General Question

TexasDude's avatar

How do I tune a Spanish (classical) guitar?

Asked by TexasDude (25199 points ) October 11th, 2010

Is there something I’m missing here? I just recently dusted off my old Alvarez Spanish guitar and restrung it. Now I can’t figure out how to tune it. My tuner won’t register the notes and I’ve tried tuning it by ear using my electric (which I play regularly and is in tune) but I can’t get the Spanish guitar to match. I managed to get the “a” string in tune, and I tried to tune it by ear from there, but the high “e” string wouldn’t go high enough without feeling like it was going to snap, and the rest of the strings still sounded way too low.

When I finally got all of the strings relatively tuned (except for the high “e”) the sound was really low, rumbly, and muddy, but I can’t tune it any higher.

What could I be doing wrong? The guitar was properly stored, the neck isn’t warped, and it’s not a super low quality guitar. My strings are high quality too.

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24 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Guitar tuning is the same for almost alll guitars ( not so for slack key and modal ). The tuning should be for Standard Guitar Tuning, E, A, D, G, B, E. What type of tuner are you using?

TexasDude's avatar

@Tropical_Willie, I’m using a standard digital tuner. The same kind I use to tune my electric. When you pluck a string, the tuner is supposed to register the note, so you can adjust accordingly. It barely reads the tone on my Alvarez.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

What are you using to get the tone to the tuner? Is it on the headstock or somewhere else in contact with the instrument?
Sorry more questions.

TexasDude's avatar

@Tropical_Willie, you’re fine. Questions are good. It’s the kind that you clip onto the headstock so it can read the vibrations. It works perfectly on my electric, but it gives me all kinds of mixed results with my Alvarez. Sometimes it will say the D string is an A, then it says it is a D the next time I pluck it, and then it won’t even read it. That’s why I wondered if I was doing something wrong. I can’t get my Spanish guitar to sound right. I can’t get a single string to the right tuning, and the whole thing sounds way too low, but if I tune it any higher, it feels like the strings are about to break.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

More questions . . . How does the acoustic sound side by side with your electric?

And is the tuner tight on the headstock or is it moving ( touching gearing ) ? ?

TexasDude's avatar

The acoustic sounds muddy, low-pitched, and dark. The tuners are indeed tight.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

It maybe the difference caused by amp and effect on the electric. The muddy sound could be the type of core on the acoustic. Is it nylon or gut?
Also the electric may have FLAT wound strings. This would cause a different sound and same note on both instruments.

I think the difference maybe only the instruments.

perg's avatar

Is it possible that the nut or bridge have become distorted? Also, since you just put on new strings, it’s possible that they’re still loosening up.

harple's avatar

It is quite normal for a tuner to mistake a note for one of it’s harmonics… (when you play a note, many other sounds occur at the same time, each one a 5th above the former, so the tuner “hearing” an A when you’ve played a D is not out of the ordinary…)

Do you know how to tune by ear once you’ve got one of you strings in tune? (I don’t wish to teach you to suck eggs!)

TexasDude's avatar

@harple, yep, I can tune by ear once I get one string in tune.

@Tropical_Willie, the strings on my acoustic are nylon.

@perg, the bridge and nut are fine. The guitar itself is in pristine condition. You may be right about the strings, though.

lillycoyote's avatar

Tune your fiddle @Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard, then use that as a reference to tune the guitar. Or if you have some other instrument around to use as a reference, or a tuning fork, or a harmonica, you’re got to have something. People tuned instruments successfully for centuries without electronic tuners. :-)

TexasDude's avatar

@lillycoyote, fiddle is an octave or two higher than guitar. I’ve already tried this method with my electric. Thanks though.

Also, it is important to note that I was trying to tune my acoustic to match my electric with the electric unplugged.

DeanV's avatar

It may be that your tuner is not picking up the right notes through the headstock of your classical, which usually have more open space than electrics or nylon string guitars.
Could you try a tuner that doesn’t attach to the guitar?

lillycoyote's avatar

@zen_ Excellent, my dear Captain!!! I forgot all about the internet guitar tuners!!

Here’s another.

lillycoyote's avatar

And here’s a site that claims to show you a way to tune your guitar using touch tone phone.

josie's avatar

Make sure the tuner is set at A=440 cycles/sec. That is the standard. I have several tuners, and some of them allow “relative” tuning, so that all the strings are right with each other, but they may actually be too high or too low compared to the standard.

TexasDude's avatar

Okay guys. Thanks for all the great answers.

I had some of my music major friends have a look at it and none of them could figure it out.

Finally, we realized that it has been strung wrong and the strings were slipping at the tuners and not able to go any higher than they were.

lillycoyote's avatar

Well, very good Now_a_Spanish_Guitar_Playing_Creole_Bastard. Glad you got it figured out.

zen_'s avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard That would have been my guess – but as you weren’t giving any information (not your fault , of course) I didn’t bother to hypothesize.

I’m sure you’ve learned a lesson or two – as we usually learn more from “mistakes” than from success.

To summarize: When in doubt, spend the 10 bucks on a new set of strings, and ask the guy at the guitar store to string ‘em – checking the neck and frets while doing it. In the very least, keep an extra set of strings with you – and find the kind you like, and buy 5 sets – then you’ll get used to the sound they make – plus not have to restring 6 if only one breaks (smart, eh?).

Happy plucking.

Here’s something to aspire to

TexasDude's avatar

@zen_, cool video. Thanks.

zen_'s avatar

Oh, they be the best.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard I had a similar experience when “Santa” got my daughter a violin and cello last Christmas. It was a multi-instrument tuner (cello, violin, guitar, bass and also chromatic). It seemed unable to find the note the strings were tuned to. I finally gave up with the electronics and ended up tuning the instruments to the tone by ear.

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