How to Tune a Guitar to Itself Using the Fifth-Fret Method

Tuning a guitar to itself using the fifth-fret method is an important and useful guitar skill. The fifth-fret method is the most common type of relative tuning, and it's all you need if you're planning on playing by yourself.

The fifth-fret method derives its name from the fact that you almost always play a string at the fifth fret and then compare the sound of that note to that of the next open string. You need to be careful, however, because the fourth fret (the fifth fret’s jealous understudy) puts in a cameo appearance toward the end of the process.

1

Play the fifth fret of the low E (6th) string and then play the open A (5th) string.

Let both notes ring together. Their pitches should match exactly. If they don't, determine whether the 5th string is higher or lower. If the 5th string seems lower, or flat, turn its tuning key clockwise to raise the pitch. If the 5th string seems sharp, or higher sounding, use its tuning key to lower the pitch.

If you can’t tell whether the open string is higher or lower than the fretted string, tune it flat intentionally (that is, tune it too low) and then come back to the desired pitch.

2

Play the fifth fret of the A (5th) string and then play the open D (4th) string.

Let both of these notes ring together. If the 4th string seems flat or sharp relative to the fretted 5th string, use the tuning key to adjust the 4th string's pitch accordingly.

3

Play the fifth fret of the D (4th) string and then play the open G (3rd) string.

Let both notes ring together again. If the 3rd string seems flat or sharp relative to the fretted 4th string, use the tuning key of the 3rd string to adjust the pitch accordingly.

4

Play the fourth (not the fifth!) fret of the G (3rd) string and then play the open B (2nd) string.

Note that you need to play the 4th fret this time instead of the 5th fret. Let both strings ring together. If the 2nd string seems flat or sharp, adjust the pitch accordingly.

5

Play the fifth (yes, back to the fifth for this one) fret of the B (2nd) string and then play the open high E (1st) string.

Let both notes ring together. If the 1st string seems flat or sharp, use its tuning key to adjust the pitch accordingly.

 

If you’re satisfied that both strings produce the same pitch, you’ve now tuned the upper (that is, “upper” as in higher-pitched) five strings of the guitar relative to the fixed (untuned) 6th string. Your guitar’s now in tune with itself.

If you've tuned your guitar using relative tuning, those same sweet, harmonious tones will suddenly resemble a catfight if you try to play along with another instrument, however. But as long as you tune the strings relative to one another, the guitar is in tune with itself.

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