How to Tune a Short Scale Guitar: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Tune a Short Scale Guitar
Written by Corey Morgan

Short scale guitars are a popular choice for players who prefer a smaller instrument or have smaller hands. However, to tune a short scale guitar can be a bit tricky, especially if you’re used to tuning a standard scale guitar. Tuning a short scale guitar requires a different approach due to the shorter length of the strings.

One of the biggest challenges when tuning a short scale guitar is maintaining proper tension on the strings. Because the strings are shorter, they will require less tension to reach the same pitch as a standard scale guitar.

This can make it difficult to get the strings to stay in tune, especially if you’re not used to the different tension levels.

Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you tune your short scale guitar with ease. By following some simple steps and using the right tools, you can ensure that your guitar is in tune and ready to play.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the best methods for tuning a short scale guitar, as well as some common pitfalls to avoid.

Understanding Short Scale Guitars

What is a Short Scale Guitar?

Short scale guitars are instruments with a shorter distance between the bridge and the nut than regular guitars. The scale length is the distance between the nut and the bridge, and it determines the tension, feel, and tone of the strings.

Short scale guitars have a scale length of less than 25.5 inches, which is the standard scale length for most electric guitars. Short scale guitars are often favored by players with smaller hands, as they require less stretching to reach the notes.

They are also popular in certain genres of music, such as blues and jazz, where a warmer, mellower tone is preferred.

Why Tune a Short Scale Guitar Differently?

Short scale guitars require less tension to bring the strings up to pitch than longer scale guitars. This means that they can be tuned to different pitches without compromising the playability or tone of the instrument.

Some short scale guitars, such as the Tacoma Papoose or original Baby Taylor, are designed to be tuned to A (standard tuning with a capo at the 5th fret) or F respectively.

However, most short scale guitars can be tuned to standard E tuning or any other alternate tuning without any issues. It is important to note that tuning a short scale guitar to a lower pitch than standard E will result in looser strings and a more relaxed feel, while tuning it to a higher pitch will result in tighter strings and a more tense feel.

Players should experiment with different tunings to find the one that suits their playing style and preferences. In summary, short scale guitars offer a unique playing experience and can be tuned to different pitches without sacrificing tone or playability.

Tuning a Short Scale Guitar

Choosing the Right Strings

When it comes to choosing the right strings for a short scale guitar, it’s important to consider the scale length and the desired tuning.

Short scale guitars typically have a scale length of 22.75 inches or less, which means they require lighter gauge strings to maintain proper tension and intonation.

For standard tuning, a set of light gauge strings with a gauge range of .010-.046 should work well for most short scale guitars.

However, if you plan on tuning your guitar to a lower pitch or using alternate tunings, you may need to experiment with different string gauges to find the right balance of tension and tone.

Tuning Techniques

Tuning a short scale guitar can be a bit trickier than tuning a standard scale guitar due to the shorter string length. Here are a few techniques to help you get your short scale guitar in tune:

Use a chromatic tuner:

A chromatic tuner is a great tool for tuning any guitar, but it can be especially helpful for short scale guitars. Simply clip the tuner onto the headstock of your guitar and pluck each string one at a time.

The tuner will display the note you’re playing and indicate whether it’s sharp or flat. Adjust the tuning pegs until the tuner indicates that the note is in tune.

Tune by ear:

If you have a good ear for pitch, you can also tune your short scale guitar by ear. Start by tuning the low E string to the correct pitch, then use the 5th fret method to tune the remaining strings.

Press down on the 5th fret of the low E string and pluck it, then pluck the open A string. Adjust the tuning pegs on the A string until it matches the pitch of the 5th fret on the low E string. Repeat this process for the remaining strings.

Common Tunings for Short Scale Guitars

Short scale guitars are often used for playing in alternate tunings due to their unique tonal characteristics. Here are a few common tunings for short scale guitars:

Open G

This tuning is popular among blues and slide guitar players. Tune the guitar to D-G-D-G-B-D, with the low D string tuned down to G.

Drop D

This tuning is commonly used in rock and metal music. Tune the low E string down to D, then tune the remaining strings to standard tuning.


This tuning is popular among folk and acoustic guitar players. Tune the guitar to D-A-D-G-A-D, with the low D string tuned down to A.

Overall, tuning a short scale guitar requires a bit of patience and experimentation, but with the right strings and techniques, you can achieve great results.

Tips and Tricks

Maintaining Tuning Stability

Short scale guitars are known for their tendency to lose tuning stability. Here are some tips to keep your guitar in tune:

  • Stretch your strings after installing them. This will help them settle into place and reduce the amount of stretching they will do during playing, which can cause them to go out of tune.
  • Use high-quality strings. Cheap strings are more likely to stretch and go out of tune quickly.
  • Use a lubricant on the nut and bridge saddles to reduce friction and help strings return to their original position after bending or stretching.
  • Check your intonation regularly. Poor intonation can cause tuning issues, so make sure your guitar is properly set up.

Alternate Tunings

Short scale guitars can be tuned to a variety of alternate tunings, but some may require adjustments to the guitar’s setup. Here are some popular alternate tunings and tips for tuning your short scale guitar to them:

Tuning String Notes Adjustments Needed
Dropped D D A D G B E None
Open G D G D G B D Loosen the tension on the low E string and tune it down to D. Tune the A string down to G. Tune the high E string down to D.
Open D D A D F# A D Tune the G string up to A. Tune the B string up to D. Tune the high E string up to F#.

Remember to always tune up to the desired pitch, rather than tuning down. This will reduce the amount of stress on your guitar’s neck and help maintain tuning stability.


Overall, tuning a short scale guitar requires the same basic principles as tuning a regular guitar. However, there are some important differences that should be kept in mind.

First, it is important to remember that the shorter scale length of a short scale guitar means that it requires less tension to reach concert pitch than a longer scale guitar. This can result in a looser feel, making bending and vibrato more fluid. However, it can also lead to intonation issues, especially with lower-priced instruments.

Second, when tuning a short scale guitar, it is important to use a chromatic digital tuning device or phone app to ensure accuracy. Tuning to A starting with the fattest string (normally low E and technically the 6th string) can be a good option, but tuning to G can also work for less string tension.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that short scale guitars may be more affected by fret buzz and may require adjustments to the truss rod to maintain proper relief. As with any instrument, regular maintenance and care can help ensure optimal performance and longevity.