I made a recording of some playing with friends. I now want to overdub some guitar. At the time we tuned to each other, but not concert pitch. The music is quite choppy and staccato, and I really cant find a long enough reference note to tune to. I can tell I'm out of tune but isn't obvious whether I'm flat or sharp as I would be able to against a single note. Any tips on how to resolve this?

  • 2
    Suggestion: Play along with the recording. Can you tell when/if your guitar is out of tune with the recording?
    – Brian Tung
    Jan 12, 2016 at 17:13
  • @BrianTung not the OP, but that is an excellent suggestion.
    – sova
    Jan 12, 2016 at 23:22
  • Or (techie talk :-) ) , snip the note out of the song file, feed to an FFT, and compare the peak location to the FFT peak from a recorded note out of your axe. Yes, I know this is insane. Jan 13, 2016 at 15:07
  • Back in the '60s, playing along to the radio, and to live bands on the radio, it was necessary to re-tune for lots of the songs, as they were either with the band tuned to itself, or the speed of the recording changed slightly. I found that generally my guitar wasn't more than half a fret out (fairly obvious!). Having to do it lots meant I got pretty quick at it. Tuning to concert 440, etc. wasn't a priority in those days. Listening for an open string from the radio was a good help.
    – Tim
    Jan 19, 2016 at 9:11

5 Answers 5


Use a freeze pedal or freeze function in any slow-downer application or digital recording application to stretch out any note into a continuous tone, the higher the better.

Then take your tuner and look at the pitch of the frozen note. The frozen note will be 50 cents or less away from concert pitch.

Then recalibrate your tuner to the pitch of the frozen note. If your tuner doesn't have a recalibration function then note how many cents sharp or flat your frozen tone is from concert pitch.

Then tune with your tuner.


Just to offer an alternative that has yet to be mentioned,

You caught this recording/echo with some friends, right? Maybe one of your buddies has their instrument still in tune with the recording, and you could "keep the candle lit" so-to-speak by tuning to another instrument that was used in the "making of."


Try to find on each string a sequence of notes that changes with the chords in such a way that on every chord you're playing either the root or the fifth. Keep on the recording on, play that harmony voice to it and correct the intonation as necessary. It tends to be easiest if you deliberately start out with all strings a bit too low, and then tune upwards until you don't need to significantly bend up any string to make it sound in tune.

I would not recommend focusing on a single spot in the recording, because guitars tend to be overall a bit higher or lower in tune for different chords depending on position and voicing, especially if they were tuned by ear. That's probably not a big deal for single chort in context, but if you tune to such a chord in the recording, you may end up with systematically off strings and it will everywhere sound uneasy.


Ear solution:

Assumption: You know what was played on the recording, the notes, the key, the chords, the scale etc.

preparation: To help, start with your guitar tuned to standard pitch (a tuner).


  1. Pick form that set of notes and chords, one that best defines the key* (Select the root in the best case.)
  2. With guitar in hand, play the recording until that note/chord comes up.
  3. Immediately stop the recording when the note chord is finished, so that the continued playback does not distract you from the memory of that note or chord.
  4. Tune to your memory of the note or that chord's root note last heard from the recording.
  5. Repeat this process a few times to hone your precision, confidence, and or accuracy.

If you are unsuccessful after a few tries, repeat steps with a different note.

If you feel you have been successful with that one note, you could calibrate your tuner to match it, or simply tune the rest of the guitar to that note or string.

A persons ability to tune by ear usually will diminish over time within a single attempt. If you do not get it within say a half hour take a rest and perhaps try again another day.

Technological solution:

Enter the music into a digital recording program, of which there are many products to select from. Loop over the longest of the choppy notes and tune to that loop.

Disparate Snarky solution:

Hire a guitar teacher to figure it out for you.

Second Ear Solution: (with thanks to Brian Tung)

preparation: To help, start with your guitar tuned to standard pitch (a tuner). Select a note that is central to the key (such as the root). This is unlikely to work with a note that does not match with the key (root or the fifth would match well).

  • While the recording is playing, slowly adjust that note against all others to get it to sound good for the duration of the key or the recording.


*Note: Using a note/chord that is root is not required but it will improve your success rate.

General note: Consider that the tuning is likely to be slightly lower than standard, as you attempt these ideas.

  • 1
    Big budget solution: Re-record with all the instruments in tune. Jan 12, 2016 at 19:04
  • 1
    No Wave solution: Don't tune your instrument.
    – Yorik
    Jan 12, 2016 at 22:14
  • "A persons ability to tune by ear usually will diminish over time within a single attempt." Very true, my next attempt was a lot easier and less frustrating. Jan 13, 2016 at 10:14

Sounds like you captured some magic that would be easier to expand upon than replicate or re-create.

You made a recording. Transfer that recording to another device (your computer maybe) so you can use the same recorder to make a new recording. Play back the recording you made while listening with headphones. Find a spot on the recording where you can play along for a few notes on the same string (even if you played it on different strings during your out of tune session). You don't have to match the timing to the millisecond, just be as close to unison as you can but most importantly try to play the same notes (even though they may be slightly off).

If you can hear as you play that you are flat or sharp, adjust your tuning accordingly. Once you get so close it's hard to tell while playing along, record your attempt to play along with the original recording. Now you have two recordings that you can convert to a digital file that you can loop and compare side by side to see if you are still flat or sharp. Make the fine tuning adjustments as indicated and repeat the process until you have one string playing the notes at the same pitch as on the original recording. You might be able to do this by ear without needing to make a new recording if you just make a loop of the part that can be played on a single string.

Once you have one string in tune with the original recording, tune the other strings on your guitar to that string using the 5th/4th fret tuning method (out of order maybe but you can start on any string and make it work). If you are not familiar with this tuning method click the link below where it is explained several different ways.

Fifth Fret Guitar Tuning Method Explained

Good luck!

  • "Sounds like you captured some magic that would be easier to expand upon than replicate or re-create." Hopefully we will recreate it. I just wanted to work alone on some ideas to add to it next time. Your idea of sticking to one string worked. It took a fair bit of trial and error, but is much quicker than doing a full tune up of the whole instrument. Jan 13, 2016 at 10:12
  • @DaveHalsall Glad I could help. Good luck with your project! Jan 13, 2016 at 18:46

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