Physics Lens

Tuning a Guitar using Resonance

There are many ways to tune a guitar. Many musicians would have tuned a string instrument using a tuning fork at some point. However, the conventional method of tuning with a tuning fork is by listening to beats while adjusting the tension of the string. The tuning fork is of a known frequency which corresponds to a note. For instance, 440 Hz corresponds to an A-note. When the A-note string is slightly out of tune, such as having a frequency of 438 Hz, the resulting sound pattern (called beats) will have a frequency that is the difference between the two frequencies, i.e. 2 Hz. Hence, the aim of tuning by listening to beats is to adjust the tension of the string until the beats disappear.

An alternative method, which is the one we shall attempt in this demonstration, is to run the vibrating tuning fork along the E-string (this first from the top) until you reach the bridge between the 5th and 6th frets. You should expect to hear a loud resonating sound there. Otherwise, adjust the tension until you do.

All the other strings are tuned with respect to that first string.


Resonance is the phenomenon where the frequency of the tuning fork (driving frequency) is equal to the frequency of the string (natural frequency) and maximum energy is transferred from the tuning fork to the string. The string will hence oscillate with the maximum amplitude.