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Let's say (or at least pretend) I am learning guitar for the first time and only want to play my own music, the music I have in my head. What kind of tuning should I use to start with? Is there a general purpose, regular tuning? What are the differences between tuning in fourths like a violin or in fifths? Is there an easiest tuning for fingerpicking melodies and another easiest one for chords, if I can't have it both ways with only one tuning? Is this the reason some great guitarists like Jimmy Page have a two-neck guitar?

BTW I have tried standard tuning, I manage to play my songs with it, but it annoys me most the irregular tuning of the 2nd string. E.g. if I learn to play a melody in first neck, I can't use the same note patterns I have learned through muscle memory in second neck. It's difficult to move along the neck because of this tuning irregularity.

If you experts were to advice an absolute beginner, who only wants to invent his own music on the guitar, rather than playing other people stuff, what tuning would you advice and why, so he can make an informative choice? Why is standard tuning so much used? Just for historical reasons?

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I'm a big fan of all-fourths tuning, such as E-A-D-G-C-F, for learners.

  • By eliminating the tuning 'kink', the apparent multitude of different chord and scale shapes you have to learn condenses down to a few simple shapes and patterns.

  • With E-A-D-G-C-F, the lowest four strings are the same as standard tuning, anyway....

  • I think it's easier to learn the few scale and chord shapes in this tuning and then learn to mentally put in the 'kink' in them that standard tuning introduces than it is to learn all the 'different' shapes in standard tuning.

That's not to say that it's the best tuning; many beautiful and yet easy-to-play guitar riffs come from playing a few fretted notes (which you move around or slide up and down) against static open strings; Open tunings (or even standard tunings) are good for this.

You might also consider what kind of music you want to play. For blues, open G, (D-G-D-G-B-D) will give you one very useful feel, and open E minor (E-B-E-G-B-E) will give you another.

For folk music, you might want to consider D-A-D-G-A-D (Associated with a 'Celtic' feel, and allowing the movable fretted chord against open strings technique I mentioned).

Drop D (D-A-D-G-B-E) is often used for metal and hard rock styles, as it allows a power chord across the lowest three strings.

Why is the guitar tuned like it is? may contain some information as to where standard tuning comes from; I see it as basically a compromise between the ease of melodic playing given by a regular tuning, and the ease of chording that an open tuning provides. Don't discount it as your favoured tuning; the fact that it's a standard is a plus point!

  • +1 for the link to the standard tuning question. Other points are good as well. I was counting on you to address Jimmy Page's double neck guitar though ;-) – Rockin Cowboy Mar 26 '16 at 22:04
  • @RockinCowboy I've read that one of the necks was 12 string, and one was a standard 6-string... is that right? Do you know if they were tuned differently too? – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 26 '16 at 22:08
  • I don't think they were tuned differently. That might be an interesting idea if a guitarist wanted to switch tunings to play different parts of the same song (double neck with different tunings). While on the subject of famous guitarist - should we mention that Keith Richards of Rolling Stones used open G tuning more often than not? – Rockin Cowboy Mar 26 '16 at 22:20
  • Thanks to all. I see the guitar offers endless possibilities. Unlike fixed intonation instruments like piano, you can actually choose the tuning depending on the music you want to play, making it easier to play and more expressive. I've got two guitars, but now I think I want more :-) – Antonio Bonifati 'Farmboy' Mar 27 '16 at 0:18
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I'm not sure if there is a single "best" choice, but there are at least 2 very good choices to start with:

  • Open D: D-A-D-F#-A-D
  • Open G: D-G-D-G-B-D (emphasized notes are the same as standard)

Both of these tunings give you a full major chord on the open strings (and thus any major chord is available as a 1-finger barre).

  • I like the open tunings for beginners as well. Works particularly well for women who don't want to cut their fingernails and just want to play some simple arrangements of songs using mostly major chords. – Rockin Cowboy Mar 26 '16 at 22:06

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