Guitar strings appear designed to confuse and frustrate
the neophyte. The highest string is the lowest in pitch.
The “first string” is the lowest. That is the highest.
This reminds me of chemistry where “reduction is gain.”
The sequence of strings is EADGBE – with the first
four intervals being 4ths and the last one a third.
Why EADGBE? Physical comfort and musical convenience.
“The guitar is a larger-scaled instrument which is played sitting in one’s lap,” Lloyd wrote. “Even though the cello is a larger instrument than the violin, it is played with the neck vertically, which allows the hand to have a little bit easier time reaching for notes. With the guitar sitting in the lap and the neck diagonal to the player, the bend in the wrist starts to make it more difficult to spread out the fingers. So our next best choice for tuning any larger scaled multi-stringed instrument is going to be to tune in fourths, which are a little closer together. On a guitar, a person with a normal-sized hand can reasonably be expected to sound the major third with the pinkie finger while holding down the tonic with the index finger. So it makes sense that the next string should be the fourth.”
Lloyd also astutely pointed out that if six-string guitars were tuned completely in perfect fourths, you’d wind up with a harmonically discordant arrangement of (low to high) EADGCF. You can see the problem there—E and F are only a half step apart, imposing a naturally irritating interval of a minor second. “This is a god-awful interval,” Lloyd wrote. “And threatens to sour the whole thing.”
Related tidbits: the highest pitched strings are the thinnest; the frets are positioned logarithmically; custom strings are used to make playing barre chords easier – reducing the “gauge” (thickness) and the “action” (distance between string and fret board).
YOUR TURN: please share your frustrations with the technical oddities of any instrument.