3

One of the most annoying idiosyncrasies of standard guitar tuning EADGBE is that third between the G and the B. When you move chord shapes or scale patterns around the neck you always have to take account that G-B is a third instead of a fourth like the other strings.

I don't think it's a good idea to tune the guitar entirely in fourths as is suggested in Is even-interval tuning a sensible idea for lead guitar? This question is not a duplicate also because I am interested in the historical reasons for the EADGBE tuning as discussed in Why is the guitar tuned like it is?

I don't think tuning in fourths is good both for ergonomic reasons and for open string reasons but I think that shifting the third from GB to CE in a EADGCE tuning takes advantage of the symmetry of the low E and high E strings. Chord shapes across the neck are also identically shaped for one more precious string.

Why isn't the guitar tuned EADGCE? Is there an ergonomic reason or is it just historical, like QWERTY instead of Dvorak keyboards?

  • 1
    When you move chord shapes or scale patterns around the neck, you would always have to take account that C-E is a third instead of a fourth like other strings. You just move the 'problem' on. Every chord and scale pattern will need tweaking, but where's the advantage? – Tim 2 days ago
  • 2
    @ghellquist I think the point of the OP is to inquire as to why EADGBE evolved in the first place. Regardless of alt tuning the standard is most widely used. – ggcg 2 days ago
  • 1
    Highly related possibly a dupe: music.stackexchange.com/questions/1723/… – Dom 2 days ago
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Why is the guitar tuned like it is? – Arsak 2 days ago
  • 1
    @pro First, it's a minor second. Second, both EADGCE and EADGBE are all fourths except one major third, so that the outer strings are both E. You are claiming that the former "takes advantage of the symmetry", implying that the latter doesn't. What do you mean? – MattPutnam yesterday
4

I have answered a similar question in the past. I do not believe that what others consider better tuning is really better. Whether for ergonomic or other reasons what you think is better is based on what you play. A lot of older classical guitar music plays very easily on the current standard tuning and I'd have to guess that over the centuries tuning options have converged on EADGBE for this reason. Of course "easy" depends on your hand physiology, etc. And one could argue that written music choices depend on the instrument. I think they evolved together. By the way, even classical guitar pieces call for alternate tuning! By the way changing the B to a C doesn't result in any better tuning from the symmetry point of view IMO. What argument supports that?

Here is my take on it. If you explore chord forms you will find that many of the different chords within a key have IDENTICAL shape when moved across strings. A case in point is the minor ii-V-i which is usually ii-7(b5) --> V7 --> i-7. Believe it or not these are all identical in shape in one position in standard tuning. One can find other examples common to classical, flamenco, jazz in major and minor keys. Many guitarists seem obsessed with having all of one type of chord (e.g. all Maj, all min, etc) be the same shape everywhere on the guitar but in fact that does not help make them easier to play (unless you're playing power chords only). To be able to play all three chords in a ii->V->I sequence with the same shape is far more advantageous since these chords will always (very likely to be fair) show up in a group. This makes playing over the chords easy as well since the same scale patterns translate across the strings with the same fingering. For me this became apparent the more I studied Latin Jazz and Spanish classical guitar music. I think the standard tuning is very well suited for those genres. And again, alt tuning is called for even in 150 yo music so that should be considered too.

  • Reminds me of all the guitar music by Classical-/Romantic-era composers like Fernando Sor that specifically calls to tune the 6th string down one whole tone--i.e. use Drop D tuning. Quite a few of those pieces actually use the low D now made playable this way. – Dekkadeci 2 days ago
  • Yes, Capricio Arab has drop D tuning. – ggcg 2 days ago
2

I would suggest that you try out the tuning, and see what happens. You don't even need to do this on a real instrument, you can just work it out on paper.

One immediate problem I see is that the open E chord gets a lot messier. In standard tuning:

 E

But in EADGCE:

 %0/0.2/2.2/3.1/1.4/4.0/0

That E-shape chord is an absolute staple, and now you can't even play a basic major chord with a barre due to running out of fingers.

The fundamental "problem" of guitar is that there are more strings than fingers, so we need the tuning to help us out if we want to play 5- or 6-string chords. One of the main benefits of standard tuning is that two of the notes are the same, plus one is a fifth above, so barring takes care of three strings with one finger.

Now, you might notice that in EADGCE, you have four strings that are part of a single chord: C major. Thus, it results in an easily moveable C-shape chord. But this voicing is inferior, plus it makes the major third an open string so you can't easily convert this shape to minor.

1

Stanley Jordan famously tunes his guitar in 4ths, i.e. EADGCF, which makes chord and scale shapes the same all over the fretboard. In the second video linked below, at around 13 minutes in, he explains the pros and cons of this tuning.

He mentioned somewhere else that it took him about one month to become completely familiar with the new tuning after switching from the standard one. But after that adjustment period, at least for him, everything was easier than before.

(Edit) Stanley Jordan starter pack:

  • 1
    Stanley also really committed to it. IIRC Stanley said that the frets work more like a piano and I think "Stanley Jordan trio live paris" is more informative regarding this. The double guitar performances have a tendency to mystify non-musicians. I mean Stanley is incredible, but the double hand technique (playing counterpoint) of piano is the main inspiration. ( youtube.com/watch?v=p9Ae3R6QP6c ) – Yorik yesterday
0

Well, just for a start, in standard tuning you have an inverted major triad on the D/G/B strings, and an inverted minor triad on G/B/E. This already makes many things easier.

Given that the most common scales that we use are themselves non-symmetrical, there is really no reason to think that tuning the guitar symmetrically will make anything easier. It will probably make it worse.

It's a musical instrument, not a computer. Note that the piano itself also has an irregular layout. The only instruments I can think of that are symmetrical are four stringed ones - but on many of those (violin family) you rarely play a full chord, and on others (banjo etc) you have more fingers than strings, which shifts the odds in your favour for chordal playing.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.