Problem with barre chords: can they actually be perfectly in tune on an electric?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Hypnagogist, May 21, 2015.

  1. Hypnagogist

    Hypnagogist Member

    Apr 28, 2015
    Hi everyone.

    I've always been struggling with barre chords, mostly the E major and E minor shaped ones, and I've always found ways to cheat or avoid playing them (playing them with the thumb over the neck or moving my index finger so that it's not pressing the strings that are already fretted by other fingers in front of it). But now, I'm finally learning to do a full barre with my index finger. My objective is to have all six strings ring out. I'm really close to doing it, but the B string falls right under a crease on my finger so it's either not ringing out or buzzing a little.

    I'm learning on an electric and I have another issue: I have to press really hard for the B string to ring out, so much that the G string (and to a lesser extent the high E string) is bent out of tune. I can see it when I plug into a tuner, it's slightly sharp. As I said, I play on an electric so the G string is not wound and can be easily bent out of tune if you don't have a light touch.
    Of course, the guitar is properly intonated and the nut slots are cut deep enough. A guitar tech checked it recently. I can't blame it on the gear. I use 10-52s, by the way.
    I tried moving my finger a little so that the crease falls under the G string. It's barely ringing but at least it's in tune. But now the high E string is slightly sharp!

    What can I do, besides switching to a wound G and say goodbye to bending on this string? I'm actually wondering if barre chords can ever be perfectly in tune on an electric guitar because of that f****** unwound G string. I'm asking this to the guys who have mastered the mystical arts of the barre chords: if you play one into a tuner, is it REALLY in tune?

  2. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

    Dec 29, 2009
  3. Tommy Biggs

    Tommy Biggs Member

    Jun 8, 2010
    North Jersey
    Just keep doing it. You are really close - you will get there.

    Maybe try a lighter touch - remember that the amount of force holding the string down is not really the ultimate determinant of sustain or 'tone'.

    My suggestion is to play some songs using these 'difficult' chords over and over. All the way through, just keep bashing them out. You just need to invest the hours. It sounds as though this may give you some blisters and sore hands - it also sounds like you are due for some of that.
    At the end of 2 weeks you will be surprised at your ability to control those chords and your expressiveness.

    Good luck and bon courage!
  4. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Jan 8, 2007
    Close to the burn zone
    You may not like my response,,
    90 to 95% of the time a huge six string barre chord is not what I want to play. It's too much for electric. Smaller two, three and four string chords work better for creative chord playing. That means your fretting hand will move around lots more with smaller chords. But that's a good thing.

    Unless you want to strum Johnny Cash or similar folk/rock things on an electric, I highly recommend the smaller chord thing.

  5. RLD

    RLD Member

    Aug 16, 2010
    The guitar is never perfectly in tune.
    Its a compromise...that is the nature of the instrument.
    Some people have sensitive hearing and it can be bothersome...others not so much.
    As your playing experience grows you'll find a way to tune the instrument that makes it bearable.
    It's not just you...check this out.

    Just one way of doing it...find what works for you.
    rublalup likes this.
  6. rublalup

    rublalup Member

    Oct 23, 2009
    never tried this... make so much sense. thanks for sharing
  7. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
    Barre chords are a huge part of my playing (albeit not for the chords that many people associate with a barre). It can be an incredibly useful tool in playing complex chords and difficult chord shapes. To improve intonation with a barre, try pulling your thumb around the back of the neck on the center line. Bend your wrist lightly and keep your. index finger parallel to both the frets and the surface of the fingerboard as it come down to make contact with the strings. Press much more lightly than you have been and trust that the hand position and the light bend in your wrist will give you sufficient downward pressure, especially on the B and high E strings.
  8. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

    Jan 8, 2007
    Close to the burn zone
    So op, just what style of music are you planning on playing? That would be some great info for all us out here in wondering land.
    Last edited: May 21, 2015
  9. JonR

    JonR Member

    Sep 24, 2007
    Straighten your finger more, so that the B and E together sit under the bony part of the joint. Or - if you can't get rid of that crease - move your finger further across the neck.
    Right. So you need to correct that pressure on the B string - find a hand position where you need less pressure. (No sin to use the thumb if that helps.)
    Your 10s ought to be fine (not too light) so, assuming your action is reasonably low (that set up is good), it's definitely a pressure issue.

    Of course, what the others say about tuning is quite correct: it's always a compromise on guitar. If you tune so that one chord sounds exactly right, another probably won't.
    It's also true that you rarely need complete barre 6-string barre chords.
  10. RJLII

    RJLII Member

    Aug 5, 2009
    :agree It took me a while to wrap my head around the chord fragment thing, but I'm glad I did.
  11. old goat

    old goat Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Donner Lake
    I agree, for most kinds of music.
    As far as trouble playing clean barre's--OP, how long have you been at it. It's partly a matter of hand strength. If you've been at it for years and still having no luck a 7.25 radius neck might help, as the radius matches the natural curve of the finger better than modern necks. Otherwise keep at it and your hand will get stronger.
    As far as notes going sharp higher up the fret board--sometimes it's a matter of high frets and too much pressure--the combination stretches the string. If you're really mashing on the strings to try to get that B clean you may be overfretting the E. Again, the small radius neck might help you fret the B cleanly without overfretting the E.
  12. The_Whale

    The_Whale Member

    Jul 15, 2004
    Gaithersburg, MD
    You can set the set the intonation of any particular string while fretting that bar chord.

    If (say) your fretted B string is sharp while fretting a B chord at the 7th fret, set the intonation of the B string while fretting that entire B chord.
  13. muzishun

    muzishun Member

    Dec 9, 2014
    Sorry, wrote an in depth response, lost.

    So to get right to my point (great responses!, take heed), I will say very often, it is a matter of pushing too hard!!!!
  14. brad347

    brad347 Member

    Feb 8, 2006
    Brooklyn, NY
    Guitars are difficult when it comes to getting chords "perfectly" in tune (also there are, of course, a few different types of "perfect"-- equal temperament, just tuning, etc).

    If you're new to barre chords, you might be applying a lot of pressure. This can cause tuning issues in a few ways-- neck deflection (where you actually are unwittingly bending a back-bow into the neck by fretting so hard that you yank it toward you... surprisingly easy to do!) is one. Another is, particularly with tall frets, yanking the string sharp using the fret as a fulcrum. The taller your frets, the more of a problem this becomes-- it's almost as though you had a scalloped fretboard.

    Regarding the video above-- I have immense respect for James Taylor as a writer, player, and artist. However, the tuning compromise he outlines in that video is not a panacea. In some keys, and with some playing styles, it will not likely work very well. It seems designed to make the most out of first-position type of playing, which Mr. Taylor employs a lot. I favor tuning up in standard tuning and using my ears at all times to adjust my touch for optimal tuning.
  15. fr8_trane

    fr8_trane Member

    Jan 20, 2005
    New Brunswick, NJ
    While this is definitely true a beginner NEEDS to learn how play barre chords correctly before discarding them in favor of partial chords. I have yet to meet any accomplished player that CAN'T play barre chords. Its something everyone just needs to work through. Its a foundational technique.
  16. gennation

    gennation Member

    Feb 25, 2006
    Grand Rapids, MI
    The reason most rock players can't get their barre chords intonated like their favorite players do is because they are laying them wrong.

    Not sure if it's been mentioned but one of the best things you can do for playing barre chords in famous rock tunes is to lose the barre and use you thumb, finger, and muting instead.

    It helps your fretting hand "naturally" give you the nuanced intonation you hear so many other players have on classic tunes.

    For instance, instead of playing G as a full barre play it this way with the thumb and fingers:


    It cuts out the clutter and bad intonation experienced. It also gives you the correct position that so many great rhythm parts/players used...from Jimi, Keith, Jimmy, Townshend, etc...all the way into jazz like Metheny, McLaughlin, etc... Just go to google and look those players up and you'll see they use barre chords all the time but rarely ever use that full barre.
  17. Bossanova

    Bossanova Member

    Sep 29, 2014
    Washington, DC
  18. JCW308

    JCW308 Supporting Member

    May 24, 2010
    Pressing more lightly was the trick for me. Just like an electric guitar capo. Too tight = out of tune. For me at least....
  19. LagunaMan

    LagunaMan Member

    Sep 13, 2012
    Don't worry about it. Over time as the precision of your fingers barring the chords improve, you'll be reducing the amount of pressure you put on your hand and somehow the B string will start sounding clear. It took me 2-3 years to get to that point playing barre chords everyday. Also, I recommend you learn both barre chords and hendrix chords as that will improve your playing. Also, there are movable mini chord forms with chords roots on the thin E, B, G and D strings. Most beginners learn to play full barre chords off of thick E and A string.

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