Knowing how to properly tune your guitar is a skill that musicians need to know whether you’re taking to the stage or practicing in the comfort of your own home.
You don’t want to be playing something that clashes, sounds flat, or just sounds as if you don’t know your G chord from your D. Sounds awful right? Playing guitar that is out of tune is not an enjoyable experience for anyone, we promise.
If you’re a beginner who is keen to progress quickly, it’s always better to know how to tune your guitar early on as the sooner you find out, the sooner you can enjoy regular playing sessions. Luckily, we have written this article to help you out.
From tuning an electric guitar to standard tuning, it’s vital to have a basic understanding of how to tune your guitar and why it is so important.
Although the methods we will go through in this article relate to electric guitar, a lot of them will work on acoustic too and if you master some of these manual ways, you won’t have to be completely reliable on an electric tuner. So what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in!
Guitar Tuning for Beginners
As we go through this article, we will be visiting a range of different methods of how to tune your guitar. As a beginner, however, it can be an overly frustrating project if you don’t have the proper teacher or assistance. Make sure you ask for help when you are learning to tune your guitar and practice, practice, practice. With this, you’ll be tuning in no time.
Keep in mind, however, tuning can be particularly difficult if you have a cheap guitar too and therefore it is always worth investing in a high-quality guitar that is going to last as you learn and progress. Cheap guitars can go out of tune quite quickly and the last thing you want to do is spend more time retuning than actually playing.
As we will explain later in the article, as you progress and learn more skills on the guitar, we would encourage experimenting with different types of tuning. If you are writing and composing music, experimenting with tuning can help you find your own sound and even uncover a genre you might not have initially expressed an interest in.
Basic Ways of Tuning an Electric Guitar
- Tune by Ear- This is arguably the most common way of tuning your guitar and the most popular way preferred by professional musicians all over the world. Because of this reason, it is the method that all guitarists should learn before switching to an electric tuner. It’s a valuable technique that should not be overlooked.
- Vibration-Based Tuner- These types of tuners are great if you need to tune your electric guitar in a particularly noisy environment. They are common among guitarists everywhere and come in a variety of different shapes and sizes.
- Plug-in/Pedal- These are electric tuners and are often found on the stage alongside other exciting pedals. The tuner is used for gigs and in professional studios.
- Microphone Based Tuner- This is a type of electric tuner and can pick up the sounds of each string via a microphone. They have a basic interface and a display that shows how close your string is to be in tune.
Before you even begin to tune, you need to be knowledgeable on what notes need to be tuned. Both electric and acoustic guitars are tuned to E-A-D-G-B-E and this is what guitarists and other musicians know as standard tuning. The thinnest string, which is also the first string is always tuned to E and the 2nd string from below is tuned to B and so on.
It can be difficult to even memorize this at first, but luckily, there are some tips and tricks to help. The thickest string, which is E is the 6th string and the higher E is the thinnest string which is the 1st string. A tip we like to give is to use a mnemonic such as ‘Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually’ (and although you might not believe us, trust us, they do!)
Although these mnemonics have helped guitar players all over the world, don’t forget you are able to make your own up if you can think of one that you might be able to remember better. It’s great to have something to tie all the letters to and even the most advanced guitar players sometimes have a memory block, in which a mnemonic acronym can become quite handy on stage.
Once you have memorized this standard tuning and you are confident which note corresponds to which string, it’s time to tune yourself. The standard tuning for a guitar means you will be able to learn basic guitar chords and notes in their correct positions and as you become more advanced, you are then able to play around with alternative tunings.
Standard tuning however is vital to get right as it will always be a foundation and will act as a guide around the fretboard. Although it is common for most electric guitarists to use plug-in/pedal tuners, it’s also worth noting how to tune an electric guitar with no amp available at all.
As we outlined in the first of the methods, being able to tune your guitar with your ear is a valuable skill any guitarist should know. You will if mastered correctly be able to recognize pitch variations and relationships with other notes, as well as understand harmony whilst playing. Below we have gone through a basic guide of how to do this.
- To tune your guitar, you must know that the pegs on the side of your guitar’s headstock are used for this purpose. Always ensure you check these pegs and familiarize yourself with how they turn and work. They should be similar on both an electric and acoustic guitar.
- Low E String– To use this method, the low E string needs to already be in tune. It’s good practice to tune your E string to a piano’s E note as a reference point. If you don’t have a piano available, your reference pitch could also come from another guitar you have spare.
- A string– You now need to play the fifth fret on the Low E string- this is your A. Tune your A string to this note and they should sound the same as each other. This is the method that will now be used to tune the remaining strings.
- D String– Play the fifth fret on the A string. Tune your D string to this and they should also sound the same.
- G String– Repeat the method to tune the G string.
- B String– The method is slightly switched up to tune the B string. Instead of tuning the B to the fifth fret of your G string, you need to play the fourth fret and locate the pitch for the open B string.
- High E String– Finally, to tune the high E string, you need to go back to the fifth fret method.
Using the frets, it’s helpful to remember that this method is also called the ‘55545’. If you’re using a six-string guitar, this is the best method and the most widely used method to tune your guitar. Some may find it tricky to start with but if you keep practicing it’s a valuable skill to have.
However, if you have mastered this and are keen to explore how you could benefit from an electric tuner, keep reading as realistically, although tuning your guitar by ear is a core skill every guitarist should know, you’ll probably end up using an electric tuner more often.
Electric Guitar Tuners
If you want a simple way of tuning your guitar, after you have mastered tuning it by ear, you’re going to want to invest in an electric guitar tuner. Over several years, the industry has developed many different types of electric tuners to suit a variety of different types of guitar players.
The three main types of electric guitar tuners are vibration-based tuners, plug-in/pedal tuners, and microphone-based tuners. Each type of tuner has its own list of pros and cons, is usually available on the market, and is easy to use for beginners.
Vibration-based tuners are a quick and easy method and are perfect for tuning your guitar in a noisy and busy environment. They clip onto the headstock of the guitar and can detect the pitch of each note via vibrations. A lot of clip-on tuners are small and convenient and make it easy enough to know when you are in tune as the needle and the interface are usually lit up.
A downside of the clip-on guitar tuners is that they might seem like an unappealing addition to the head of your brand new guitar. Style matters to a lot of electric guitarists and if this is important to you, it might be better to select another type of tuner to tune your guitar instead.
2.Plug-in / Pedal Tuners
Plug-in or pedal tuners might be the best option if you plan to play your electric guitar on stage a lot. Vibration and microphone-based tuners can be used on any kind of guitar, however, plug-in and pedal tuners are only designed to be used by electric guitarists. You can connect your guitar with a jack lead and the interface will then give you an indication via a light or a needle as to how close each string is to being in tune.
However, the only downside of plug-in or pedal tuners is that they aren’t very budget-friendly. Despite this, they are reliable and make tuning a guitar for the stage a lot easier.
Microphone-based tuners are a great addition to add to your accessory collection and they are particularly useful for tuning an electric guitar. As the name suggests, microphone-based tuners pick up the sound of the strings via a microphone and most of them have a simple interface and display that shows you how near your string is to be in tune.
A pro is that they are budget-friendly and for such a great piece of equipment, can be relatively inexpensive. The simple display and the logical usage make it great for all guitarists no matter if they’ve been playing all their life or they are a complete beginner. However, unlike vibration-based tuners, they are not great for tuning your guitar in noisy environments as they will pick up surrounding noises.
If you are tuning your guitar with a microphone-based tuner, you’ll need to find somewhere quiet to do this. When tuning your guitar with a tuner, ensure you don’t allow any rogue frequencies to mess up your tuning process.
When it comes to tuning, it’s more important to focus on the smaller adjustments. Finally, some microphone-based tuners have a handy jack input for your electric guitar.
Tuning Your Guitar With An App
With the sale of smartphones always on the rise, it’s becoming a lot more common to tune your guitar with an app. But finding the best app that works for you is important.
It can actually make a large difference when you are attempting to set up your electric guitar before a gig or when you are on a time limit and need something you can simply grab out of your pocket.
There are a variety of different tuning apps available on both Apple and Andriod app stores, yet it might be worth spending a couple of dollars so that you know you can rely on your app, it works fast and it is easy to navigate.
How Do You Tune a Guitar With An App?
Often guitar tuning apps will have real guitar tones, so you know how every string should sound. You will need an app with reliable software and well as an intuitive interface, and one that will get the tuning done without the hassle.
Research the apps, read reviews, and don’t always opt for the free versions and this should help you find the perfect one.
Alternative Ways of Tuning Your Guitar
It’s interesting to experiment with different ways of tuning your guitar and not always using standard tuning techniques can actually uncover things you didn’t think of and refresh how you play, from finding brand new sounds on your fretboard to rearranging your entire sound.
It’s also super exciting to experiment with new ways of tuning your guitar, especially if you are a beginner. Not only is this is exciting, however, but can also prove to be useful and improve your playing at a quicker rate.
It will give you an idea of the range of possibilities of the guitar and could even help you decide which genre is going to be your primary focus. So, let’s dive in and explore some alternative ways of tuning your guitar.
This type of tuning was developed by Delta Blues players and adopted by the blues-rock genre. It’s often used by famous artists such as The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.
A popular string tuning technique for this method is D-G-D-G-B-D and this enables you to play a G major chord on every string without fretting or touching your capo.
Open D is major chord tuning where the open string notes are D-A-D-F#-A-D. This is a popular type of tuning for blues or even slide guitar players as you can are able to reach full chords using a bottleneck. It was known for being used by Bob Dylan.
The drop D method of tuning your guitar is popular with heavy metal players and those interested in grunge music. You can tune the low E string down to a D, which opens up several different powerful chord possibilities. Drop D tuning gives you the opportunity for fast transitions between each chord as well as a much deeper and heavier sound.
The GABDEG tuning method was popular with the band, Sonic Youth. The benefit of knowing how to tune a guitar without the help of a tuner is that you can easily tune strings to vary in pitch, which results in creating intriguing chords and harmonies.
This tuning allows you to explore heavy metal and rock sounds and if you ever add a Sonic Youth song to your set playing list, the GABDEG tuning method should be used.
Keeping Your Guitar in Tune
Guitars, like a lot of other instruments, frequently go out of tune quite easily and this can be highly frustrating no matter what level your playing is at. This can happen if your strings are very new or old and rusted.
It can also be down to certain guitar components or construction issues. A poorly seated nut or a rickety bridge, and poor quality tuning pegs can be the culprit. Even bad playing, climate change, or using a tight capo could cause a guitar to throw itself out of tune so keep an eye on this.
Intonation vs. Tuning
It’s not uncommon for beginners to get these two mixed up. But, it’s important to remember that intonation and tuning are not the same things. Although they have similar concepts, they have entirely different meanings.
Tuning your guitar is the calibration of a string to a certain pitch whereas intonation refers to the notes being in tune as you move across the fretboard.
Most low-to-mid range priced guitars can have varying intonations and as you move higher on the fretboard, this can be quite noticeable yet is completely normal. The difference is not usually audible to an untrained ear.
A way to check your guitar’s intonation is by playing an open E chord across all the strings. If this sounds in tune, begin to strum a G barre chord on the third fret, and don’t apply too much pressure with your fretting hand as this can cause you to pull one of the strings out of tune again.
Follow with a fifth fret A barre chord, a seventh fret B chord, and on to the twelfth fret. If the tuning gets further out as you make your way up the neck, you need to re-set your guitar’s intonation.
Although we recommend you ask your guitar teacher to go through this with you, we will include a mini-guide below to point you in the right direction.
1. Lightly play a 12th-fret harmonic. Ensure this is still in tune.
2. With gentle pressure, play a fretted note on the 12th fret.
3. Using the tuner, try to compare the difference in pitch. Look out for if the fretted note is sharp or flat compared to the harmonic note.
4. If you do find the fretted note is sharp, the bridge saddle needs to be moved back, away from the headstock. If the fretted note is flat, however, the saddle must move forward in the direction of the headstock.
5. Loosen the string at the tuner to ensure the bridge saddle can move with ease. Use a screwdriver and turn out the bridge adjustment screw so the saddle can slide forward or back. If the saddle hasn’t been adjusted before, you might have to wiggle it with your finger. An old toothbrush can be used to scrub dust out if this is necessary.
6. Return the string to the saddle, tighten to pitch, and repeat steps 1, 2, and 3. You will need to repeat 4, 5, and 6 as well. Continue with this until the fretted note and the harmonic note are in tune.
We hope by reading this article, you are now more knowledgeable about how to tune your guitar, why it is so important, and if you are confident enough, ready to start experimenting with different types of tuning.
We hope we have answered any queries you have about tuning your guitar, but if you have any questions at all, we would recommend talking to your guitar teacher or even watching a video tutorial online. It’s good practice to also get into the habit of checking your tuning during playing and in between songs so that you don’t end up playing out of tune when you take to the stage.
As you advance, you will be able to tune your guitar with relative pitch, using just one string to tune the remaining five, but until then, keep practicing! With time and patience, you’ll be playing and tuning like a pro in no time at all.