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How To Tune A Guitar | Tuning Basics and How To Tune Your Guitar

How To Tune A Guitar

You walk before you run, and the same is true for playing the guitar. You would not dream of playing without the guitar being in tune (at least I hope that you wouldn’t). Without a properly tuned guitar, your music is never going to sound spectacular.

A guitar needs to be tuned.

But how?

Easily:

With one of our foolproof methods.

There really is not much to it. You can tune the guitar by ear (if you practice a little), use the other strings, download an app, use an electronic tuner, and even use another instrument.

There are many ways to tune a guitar, and no one is better or more right than the other.

Whatever method works for your tuning needs is the method best suited to you. If the guitar is tuned, then you are successful.

And, we know that with a tuned guitar, there is going to come even more success for you in the music industry.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some tuning basics and how to tune your guitar.

Chapter 1: Guitar Tuning Basics

Before you start on your journey to tune your guitar, it is important to know some of the basics of guitar tuning. Equip yourself with some tuning knowledge and never be caught out of tune again.

The Standard Tuning Profile

There are several ways to tune a guitar, but the most common one is to tune it with ‘standard tuning.’ So, what does this mean?With standard tuning, you are tuning the strings in the following formation: E, A, D, G, B, E, where the first ‘E’ is the thickest string on your guitar, and the second ‘E’ is the thinnest. 

To help with remembering the strings, we have come up with these handy mnemonics:

  • Eat And Drink, Grow Big Ears
  • Excellent All Day, Go Be Excellent
  • Eggs Are Dorks, Go Beat Eggs

You can use one of our extremely clever suggestion or create one of your own. The more memorable the mnemonic, the more likely you are to remember the notes and the order. Of course, if you know the notes by letter, then you do not need the mnemonic, but they sure are fun.

Now that you know the notes, you can start learning how to tune them.

How Do You Tune Strings?

Look at your guitar. The part at the end of the neck is called the headstock. This is the part with the (usually) 6 tuning pegs. These pegs are also known as ‘machine heads.’ When you turn the machine heads, you change the pitch of the string.

Turning the peg (or key) in one direction will make the pitch of the string higher, and turning it in the opposite direction will make the pitch of the string lower. By turning the pegs, you can tune each string of the guitar.

Now you know how to tune a guitar, but you still need to know how to tune a guitar, and for that, there are a variety of methods. You can use an electric tuner, an app, other instruments, and your ears.

Let’s look at the most common: an electronic tuner.

Chapter 2: Using An Electronic Tuner

With changes in technology, we do not need to rely on our best guesses. With an electronic tuner, we can get more precision than ever before, and that can only be a good thing. Let’s take a look at how to use these amazing devices.

How To Navigate An Electronic Tuner

When it comes to electronic tuners, almost all of the interfaces are the same. They may differ in how they present their information, but they are all essentially displaying the same information.

An electronic tuner will always be displaying three main things:

  • The name of the string you are tuning
  • How accurate the tuning is
  • Whether the note is currently too high or too low

An electronic tuner can do this in a variety of ways and, due to the simplicity of the devices, this will generally be intuitive to read. For instance, the device we were using recently had a digital needle which moved between the desired frequencies.

When the note was too low, the needle would shift to the left. When the note was too high, the needle would shift to the right. When the note was just right, it would be bang in the middle. The needle reminded us a lot of Goldilocks.

There were also LED lights which lit up to further represent if the note was too high or low in pitch. All we had to do was play the note over and over and twist the machine head until the needle was in the middle. After that, we could move onto the next note.

Pro tip: When you are tuning the guitar with an electronic tuner, make sure to strum the note over and over. By giving the tuner as much to go on as possible, you get a more accurate reading and more accurate tuning.

A Step-By-Step Electronic Tuner Guide

As we have already mentioned, it is extremely intuitive to use an electronic tuner, but there are times when it is nice to be given instructions on how to use something new, so that is exactly what we have done.

Electronic tuners may differ slightly from each other, but almost all of them operate in the same way:

1. Turn on the tuner with the power button.

2. If you have the option to select the string which you are wanting to tune, go ahead and select that on the tuner (most tuners will discern what string you are trying to tune when you start playing).

3. Pluck your string. Pluck it over and over.

4. Check the needle (or other visual representation).

5. Turn the keys to change the pitch of the string.

6. Repeat steps 3-5 until the string is tuned.

7. Move onto the next string.

8. Repeat until all strings are tuned.

Pro tip: We have already mentioned this, but it is important to continually pluck the string when you are tuning it.
The Types Of Electronic Tuner

Electronic tuners all work in much the same way, but there are some subtle differences to be aware of. Did you know that there are vibration-based tuners, microphone-based tuners, and pedal-based tuners? No? Then come take a look. Yes? Then still come and have a look.

Vibration-Based Tuners

Vibration-based tuners clip to the headstock of your guitar and recognize the pitch of the note by the vibration passing through the device.

The best thing about them?

They can be used in noisy places.

As they are not detecting the sound of the note, you do not need to worry about the ambient noise in the room with you. Simply slip the device onto your guitar and pluck away. Once you start to pluck, the tuner will automatically pick up on what note you are playing and guide you in tuning your guitar for that note.

Most have LCD screens which are easy to read in different light levels. Forget the light, forget the noise around you, and tune your guitar with ease.

Microphone-Based Tuners

Where vibration-based tuners read notes via vibrations, microphone-based tuners read notes through sound. The best thing about these tuners is that you do not need to attach them to your guitar for it to work. The downside is that you need to limit the amount of noise in the room.

This type of tuner works well for acoustic guitars and electric guitars (you can plug them straight into your electric guitar). Most of them will automatically detect the string you are playing when you start to pluck, but some may need you to select the string.

As with the vibration-based tuner, microphone-based tuners are easy to use.

Pedal-Based Tuners

Pedal-based tuners (or plug-in tuners) need to be plugged into your guitar, so they are not for all guitars. What they lack in variety, they make up for in accuracy, though they can be more expensive than the other tuners on our list.

Pedal-based tuners last for a long time and are worth the investment.

Using A Smartphone App

If you do not want to invest in a professional tuner, there is always the option to download a smartphone app for all of your tuning needs. The benefit to a smartphone app is that they can often be free, and even if you do have to pay for them, they are relatively inexpensive. The downside is that they are reliant on the microphone on your smartphone.

When you are starting out, a smartphone app is a great way to tune your instruments.

As with professional electronic guitar tuners, the interface of a smartphone tuner app is set up to be intuitive and easy to use.

 Once you have downloaded the app, most will allow you to start playing a string and have your device automatically pick up the note. Some will need to be selected, but that is not as common.

The device will then alert you if the string is too high or low in pitch. When the note is correct, the tuner will let you know.

Chapter 3: Tuning A Guitar With Another Instrument

If you are in a pinch or do not want to invest in a guitar tuner, then you can always tune your guitar from another instrument. This could be from another guitar or almost any other instrument. Let’s take a look at how this would work.

Tuning Your Guitar With A Guitar

If you want to tune a guitar from another guitar, then you need to make sure of one very important thing. The second guitar should already be tuned. Unless you are sure that the guitar is tuned, there is no point in tuning the first guitar with it.

If the second guitar is tuned, you can tune the first guitar easily by making it sound the same. It is as easy as that. Twist the keys on the headstock to change the pitch of the strings until they all sound the same. Done!

Tuning Your Guitar With Another Instrument

You can also tune your guitar with almost any other instrument. The most common instrument to tune your guitar with is a piano or keyboard. With the piano, you need to also ensure that it is tuned properly first, and that is outside of the scope of this article.

To tune the strings: E, A, D, G, B, E, you need to find the keys E2, A2, D1, G1, B1, E, where the number stands for the number of octaves below middle C.

The key to tuning your guitar from a piano is to have a friend play the piano note while you play the guitar string. Have your friend play and hold the note while you pluck and pluck.

Once the notes begin to resonate, you know that the string is tuned.

Chapter 4: How To Tune A Guitar With Its Own Strings

Once you get a hold on how guitar strings sound, you can begin to tune by ear. Not only does this method create the assumption that you are a professional musician, but it is also a handy method for tuning your guitar without any tools.

Starting With Your Best Guess

When tuning a guitar by ear, you need to know what the 6th string sounds like. This is the low E string, the thickest guitar string. When you are tuning your guitar by other methods, listen to how the string sounds and try to remember that sound. When you come to tune by ear, the first string is going to be your best guess.

Pluck the string over and over and listen to the sound of the note. Use the key on the headstock to change the pitch until the note sounds like it should. You are using your best guess here, and that best guess will improve over time.

String 5

Once you have the first string tuned, you do not have to guess with any of the others. You can now tune the other strings without fretting, or with fretting as you are going to be using the frets.

While plucking the 6th string (low E), hold your finger on the 5th fret. Pluck the 5th string too.

You need to keep plucking both strings and twist the key for the 5th string until the 5th string resonates with the 6th string. Once they resonate and sound harmonious, you have tuned the 5th string.

String 4

You are going to do the same again, but this time you are going to play the 5th string to tune the 4th string.

Place your finger on the 5th fret of the 5th string and pluck the 5th string while you pluck the 4th string. Once you hear them resonate, the 4th string is tuned.

String 3

Same again.

Hold the 5th fret of the 4th string and play the 4th and 3rd strings together. Once the two strings resonate, you know that the 3rd string is tuned.

String 2

Same again with a twist.

Hold the 4th fret of the 3rd string and play the 3rd and 2nd string together. Once the two strings resonate, the 2nd string is tuned.

The final String

Back to the same again.

Hold your finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string, and play the 2nd and 1st strings together. Once they resonate, the 1st string is tuned.

That is all there is to it. The description is a little long-winded, but the process is simple and repetitive. Tune the first string by ear and tune the others by the already tuned strings.

Chapter 5: How To Keep Your Guitar In Tune

Okay, you have your guitar tuned and are ready to play some beautiful music. Follow our simple steps to keep your guitar tuned every time you play.

1. Keep It Tuned

When your guitar is tuned, you want it to stay tuned for as long as possible, but the simple act of playing means that the guitar will naturally un-tune itself. As you pluck and strum the strings, they stretch, and the machine heads slowly turn.

The only way to combat this is to tune your guitar every time you play.

You may not like it, and it might take a little time, but tuning your guitar every time you play is the way to go. On the upside, tuning regularly requires only a small amount of time to get it perfectly tuned.

2. Stay Out Of The Heat

Guitars do not like heat. The heat can warp the wood, causing the pieces to stretch. This, in turn, stretches the strings, and your guitar will naturally un-tune itself.

If you leave the guitar in direct heat and forget to tune it, you will not be living your best life and playing your best music.

3. Stay Out Of The Cold

The same goes for cold as it does for heat. The cold can shrink the wood and un-tune your guitar, negating all of your hard work.

Keep your guitar in a cool, dry place and keep it in tune for longer.

4. Loosen The Strings

We know that the whole point of tuning your guitar is to keep it in tune, but there are times when you will want to loosen the strings to protect them.

The main time to do this is when you are transporting the guitar or storing it for a long time. Taking out the tension stops the strings from being brittle, and brittle strings soon need to be replaced.

5. Watch Out For bumps

If your guitar gets hit, knocked, dropped, or stepped on, then it can do damage to the guitar and the strings.

Protect your guitar by placing it in a protective case when you are not using it, and store it out of harm’s way.

6. Replace The Strings

Guitar strings do not last forever, and you should not wait until they break before you replace them. The older the strings are, the more brittle they are going to be, and the more out of tune they are going to sound.

We recommend replacing your guitar strings every 8 weeks.

The Final Solo

And, that is all there is to it.

It has never been easier to tune your guitar and play your amazing music. Keep on top of tuning, and don’t forget to protect the guitar and the strings. Look after your guitar, and it will become one of the best friends which you ever had.