist for Darbar, write ‘Beyond the Repertoire‘ lessons for Guitar World, and release music as Rāga Junglism. See the site for more – or email


Home | Articles | Recordings | Lessons | Teaching



Altered guitar tunings: audio ‘menu’ of 60+


‘Menu’ of 60+ altered tunings for 6-string, stemming from my tuning work for Guitar World. Listed by common enharmonic spellings, with name variants and listening links. Clips prepared from pristine Guitar Pro samples, compressed for a steadier resonance. Feedback welcome!

Standard | Drop | Open | Interval | Misc.

MicrotonalBy Artist | Resources


Part of RJ’s ‘World of Tuning




Guitarists have turned to countless tunings over time. None are the ‘best’, but ‘standard’ remains deservingly popular for its balance of geometric clarity and harmonic versatility. Naturally, all transpositions below take the ‘tuning pattern’ of 5>5>5>4>5 from string to string, giving (with open 6str as the root) the intervals 1-4-b7-b3-5-1:


E-A-D-G-B-E (standard)


    • ‘EADGBE standard’ has roots in Renaissance Europe – the Italian guitarra battente (‘beating guitar’) was tuned to ADGBE in the 16th-century, with the low E possibly being added by Spanish luthiers a few generations later. (n.b. See GW’s Ultimate Tuning Guide for my thoughts on how to efficiently reach standard while also warming up your ears, hands, and mind.)

Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb (down a semitone, ‘Eb standard’)


D-G-C-F-A-D (down a tone, ‘D standard’)


Db-Gb-B-E-Ab-Db (down a min 3rd, ‘C#/Db standard’)


C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C (down two tones, ‘C standard’)


B-E-A-D-F#-B (down a perfect 4th, ‘Baritone’)


(Ẹ-Ạ-Ḍ-G̣-Ḅ-Ẹ – down a full octave…is effectively a 6-string bass)



A few ‘drop’ tunings, centred around lowering the 6th string. Quick, versatile, and great for modal music – try tuning your 6th to the song’s root. (n.b. c=capo, and +/- indicate transpositions of the same interval ‘pattern’):


D-A-D-G-B-E (drop D)

-2|0|0|0|0|0 (7>5>5>4>5)

D-A-D-G-B-D (‘DDD/Double Drop D’, ‘D modal’)

-2|0|0|0|0|-2 (7>5>5>4>3)

C-A-D-G-B-E (drop C)

-4|0|0|0|0|0 (9>5>5>4>5)

C-G-C-F-A-D (‘full drop C’)

-4|-2|-2|-2|-2|-2 (7>5>5>4>5)

A-A-D-G-B-E (drop A, the ‘slack thwack’)

-7|0|0|0|0|0 (12>5>5>4>5)



Important open/slide/blues tunings – the ‘core’ maj, min, and sus4 shapes for open D, G, and C, along with common transpositions of these patterns (open E, A, F), and an ‘all 12 keys’ guide:


‘Core’ open shapes: D, G, C

D-A-D-F#-A-D (open D maj, ‘Vestapol’)

-2|0|0|-1|-2|-2 (7>5>4>3>5)

D-A-D-F-A-D (open D min, ‘D cross-note’)

-2|0|0|-2|-2|-2 (7>5>3>4>5)

D-A-D-G-A-D (open D sus, ‘Celtic’)

-2|0|0|0|-2|-2 (7>5>5>2>5)

D-G-D-G-B-D (open G maj, ‘Taro Patch’, ‘Spanish’)

-2|-2|0|0|0|-2 (5>7>5>4>3)

D-G-D-G-Bb-D (open G min, ‘G cross-note’)

-2|-2|0|0|-1|-2 (5>7>5>3>4)

D-G-D-G-C-D (open G sus, ‘Sawmill’)

-2|-2|0|0|+1|-2 (5>7>5>5>2)

    • [resembles Asus4 chord shape] Nicknamed for the ‘sawmill’ tuning of old-time banjo (GDGCD), although it has many possible origins. Now used by Martin Simpson occasionally, e.g. on Betsy the Serving Maid

C-G-C-G-C-E (open C maj)

-4|-2|-2|0|+1|0 (7>5>3>5>4)

C-G-C-G-C-Eb (open C min, ‘C cross-note’)

-4|-2|-2|0|+1|-1 (7>5>3>5>3)

  • Mystifyingly rare, although used superbly on Carlo Domeniconi’s famous Turkish-inspired classical guitar composition Koyunbaba (+2)

C-G-C-G-C-F (open C sus)

-4|-2|-2|0|+1|+1 (7>5>3>5>5)

Pic RJ narrow

TRANSPOSITIONS: E/A/F, all 12 keys

E-B-E-G#-B-E (open E maj)

0|+2|+2|+1|0|0 [open D+2]

E-B-E-G-B-E (open E min, ‘E cross-note’)

0|+2|+2|0|0|0 [open Dm+2]

E-A-E-A-C#-E (open A maj)

0|0|+2|+2|+2|0 [open G+2]

C-F-C-F-A-C (open F maj)

-4|-4|-2|-2|-2|-4 [open G-2]

C-F-C-F-Ab-C (open F min)

-4|-4|-2|-2|-3|-4 [open Gm-2]

Open shapes for all 12 keys: The three ‘core’ patterns – D, G, C – can be transposed to cover all keys (although a capo will often serve you better). Electrics tend to be able to go higher than acoustics – e.g. open E usually works fine on a light-strung electric, but is too tight on most acoustics:

  • Open A: G+2
  • Open A#/Bb: C-2
  • Open B: C-1
  • Open C: ‘Core’ pattern
  • Open C#/Db: C+1 or D-1
  • Open D: ‘Core’ pattern
  • Open D#/Eb: D+1
  • Open E: D+2 / G-3
  • Open F: G-2
  • Open F#/Gb: G-1
  • Open G: ‘Core’ pattern
  • Open G#/Ab: G+1

If you want some texture behind your explorations, try matching them to some overtone-rich drones from India – HQ samples on my tanpuras page, covering Sa-Pa (perfect 5th) in all keys.



Selection of other useful and/or interesting ones I’ve come across – beautiful, odd, illustrative, bizarre, speculative, pun-based, etc:

G-G-D-G-B-D (‘Overtones’, ‘Banjo’)

+3|-2|0|0|0|-2 (0>7>5>4>3)

    • Open Gmaj with 6str tuned to G (upwards or downwards) – which resembles the first six tones of the harmonic series: 1-1-5-1-3-5 (and also the common GDGCD banjo tuning). Variants used by Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs (Hey Hey), Joni Mitchell (For the Roses, Electricity, This Flight Tonight +1), and most Eagles of Death Metal songs (e.g. So Easy, c1). Similar to Keith Richards’ 5-string setup.

G-B-D-G-B-D (‘Dobro’, ‘Hawaiian slack’)

+3|+2|0|0|0|-2 (4>3>5>4>3)

    • Dobro resonators, banjos, and 7-string Russian guitars often take ‘repeated open G’ tunings, that ‘loop’ GBD in sequence to cover the strings. Used widely on 6-string in Hawaiian kī hōʻalu (‘slack-key’) music, by guitarists such as Ledward Kaapana.

C-G-D-G-B-E (‘Wahine’, ‘Three Bouzoukis’)

-4|-2|0|0|0|0 (7>7>5>4>5)

    • Used in Hawaiian slack-key as ‘Wahine‘ (or ‘Keola’s C‘, after Keola Beamer). Elsewhere used by Pavement (Zurich is Stained), Fleetwood Mac (Never Going Back Again, c6), John Butler (Spring to Come), and Soundgarden (Mailman, Limo Wreck). Dr. Costas Kyritsis points out that it simultaneously covers two Greek Bouzouki tunings (G-D-G and D-G-B-E) and one from the Irish bass Bouzouki (C-G-D-G), as well as a common low configuration for the Bağlama (C-G-D).

C-G-C-G-A-E (‘Mauna Loa’, ‘C6’)

-4|-2|-2|0|-2|0 (7>5>7>2>7)

    • A ‘balanced’ Cmaj6 voicing, known in Hawaiian slack-key guitar as ‘Mauna Loa’ – the world’s largest volcano, which has now been erupting continuously for over 700,000 years. Popularised by great master Gabby Pahinui (Mauna Loa), and also used by others around the world, e.g. Fahey (Stoll). (n.b. ‘Old Mauna Loa’ tuning is C-G-C-G-A-D.)

C-G-D-G-C-D (‘Orkney’)

-2|-2|0|0|+1|-2 (5>7>5>5>2)

C-G-E-G-C-E (‘Atta’s C’)

-4|-2|+2|0|+1|0 (7>9>3>5>4)

    • Associated with Hawaiian master Leland ‘Atta’ Isaacs (1929–1983), who used it to access jazzier voicings than were often associated with the slack-key style of the era. Also used by his contemporaries including Cyril Pahinui (He’eia), but otherwise seems to be bewilderingly rare.

Ė-Ȧ-Ḋ-Ġ-B-E (‘Nashville’, ’12-string-in-6′)

+12|+12|+12|+12|0|0 (5>5>5>4>5)

E-A-Ḋ-G-B-E (‘Mi-composé’)

0|0|+12|0|0|0 (5>15>5>4>5)

    • Same intervals, but D3 is an octave high (strung with a top E). Possibly invented in the 1950s by flamboyant Congolese guitarist Zacharie Elenga, also known as ‘Jhimmy the Hawaiian’ – after his (not-actually-Hawaiian) thumb-and-forefinger style, and country star Jimmy Rogers (listen: Andila and Na Kombo Ya Jhimmy Putulo, meaning ‘sweep Jimmy’s dust’). He disappeared into obscurity around 1952, but variants of his tuning can still be found in soukous and other African popular styles.

E-B-E-F#-B-E (‘Esus2’)

0|+2|+2|-1|0|0 (7>5>2>5>5)

    • Seemingly quite rare, but its characteristic maj 2nd interval offers unique possibilities. Used superbly on a few tracks, e.g. Something’s Missing (John Mayer), Causeway (Alex De Grassi), Only Shallow (MBV)

G-B-D-F-G-A (‘Overtones 4-9’)

+2|+1|-1|-3|-5|-8 (4>3>3>2>2)

    • My ‘squeezed’ arrangement of tones 4 to 9 of the harmonic series – if ‘squashed’ to equal temperament, they spell out a 9th arpeggio as an ordered stack of thirds: 1-3-5-b7-9. Theorist William Sethares’ variant adds a register-jump in the middle as C-E-G-Bb-C-D.

D-A-D-A-A-D (‘Drone’, ‘Zen’, ‘Megadad’)

-2|0|0|+2|-2|-2 (7>5>7>0>5)

E-B-G-D-A-E (‘Lefty flip’, ‘Mirror standard’)

0|+2|-7|-5|-2|0 (7>8>7>7>7)

  • Spare a thought for lefties everywhere – though they can count Hendrix among them, this comes as little solace when people hand them a ‘normal’ guitar. This ‘mirror of standard’ is one workaround, creating strange inversions from ‘lefty’ chord voicings. Try out some shapes you think you know…

E-A-D-F#-B-E (‘Lute’)

0|0|0|-1|0|0 (5>5>4>5>5)

D-A-D-G-B-C (‘Icarus’)

-2|0|0|0|0|-4 (7>5>5>4>1)

    • Forms a voicing of 1-5-1-4-6-b7, with a fantastic, floating resonance derived from its four ‘clustered’ scale tones (4-5-6-b7). I used it to write messy folk instrumentals as a teenager (Icarus, c1), but can’t possibly have been the first…an incredible tuning, and not even so far away from standard. Almost like a ‘mirrored’ drop tuning.

C-G-D-A-E-G (‘New Standard Tuning’)

-4|-2|0|+2|+5|+3 (7>7>7>7>3)

    • Robert Fripp, famed for his work with King Crimson and Brian Eno, devised his fifths-based tuning in the early 1980s to maximise melodic freedom. He has used it near-exclusively since 1984, showcasing its unusually wide range in his various guitar ensembles and other projects while also teaching it on restrung Ovations at his Guitar Craft academy. Fascinating, but requires thinner high strings or a big downward transposition.

A-D-G-C-Ẹ-Ạ (‘Gambale’)

+5|+5|+5|+5|-7|-7 (5>5>5>4>5)

    • An odd, restrung arrangement of the ‘standard pattern’ – the whole guitar is raised up by a fourth, but the top two strings are then tuned down an octave. Developed by fusion virtuoso Frank Gambale for chord-melody playing (via “messing with a Nashville tuning patch on a Roland VG-88”). He describes it as a “revelation”, opening up many new 4-, 5-, and 6-note voicings – see this interview, and watch him demo it to Rick Beato.

D-A-D-F#-B-E (‘José González’)

-2|0|0|-1|0|0 (7>5>4>5>5)

C-G-D-A-B-E (‘Cello’, or ‘Haircut’)

-4|-2|0|+2|0|0 (7>7>7>2>5)

  • Resembles a cello’s four stacked 5ths, and can perhaps serve as a no-restring taster to Fripp’s NST layout above. Associated with Cut Your Hair by Pavement, also used on Weenie Beenie (Foo Fighters).

F-Ab-C-Eb-G-Bb (‘Alternating Thirds’/’Harmonic Tuning’)

+1|-1|-2|-4|-4|-6 (3>4>3>4>3)

    • ‘Stack of thirds’ proposed by Dr. Costas Kyritsis, who mathematically analysed how to optimise access to every basic diatonic chord shape. His ‘harmonic tuning‘ places a different note on each string – but is otherwise deceptively simple, moving in a regular ‘loop’ of ‘minor 3rd > major 3rd’ (i.e. 3 frets, then 4 frets…or start the other way round). The idea is enticing, but hard to trace in the wild.

D-D-D-A-D-F# (‘Wind of Change’)

-2|-7|0|+2|+3|+2 (0>12>7>5>4)

    • An alternate form of open D maj showcased on Peter Frampton’s track of the same name. He recounts coming across it while browsing George Harrison’s guitar collection (“It’s a very strange tuning, but oh my God, it sounds huge…”)

F-C-F-Ab-C-F (‘Albert Collins’)

+1|+3|+3|+1|+1|+1 (7>5>3>4>5)

E-E-E-E-B-E (‘Bruce Palmer’)

0|-5|+2|-3|0|0 (0>12>0>7>5)

D-A-D-D-A-D (‘Papa-Papa’)

-2|0|0|-5|-2|-2 (7>5>0>7>5)

B-F#-B-G-B-E (‘Karnivool’)

-5|-3|-3|0|0|0 (7>5>8>4>5)

  • Curious collection of notes, with three Bs and three other notes that overall resemble a strange inversion of either Em9 or Gmaj13. Used on most of Australian rock group Karnivool’s output – e.g. Shutterspeed, Simple Boy, New Day.

D-D-D-D-D-D (‘Ostrich’)

-2|+5|0|-5|+3|-2 (12>0>0>12>0)

C-A-Bb-A-G-E (‘Nutritious’)

-4|0|-4|+2|-4|0 (9>2>10>10>9)

    • Rob Scallon’s 7-string CABbage is surprisingly tasty, if rather impractical

B-A-G-D-A-D (‘Iraqi’)

-5|0|-7|-5|-2|-2 (10>10>7>7>5)

  • ‘There was once a mysterious guitarist from the Middle East, who would only teach in his local tuning…’



a.k.a. ‘Regular’, or ‘symmetric’ tunings – all strings are separated by the same interval. I’ve tried to make them somewhat accessible on a ‘normal’ guitar (listening links may be other transpositions), but some don’t really work with standard-gauge strings. Often better for giving insight into the ‘nature’ of the interval itself rather than for general playing:

G-A#-C#-E-G-A# (all minor thirds)

+3|+1|-1|-3|-4|-6 (3>3>3>3>3)

    • [1-b3-b5-bb7: dim7 arpeggio from all notes] Melodically and harmonically constraining, but interesting as a radical way of shuffling your ear around and coming up with some strange new sounds. Discussed here.

E-G#-C-E-G#-C (all major thirds)

0|-1|-2|-3|-3|-4 (4>4>4>4>4)

    • [1-3-#5: augmented triad from all notes] Generally rare, but used to great effect by jazz guitarist Ralph Patt in the early 1960s, who sought to clarify his approach to playing Schoenberg and Coltrane’s melodic patterns. Also used by Tony Corman.

E-A-D-G-C-F (all perfect fourths)

0|0|0|0|+1|+1 (5>5>5>5>5)

    • [Dmin11 chord tones] Works fine on a standard-strung guitar, and not so different to standard tuning. Most prominently used by Stanley Jordan as the canvas for his incredible two-handed ‘touch tapping‘ style, and also employed by other jazzers such as Ant Law and Tom Quayle.

C-Gb-C-Gb-C-Gb (all tritones)

-4|-3|-2|-1|+1|+2 (6>6>6>6>6)

    • [C-Gb tritone interval] Reachable on most guitars, and notable as the only tuning (with more than just one note) that preserves ‘lefty involution’ – i.e. the ability to play the ‘other way up’, and have intervals will work the same in either direction. (And no, the tritone was never ‘banned’ for being the devil’s interval…but it can create strange audiology paradoxes).

A-E-B-F#-C#-G# (all perfect fifths, ‘Mandoguitar’)

-7|-5|-3|-1|+2|+4 (7>7>7>7>7)

    • [maj13 or min11 chord tones] Akin to a violin, viola, cello, or mandolin. The cycle of 5ths, as the basis of much of the world’s music, is in some ways a very logical layout – although its melodic freedoms are counteracted by difficulties in voicing many common chords. Used well by jazz pioneer Carl Kress in the 1930s (e.g. Love Song, +1).

F-C#-A-F-C#-A (all minor sixths)

-11|-8|-5|-2|+2|+5 (8>8>8>8>8)

  • [1-b6-3 = 1-3-#5: ‘wide’ augmented triad from all notes] Physically impractical without a restring at both ends – its open string range of 3-and-a-half octaves nearly matches the entire fretted range of a standard-tuned electric. Could work on a baritone with a ‘regular’ 1st string, but ‘all fifths’ would probably be a much better reference point.



A few microtonal considerations. More on this soon…a hugely under-discussed capability of the guitar!


Embracing imperfection: No guitar can ever be tuned perfectly. Some physical variance is ineradicable (e.g. ‘inharmonicity’, explored in the Impatient Meditation article) – and it’s unclear what ‘perfection’ refers to here anyway: ‘textbook’ string frequencies, or the ideal resonances for the music at hand?


To me, the latter is definitely more important – many styles can certainly benefit from a little ‘spice’, if applied properly (e.g. Delta blues, 12-string folk, shoegaze, classic Hendrix).


● We can’t escape microtonal ‘imperfection’, so why not embrace it? Don’t be afraid to nudge things around based on ‘feel’ to find a sound that works for you (…and the audience) – e.g. blues players may G3 string slightly, and Stefan Grossman goes further on his Lament for a Goodman. I used it to bring a slight ‘disbalancing’ effect on No Kanjira.


‘Just intonation’ tunings: You can tune some or all intervals to the ‘justly-intoned’ frequencies of the harmonic series, rather than rounding every note to its nearest ‘piano-key’ equivalent (more here).


e.g. with ‘Banjo’ (G-G-D-G-B-D), if you flatten the B by 0.14 cents to match the ‘JI maj 3rd’ then the open chord has a ‘purer’ resonance. For a more radical effect try ‘Overtones 4-9’ in its JI tuning, cent-modifying its intervals (1-3-5-b7-1-9) as follows:


● G6: (0) | B5: -14 | D4: +2 | F3: -31 | G2: (0) | A1: +4  (Play vertically on the less ‘deviant’ strings, and strum the others for washes of unique colour. More on this in a forthcoming Guitar World lesson)


‘Quarter tone’ tunings: Many Middle Eastern traditions, such as Arabic maqam, use ‘quarter tones’ (half-a-fret distances) and subtle intervals around them. Some, like Tolgahan Çoğulu, re-fret to access these frequencies (he even builds microtonal neck inserts from lego bricks).


● You can access a little of this flavour on a normal guitar by microtonally retuning some of the open strings and playing ‘vertically’, substituting some scale tones for their open string variants. e.g. tune the 5str up to B (+2 frets) and tune the 4str down to a quarter tone above it (-2.5 frets). Now, you can mimic having 24 frets to the octave!


‘Stretched tunings’: These are primarily designed to avoid unwanted microtonal influence. James Taylor’s is the most famous – he lowes each string by a small but precise amount to counteract the sharpening effects of inharmonicity and capo pressure. See my Tuning Puzzle for more, going into depth on the ‘harmonic beating’ method, and also check out Paul Davids’ sound comparison. This is Taylor’s configuration, albeit designed for the quirks of his own guitar:


● E6: -12 | A5: -10 | D4: -8 | G3: -4 | B2: -6 | E1: -3 


Prepared’ guitar: Placing objects somewhere along the path of the strings enables you to escape the standard 12tet (’12-tone equal temperament’), by changing the string length relative to the (unchanged) frets.


● e.g. Stephen Weigel precisely wedges a pencil under the strings to reach 11edo tuning (’11 equal note divisions per octave’).


Raga tunings: Proper content on this coming soon, after I’ve finished Darbar’s Index of Hindustani Raga later in 2020. Example:


● Kalavati: A-A-C#-E-F#-G (-7|0|-1|-3|-5|-9). Tuned low for sitar-like buzz, and fine-tuned to be closer to the harmonic series: flatten C# by -14 cents and F# by -16. Can also sharpen E3 by +2 and flatten G by -4 for hyper-accuracy.


(here’s another one I made earlier:)



A haphazard selection of guitarists who prominently use altered tunings in their work – suggestions/corrections welcome! (n.b. +/- indicate transpositions in semitones, and c means capo)


Joni Mitchell (more here)

Nick Drake (more here)

Ben Howard (more here)

Michael Hedges (more here)

Jimmy Page (more here)

My Bloody Valentine (more here)

Pic RJ narrow


Other notable quirks

  • The Beatles: often repitched their guitar parts in post-production, e.g. slowing them down a semitone (I’m Only Sleeping, Yellow Submarine), or a tone (Strawberry Fields Forever, Rain), or even a full octave (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da) – or raising them up a semitone (She Said, She Said), or a tone (Revolution).
  • Neil Young: used D-A-D-G-B-D (‘double drop D’) and many other other lowered tunings in his live sets.
  • Johnny Cash: sometimes tuned up a half-step (‘F standard’) in his early career – oddly, it seems, to fit with his low voice (e.g. he just about reaches a deep C, the 5th of the key, on ‘…mine’ on this version of Walk the Line).
  • Soundgarden: many varieties of drop D – e.g. D-G-D-G-B-E (Superunknown, Dusty, Fresh Tendrils, Never Named), D-G-D-G-B-C (Like Suicide), C-G-D-G-B-E (Mailman, Limo Wreck) – big list here
  • John Rzeznik: guitarist of the Goo Goo Dolls has used several drone tunings in the past, e.g. D-A-E-A-E-E (Name) and B-D-D-D-D-D (Iris).
  • Machine Head: have traditionally tuned to ‘Db standard + 40 cents’, or transpositions of this. Other heavy guitar groups including Van Halen and Black Sabbath have done similarly, although it is unclear how deliberate this tends to be.
  • Kelly Joe Phelps: sometimes tunes the string pairs on his 12str to ring with different notes – e.g. on See That My Grave is Kept Clean the 5str and 4str pairs are both tuned to D/A, and on Roll Away the Stone the whole guitar is tuned as C/G, G/D, C/G, E/B, G/D, C/G (more info on his tunings here).
  • Albert King: the mighty bluesman was left-handed, but played a normal guitar upside-down. His exact tunings seeem to have varied, although Dan Erlewine, his former guitar tech, cites C-F-C-F-A-D (an open Fmaj9 voicing) as his choice circa 1989. (In John Mayer’s words, “Albert King is the reason guitar players break high E strings” – maybe his lowered tuning has something to do with this…).



See the rest of Raga Junglism’s ‘World of Tuning’ for more tuning ideas, approaches, and analysis. And for further info on altered setups, see these sites and books:



George Howlett is a South London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla drums, and santoor (Himalayan dulcimer), and write about topics loosely related to jazz, rhythm, and global improvised music. Currently I’m a musicologist for Darbar, write ‘Beyond the Repertoire‘ lessons for Guitar World, and release music as Rāga Junglism. See the site for more – or email


Home | Articles | Recordings | Lessons | Teaching



raga – ‘that which colours the mind’