I know close to zero about music theory. Recently I started learning guitar and I'm very intrigued by the way the guitar strings are named. The names are, from thinnest to thickest: E - B - G - D - A - E

From the perspective of someone that has to memorize this, the first question that comes to mind is: why not something like A - B - C - D - E - F?

  • 7
    Every Acid Dealer Gets Busted Eventually Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 18:52
  • 1
    @JLagana, if you're asking about why the guitars are tuned the way they are, as opposed to A B C D E F, then take a look at music.stackexchange.com/questions/12420/…. This might be a duplicate if that's the case. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 19:42
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user28
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 20:12
  • Eat All Dead Good Bunnies at Easter Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 0:11
  • I don't see this question as a duplicate of the other one. Here the question is just why the tuning can't be arbitrary. The other question goes beyond that to ask for details.
    – Pere
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 19:30

7 Answers 7


Other answers have already pointed that strings are named after the note they are tuned to. For the question "Why aren't guitars tuned to the notes A B C D E F in this order?", stated in comments, the reason is that a guitar is intended to produce the most common and beautiful chords as easily as possible. Guitarists can produce different chords by pressing a few strings and the usual tuning of strings require simpler finger positions to produce the most common chords. Therefore, the goal is not making it easy to remember the names of the strings, it's making it easy to remember and play the chords.

In fact, often performers tune the strings to different notes to make it easier to play the set of chords for some songs.


Because they are not guitar string names, they are note names that apply to any instrument. What you should learn is notes and intervals ("spaces" between notes) and their interactions.

  • I see, but then the question would be, why aren't guitars tuned to the notes A B C D E F in this order?
    – JLagana
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 19:21
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    @JLagana A (slightly awkward) analogy would be gears on a car. You don't want your gears to be too similar - you want them spread out so you have a good range of ratios across the gears. Likewise, the guitar and similar stringed instruments are tuned so that the notes are further apart to give you a good range of notes across the fretboard. This is different to an instrument like a harp, where you don't finger or fret the strings; in those cases, the strings are indeed tuned to adjacent notes. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 19:36
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    @JLagana music.stackexchange.com/questions/1723/… may be of interest. Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 19:42
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    @JLagana Having 6 strings clumped up in the same musical space (one note apart) would not be useful; having them spread too far apart (an octave + 1) would make it impossible to play normal chords. Most string instruments work with about half an octave between strings, fifths or fourths (as topo's link points out).
    – user28
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 20:16

Because it wouldn't convey any useful information, being it just the progressive numerical order.

From the standard tuning EADGBe, you can easily infer that:

  • first and last string produce the same note, though in different octaves;
  • all strings are a fourth apart, besides G and B, that are a major third apart. You notice this when using the fifth fret tuning method, for instance.

If you are asking about why it is tuned this way, it is a matter of convenience for playing most western music genres. A wide array of alternative tunings can be used, to achieve different goals.


The reason the guitar strings are named E-B-G-D-A-E is because they are named after the notes of the musical scale they produce. They are also often called 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th strings, which refers to their order of placement on the instrument.


Quite straightforward! They are tuned to notes of those names! In music, we use A B C D E F and G (and H in Germany and Austria!). Those letter names are all we need to name all the notes we'll usually play, along with # and b.

The guitar uses these particular notes in the way it's tuned, so it would be folly to call them anything else. You'll find that all stringed instruments have their open strings called by similar names.

If you want a very simple naming procedure, call the thin one '1', and so on down to the thickest '6'. But when you come to talk about notes you play, your idea just won't work. Sorry!!


As already stated, the naming convention refer to the note the string is tuned to, but one has to be careful as this is only true for a guitar tuned to standard tuning. Usually a small letter e is also used to denote the high E string, so the tuning would e-B-G-D-A-E from highest (thinnest) string to lowest (thickest) string.

For any alternative tuning, the string names would change accordingly.


The naming of notes is part of the western tradition of music.

The notes in the scale are named A,B,C,D,E,F,G, then back to A. These correspond to the notes in the Do-Re-Mi scale: A is La, B is Ti, C is Do etc. These makes sense as the notes from A-G make a Minor scale, and the notes from C make a major scale, there is either one tone, or one semitone between each note, and on a piano keyboard these are the white keys.

A Guitar is not tuned A,B,C etc because this would make it harder to play chords. A keyboard has no way of changing the pitch of a note, so it necessary to have one note per key, one key per string. A guitar has a fretboard, so to play an F, you just fret one up on an E string. The choice of EADGBe is for convenience: most major and minor chords can be fretted quite easily.

It is possible to tune the guitar differently (people have written books about this). Each different tuning has advantages and disadvantages. Other instruments use different tunings: A violin uses G D A E. The pitches are more widely spread, and this is more useful for a smaller instrument.

A B C D E F G would be a particularly useless tuning, as the pitches are much too close.

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