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I recently picked up a short-scale electric guitar for my son. While I am in no way a guitarist I can tune a standard guitar to standard tuning, including using the fifth fret method when I know what the bottom E is.

Anyway, had major trouble keeping the short scale guitar in tune and of course discovered that it is probably better tuned to A due to string tension etc.

My question is - can I do this by just tuning the bottom E string up to A when played on the fifth fret (using a phone tuning app to get the right pitch) and then take it from there for the rest of the strings, or is there a different way?

  • So your question is whether it's okay to tune the E string on the fifth fret instead of the open note? – Shevliaskovic Jan 21 '15 at 15:47
  • Get a plug in tuner, the cheap ones are around 10-15 dollars now. Then you don't rely on the sound and you're fine :) – yo' Jan 21 '15 at 16:28
  • @Shevliaskovic Yes. – Alan B Jan 21 '15 at 20:47
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I am adding this as a new answer based on new understanding that you may have a half size guitar.

That short of a scale might indeed work better with a higher tuning. But it may not work with the i-phone chord ap if not in standard tuning (not sure). Most 3/4 size and up will do well with standard tuning if the appropriate strings are used.

To tune to A starting with the fattest string (normally low E and technically the 6th string) use a chromatic digital tuning device (or phone ap) and tune A - D - G - C - E - A

Or try tuning to G for less string tension but still more than if in E.

Fattest string G then C - F - A# - D - G.

If you want to play along with your son with your guitar in standard tuning, put a capo on the 5th fret if he is tuned to A or 3rd fret if he is tuned to G.

The advice about stretching the strings from my previous answer still applies.

If your son maintains an interest (will take encouragement), move him up to a 3/4 or 7/8 size as soon as the budget permits. Keep in mind, that the guitar is not easy to learn and involves tons of practice, pain, commitment, dedication and desire. It is crucial for the student to feel a sense of accomplishment and be rewarded by success as early and often as possible.

Given the inherent challenges in learning to play guitar, there is a correlation between the quality of the instrument used to learn on, and the likelihood of success. I always encourage beginning students and parents of same, to spend the extra money for a better guitar to make the learning process more enjoyable and rewarding. Good luck - and please continue to support your son's musical journey. It could lead to a lifetime of relaxation, pleasure and creative expression.

  • Thanks- I will definitely get him onto something that is workable in standard tuning as soon as possible. The iPhone app does have a list of alternate tunings but none that I can identify as 'A'. It's all drop tunings for metal or ones for banjo etc. – Alan B Jan 22 '15 at 8:32
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Unless it's a VERY short scale guitar, it should be tuned to standard. The gauge of the strings ought to be correct for this to happen. It may be that someone else has put 'standard' (or even non-standard!) strings on. Check with the manufacturer or a music shop to get the correct gauge strings, as it is a good starting point. They can be altered when you know what's happening, and what you're doing, but right now, it should play E-A-D-G-B-E like most other guitars.

EDIT - I may have mis-interpreted your question. If you are in fact asking whether to effectively tune the guitar using the A string at A as a datum point, then yes, do that. It really shouldn't make any difference, a lot of us tune from the bottom up, so start at E.As @yo' intimated - get yourself a tuner - it's safer for a beginner.Until you mix up octaves and go twice as high as needed. Seen it happen!

  • I haven't gone an octave high but I have tuned a guitar an octave low... it still always frightens me putting on new strings :) – Mr. Boy Jan 21 '15 at 17:53
  • I think it's around half scale, and everything I could find on the web said don't use standard tuning. I got some new strings from a music shop after telling them the type of guitar and the guy said tune it to A. – Alan B Jan 21 '15 at 20:49
  • @AlanB see the new answer I just posted upon learning that you may have a half scale guitar. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 21 '15 at 22:49
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Kudos Alan for encouraging your son to play guitar. Good Dad!

You can tune your lowest (6th) string to A and tune the rest from there -but I don't recommend this. I do recommend a digital electronic tuner or smart phone tuning ap. But even a short scale guitar should be perfectly capable of staying in tune in standard E A D G B e tuning.

You mentioned that you were having trouble keeping the guitar in tune. First thing I would recommend is to be sure you are stretching the new strings properly. I find that even experienced guitar players fail to adequately stretch new strings after install and end up fighting the tuning battle until they have stretched them by playing and constantly re-tuning.

When you first install new strings, there is a great deal of slack where the string is not completely tight around the tuning peg. When I change strings, after I get all the strings on and tuned close to pitch, I will start stretching the strings to take out all the slack. Using an electronic tuner, tune each string slightly sharp and then gently tug on the string to stretch it. It's pretty hard to break a string this way but it could happen. Some folks like to stretch them two at a time to reduce the chance of breaking one - but I have never broken a string doing this. I have broken a string by trying to tune the string too high (would probably happen if you try to tune to A).

Pull the string away from the fretboard about an inch starting near the body and repeat several times working your way towards the headstock. Then play the string again and you will notice it is now flat. Tighten the tuning key again until slightly sharp and repeat this process until you can no longer get the string to go flat by tugging on it. That string is now fully stretched and should stay in tune. Repeat the process for each of the six strings.

You might want to alternate between the bass and treble side while doing this to keep the tension on the neck in balance, but I personally don't worry about this.

If that fails to solve the problem, you may need to adjust the intonation and check all the adjustment screws in the bridge. Also, be sure you are using good quality strings.

Not sure what brand guitar but hopefully it's not an issue of cheap tuning machines. If it is - you can get replacement tuning machines from allparts.com

  • Well, it's quite an inexpensive guitar. Maybe $100. He's getting discouraged because it wouldn't stay in tune and while I have a full-size guitar it's a bit big for him. Of course he's probably resting it upright and knocking the pegs in the process too but if he could sit with his chord practice iPhone app and not have to fight the instrument he would love it. – Alan B Jan 21 '15 at 20:51
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If I may add my $.02.... I just got a 3/4 size (19.5 scale length) cheap on CL for my granddaughter, the proverbial smallest kid in 1st grade. It is a Harmony something or other with no truss rod, so had to do some fret work to get it playable, and changed the tuning keys to an old set I had in my parts/junk box. Anyway, the strings that were on it were really beat and wouldn't stay in tune. I put a set of .011 - .054 Ernie Ball Beefy Slinky on it, tuned it up to standard pitch, and all is now well. The thicker strings provide more tension, but are still quite easy to push down. This gauge of string would definitely be stiff on a standard scale length, but seems just right for this shorty. Might even get away with a bit heavier set ( .012 - ??)

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