While talking with a friend, I mentioned that the width of a classical guitar neck is quite large, to allow a player room to slightly and subtly bend a string (or strings) by moving fingers parallel to frets to bring chords more accurately in tune while playing. Although this is arguably an advanced technique, it surely is used, particularly on held chords where this “pushing” of strings on frets will really help land a chord in better tune.

Two questions:

  1. Any suggested pieces where unless this done, the equal temperament of the guitar is really noticeably out of tune? (I expect there are some trickster composers out there who have written music specifically to exploit this requirement for satisfactory performances).

  2. Any link to a particular youtube clip where it is clear that the performer is doing this bending to bring chords into better tune?

I’d like to show my friend this being done, on a piece of classical guitar music.


— edit amendment:

Thanks for the interesting comments. I would really like a youtube clip of a competent performer playing an established work from the standard repertoire, that shows this kind of bending going on. I’ve done some dives down youtube rabbit holes, and found some that it looks like this is what’s going on, but I’d really love to have one where it’s really obvious, in case someone knows of one.

All in good fun, I’m not in an (ill-tempered) argument with anyone or anything, it’s just interesting to me.

  • 1
    I thought this technique was only used to compensate for flawed tuning or a bad instrument, such as one with a false 12th fret for one string (I'm sure I've already done this on ukulele).
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 10, 2022 at 12:59
  • If a guitar needs this to be done to get into tune, it's surely time to change either the tuning, or said guitar!
    – Tim
    Jan 10, 2022 at 13:29
  • The idea of adjusting a fretted instrument to overcome equal temperament is intriguing. I'd also be willing to bet it is done to compensate for the guitar having gone slightly out of tune since starting the piece (I certainly do it subconsciously on violin). When it comes to temperament adjustments, lutes do it all the time with their moveable gut frets. Jan 10, 2022 at 14:16
  • @Andy Bonner - agreed, monitoring the status of the tuning of the guitar while playing a piece is a sign of an experienced performer, and is one reason why this subtle bending of notes might need to be done. And you’re right, violinists and other string players make this kind of adjustment all the time as their instruments warm up during performance, or, to play in tune in string quartets. It’s easiest for nonfretted strings (and trombonists) to make these adjustments, but it happens all the time in chamber music, especially. Jan 10, 2022 at 17:06
  • 1
    @Andy Bonner - sitars have these movable frets, as does the viola da gamba (e.g., in Bach’s St Matthew Passion). It’s fix-fretted instruments that are require something be done to play perfectly in tune, or at least try. Jan 10, 2022 at 17:13

2 Answers 2


Perhaps the equal temperament interval that has the highest potential to sound out of tune is major third (or tenth or seventeenth...). However the top note in equal temperament sounds sharp with respect to just temperament, so in order to "fix" it one would need to lower the top note, not bend it. Trying to bend the bottom note would likely make the whole chord sound out of tune.

Classical guitars often have issues with intonation, especially at the higher frets. Part of the issue is that the bridge doesn't allow for easy adjustment, most classical guitars also don't have truss rod.

Indeed some people sometimes bend some notes in some chords, or adjust tuning to make sure the most critical chords sound well. But I would say it depends more on specific instrument.

Classical guitar is built with equal temperament in mind. Older instruments, like lutes or baroque guitars had often gut frets which you could slide along the neck to adjust intonation. But that of course meant compromises (by adjusting one note you made another out of tune), and possibly required adjustments whenever you played piece in another key.

  • Agreed, about the problem of those pesky sharp thirds in equal temperament - ain’a no way to bend a pitch flat those 14 or so cents. But those flatted fifths could easily be adjusted wider, and probably should be. Jan 10, 2022 at 17:19
  • I don’t have personal experience with guitars with “wiggly” fret boards (by design!) which are built to play in a temperament other than equal. They must be cool (as are fanned fret boards, I imagine). But if you’re playing one of these non-equal temperament fretted guitars, and you find yourself in a piece that modulates (even temporarily) from the sweeter keys, it must be time to do a little bending, if it helps. Jan 10, 2022 at 17:27
  • @user2808134 I've only seen "wiggly" frets in electrical guitars actually, not nylon string classical ones.... Jan 10, 2022 at 19:19
  • Moveable frets actually allow quite nice compromises, as you can have the frets diagonally or even curved to get as many notes as close to in tune as possible.
    – Lazy
    Jan 11, 2022 at 0:00

Two things: A fixed, straight fret guitar won’t really be ET anyway, because the tuning depends on more things than just the distance. Basically when you press down the string the tension changes, and depending on the diameter of the string the geometry might be a bit different.

That being said, a decent guitar will be quite well in tune.

The other thing is that with plucked instruments you do not have a fixed intonation. When the intonation of the string will depend on the amplitude, thus starting higher and dropping. As a result of this the brain cannot really detect tuning differences as well as on let’s say a bowed instrument (because there never is any constant pitch).

This means that on a sufficiently well intonated instrument the difference to pure intervals are less noticeable than on other instruments.

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