Guitar String Frequencies: The Science of Shredding

Whenever you strum the strings of a guitar, you are engaging with a fundamental aspect of music: frequencies. Every note you play has a corresponding numerical frequency. How do frequencies work? The sounds produced by a guitar result from string vibrations that create standing waves. These waves reflect back and forth between the fixed points at either end of the string. The frequency of these vibrations determines the pitch you hear, with each string on a guitar tuned to resonate at a specific base frequency when played open.
Continue reading to learn all of the guitar string frequencies!

Frequencies are the most fundamental aspect of music. Whenever you press your strings against the fret board, you alter length of the string, changing the frequency and creating different pitches.

The standard tuning of a guitar’s open strings begins with the low E note, vibrating at about 82.4 Hz, and ranges to a higher E note, typically at about 330 Hz. These vibrations are not just single frequencies, though—they comprise a complex interaction resulting in overtones that ring together to play a note.

How Physics Manipulates Sound

When you pluck a string, physics and musical principles come together to generate a tone with a certain pitch, determined by factors such as wavelength, tension, and string mass.


When you interact with a guitar string, you’re engaging with the physics of sound and vibration. Vibrations translate into sound waves that travel through the air to your ears. A guitar string creates a standing wave pattern when plucked. This pattern is characterized by areas of minimal movement called nodes and areas of maximum movement called antinodes. The frequency of vibration determines the pitch of the note you hear.

Guitar String Tension

Each string on your guitar has a length determined by the distance between the nut and the bridge—two critical points that anchor the string at either end of the guitar’s body. The string gauge—or thickness—and the string tension also influence the frequency. Thicker strings with more mass typically produce lower notes, while thinner strings produce higher notes. The string tension can be adjusted via the tuning machines; increasing tension raises the pitch, while decreasing it lowers the pitch.

String Mass

A standard-tuned 6-string guitar has open strings that, from thickest to thinnest, are usually tuned to the notes E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, and E4. the ‘open’ term indicates that the string vibrates from the nut to the bridge without any fingers pressing the string on the fretboard. In standard tuning, the low E string (E2) typically vibrates at about 82.41 Hz, and the high E string (E4) at about 329.63 Hz, with the other strings falling in specific frequencies in between.

Understanding Pitch and Frequency

When you pluck a guitar string, you create vibrations that produce sound. The pitch of these sounds is directly related to the frequency of the vibrations: higher frequencies produce higher pitches, and lower frequencies yield lower pitches.

Frequency and Pitch Relationship

Frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz) and signifies how many times a wave completes a cycle in one second. Pitch is how high or low you perceive a sound to be, determined by the frequency. For instance, the traditional tuning frequency for the note A above middle C is 440 Hz. As you move up an octave, the frequency doubles, so this A note’s octave higher has a frequency of 880 Hz.

Harmonics and Overtones

The fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency of a musical note and is perceived as the main pitch. However, when a guitar string vibrates, it also produces higher frequencies called harmonic frequencies. These create the distinct timbre of the note, adding richness to the sound. The first harmonic, or fundamental tone, doubles the fundamental frequency, while subsequent harmonics are integer multiples of this fundamental frequency. For example, if the fundamental frequency is 330 Hz, the second harmonic will be 660 Hz (2 x 330 Hz), and the third harmonic will be 990 Hz (3 x 330 Hz).

Technical Aspects of Guitar Strings

Understanding the technical aspects of guitar strings is crucial for achieving the desired sound and playability from your instrument. Specific factors such as tuning, string gauge, and action directly influence the tension and, consequently, the performance of a guitar.


For your guitar to produce the correct pitch, each string must be tuned to a specific frequency. Standard tuning from the lowest (thickest) to the highest (thinnest) string is typically E-A-D-G-B-E. The tension of each string must be adjusted until it reaches the pitch that corresponds to these notes. Alternative tunings, like open tunings or drop C tuning, require adjustments to the string tension to accommodate the different pitches.

String Gauge

The string gauge, or the thickness of the strings, plays an integral role in tension. Thicker strings (higher string gauge) will generally require more tension to reach the same pitch as thinner strings. Lighter gauge strings are easier to play and bend, while heavier gauges provide more volume and sustain. Here’s a brief comparison:

  • Light Gauge: Less tension, easier playing, less volume
  • Heavy Gauge: More tension, louder volume, harder to play

Action and Playability

The guitar’s action, or the distance between the strings and the fretboard, is affected by both the height of the bridge and string tension. Optimal action allows for comfortable playing without buzz, but it’s a delicate balance; too low, and you may encounter fret buzz, too high, and the guitar can be challenging to play. Adjusting the string tension can sometimes affect the action, requiring a reassessment to ensure the guitar remains easy to play.

Advanced Concepts in String Frequencies

Advanced concepts in string frequencies involve precise calculations and an understanding of how standing waves form and behave. Your grasp of the variables involved will deepen your comprehension of how string instruments like guitars produce specific pitches.

Calculations and Frequency Equations

The frequency at which a guitar string vibrates is determined by a foundational equation: f = (1/2L) * √(T/μ), where f is the frequency, L is the string’s length, T is the tension, and μ is the linear density of the string. The frequency is inversely proportional to the string length – halve the length, and the frequency doubles, which is an octave higher in musical terms.

For a standard guitar string tuned to A (110 Hz), the relationship between tension and frequency becomes crucial when you change tuning or string gauge. Adjustments in tension will directly affect the frequency.

Example Frequency Calculation:


Using the equation:

f = (1/2*0.65) * √(80/0.01) ≈ 110 Hz

Standing Waves on Strings

When plucking a guitar string, you create standing waves that are a combination of multiple frequencies. The points of zero amplitude are called nodes, and the points of maximum amplitude are called antinodes.

Standing Wave Pattern Representation:

  • Nodes (N): Points of no displacement
  • Antinodes (A): Points of maximum displacement

The fundamental frequency produces a standing wave with minimum nodes (two, at each end of the string). For harmonic frequencies, count the number of antinodes to determine the harmonic order. The second harmonic (first overtone) will have one additional node and antinode, and so on.

By understanding the length-wavelength relationship and how to identify a standing wave pattern, you effectively link the physical properties of a string to the sound it produces. Mastery of these concepts allows you to predict and influence the tonal qualities of a guitar.

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