Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Stringed instrument tunings

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In articles on stringed instruments and related topics, information on the tuning of the strings is very often included. The formatting of this information raises some surprisingly tricky issues, as the conventions adopted elsewhere are not terribly consistent.

Details and rationale

The listing of strings starting nearest the player, the numbering starting furthest away, and the listing of the gauges of string sets in the order of numbering, are all well-established conventions, applicable to all stringed instruments.

This is somewhat inconsistent and confuses many, but Wikipedia is not in the position to change these conventions, and arguably would be involved in advocacy were we to try. And the other problem would be, which to change? The listing of the strings of a guitar say, from lowest to highest, left to right, follows the natural and established pattern of any guitar chord chart. On the other hand, the numbering is used in every guitar method, and follows naturally from tablature. So changing either presents an enormous set of problems, and it is not clear which is the smaller set. Some proponents of change argue one way, some the other.

The listing of string gauges in Wikipedia articles is relatively rare when compared to tunings, but when it occurs it compounds the problem. Most if not all string manufacturers list their string sets starting with the first string, and this convention is generally followed elsewhere.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no consistent convention for the listing of strings in sequence on the music staff, some following the convention of following the order in which the string tunings are normally listed, others the order in which they are numbered.

Listing strings in text

Strings are listed starting with the string nearest the player.

Depending on the context, sometimes it is sufficient merely to name the notes, as in E–A–D–G–B–E for the guitar. The notes should be named by uppercase letters, and separated by dashes. Sharp and flat signs are placed immediately after the note name, for example B or F, as indicated by Wikipedia:Manual of Style (music)#Accidentals.

If the octave is also to be indicated, use either Helmholtz pitch notation, as in E–A–d–g–b–e′ for the guitar, or scientific pitch notation, as in E2–A2–D3–G3–B3–E4. Although the expert will instantly recognise either of these for what it is, for the benefit of the general reader a link should be provided to the Wikipedia article on whichever notation is used. Either notation is equally acceptable, but within a single article one should be chosen and then used consistently, similarly to American versus British English.

The subprime symbol required for octaves below middle C in Helmholtz notation can be produced by <sub><small>I</small></sub> which produces I, for example the C below middle C is CI and the C an octave below that is CII.

In the case of coursed instruments such as the twelve-string guitar, courses should be separated by dashes, and string notes adjacent, so the twelve-string guitar tuned to octave G tuning is eE–aA–d′d–g′g–bb–e′e′ in Helmholtz notation.

Non-standard notations that may be confused with either Helmholtz or scientific pitch notation should be avoided. For example, the twelve-string unison and octave G tunings are sometimes given as eE–aA–dD–GG–BB–EE and eE–aA–dD–gG–BB–EE respectively (or many, many other variations of this). It is far better to use a standard, formal notation.

Numbering of strings

Strings are numbered starting with the string furthest from the player. All strings are numbered, so for example the string closest to the player of a twelve-string guitar is always string twelve, and never "string six secondary" or similar constructions.

In the context of instruments that possess at least one multi-string course, a single string normally played on its own may also be called a course. Courses should be numbered if necessary in the same way as individual strings, starting with the course furthest from the player, thus a twelve-string guitar has courses numbered from one to six, while a nine-string baroque guitar has courses numbered from one to five.

It can be tricky. For example, the octave string of the sixth course of a twelve-string guitar is most commonly string twelve, but in the case of the Rickenbacker 360/12 it is string eleven, because of the unusual standard tuning of this particular (and very important) guitar model. An article that referred particularly to the octave string of this pair and applied to all twelve-string guitars would need to be very carefully worded.

Use the simplest wording or numbering that is both precise and accurate. A person reading about a six-string guitar doesn't need to be told about courses.

String gauges

String gauges are always listed in the order in which the strings are conventionally numbered, rather than the order in which the pitches are conventionally listed, so for example a typical light set for electric guitar would be .009-.011-.016-.024w-.032w-.042w.

This ordering may lead to confusing inconsistency within an article, if string pitches and gauges are listed in the same article. One way around this is to use a table. Another is to insert a phrase such as "lowest to highest" adjacent to the pitch listing; The order in the case of string gauges is relatively obvious. A third is to list both pitch and gauge together, such as .009(E)-.011(B)-.016(G)-.024w(D)-.032w(A)-.042w(E).

But the best solution is a table, listing string number, string gauge and pitch or pitch range as three rows or three columns. Either orientation can work, and either order, but within any article, it's best to be consistent. Choose an order and orientation and stick to it.

If in doubt, the recommended orientation is to have the string number as the leftmost column, and the first string as the top row. This avoids having either order across the page, and so is consistent with either convention for listing pitches in music notation, and with listing either string pitches or gauges conventionally.

The main problem with this format is that it may lead to narrow, tall tables. It may be better to use a different format for article appearance. On the other hand, bear in mind that other readers have different browsers and screen sizes to yours. The recommended format works acceptably in most cases.

Sometimes there may be more than three things to list, for example if there are several alternative tunings for a single stringing, or several common gauges of string. The recommended format copes well with these cases, and with combining what would otherwise be several tables into one.

Gauges are given in imperial measure, either in inches or in thou. Within a single article, either inch measure or thou measure should be used consistently. In either case the unit may be omitted, and again either way this should be consistent throughout the article.

Often only the top and bottom gauges are given. In this case the top string is listed first, as in the .017-.095w string set for the baritone guitar.

Wound strings are shown by the suffix w added to the gauge. For example, a wound string of 32 thou diameter may be called 32w or .032w depending on whether thou or inch measure is used in the article.

If all strings mentioned in an article are wound, for example on a bass guitar, the w suffix may be omitted so long as this is consistently done throughout the article, but this is not generally recommended. If any string gauges within the article include plain (unwound) strings, then the w suffix should be shown for all wound strings.


Use of musical notation

See also Wikipedia:Manual of Style (music)#Images.

The most common way to represent the string tunings of many instruments is by a chord with all strings open.

For instruments with many closely tuned strings, this is impractical, and for those with reentrant tunings it is positively misleading, so an arpeggio style may be used instead, spreading the string tunings. Recognising this, some writers prefer to use arpeggio style for all instruments. An issue then arises, should the strings be listed in the order in which they are conventionally listed in the text, or in the order in which they conventionally numbered?

Either order is acceptable, provided:

  • It is made clear which order is being used.
  • One order or the other should be consistently followed within any one article.

The pitch should be indicated by a note shape with a solid body but no tail, indicating that the duration of the note is unspecified.


Listing of strings

  • Slack-key guitar#Techniques and tunings lists just the note names, which is adequate for the context.
  • Ukulele#Sizes gives tunings in Helmholtz notation, which is then used consistently in the following section on tunings.
  • Six-string alto guitar gives a list of string pitches including F♯.

Numbering of strings and courses

  • Strings (music)#Gauge numbers the strings of several instruments.

Listing of string gauges

  • Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom lists the string gauges as 25-35-45-55-75-95; All are wound.
  • Baritone guitar simply describes the gauges as the range from top to bottom.

Musical notation

Tunings, stringings, scordaturas and setups

There are four closely related terms that should be used with care:

  • A tuning is a sequence of pitches to which the strings are tuned.
  • A stringing is a set of string gauges (and very occasionally other string parameters) that support one or more tunings. Just as many stringings support more than one tuning, so for many tunings there is more than one common stringing.
  • A scordatura is s retuning that does not require changing stringing or setup. Most instruments have a standard tuning and stringing, and all other tunings that may be accommodated without changing the strings are scordaturas. Likewise, a particular stringing may have a standard tuning, and all other tunings of this stringing are scordaturas. If there is no standard tuning, then the term scordatura is not applicable.
  • A setup is a stringing, tuning, and associated modifications that do not change the fundamental nature of the instrument. Typically, these involve adjustments to the head nut and bridge to suit the stringing, but they may be far more extensive. For example, a Stradivarius violin cannot accept the modern concert stringing and tuning with the original bass bar. However with either the original or a replacement bass bar, it remains a violin.

Choice of a particular tuning implies a suitable stringing and setup, so for example if a pedal steel guitar is described as having E9 tuning this also implies an E9 string set and copedent.

In many cases several related tunings share a common name, either for different instruments or the same one. For example, open G tuning has a different meaning depending on whether the instrument is a steel guitar or a resonator guitar. C6 tuning can mean any of four common tunings just for six-string lap steel guitar, as well as others for other instruments.

See also

External links

  • A proposal to reverse the traditional numbering, something to be aware of, and not the only one by any means...
  • Discusses violin (fiddle) tunings and concludes: So, conventional string numbering is undeniably backwards. This is pointed out in the guitar section as well; the string numbering for guitars follows the same woefully backwards convention. Until the seemingly inevitable happens and this is changed, we're stuck with it. Meanwhile, tunings read left to right.
  • Accepts the standard. Not everyone wants to change the world.
  • Another guitar method using the standard numbering.
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Stringed instrument tunings"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA