How to Tune Your Guitar

By Mark
Published on

If you’re new to the guitar, one of the first things you’ll want to learn is how to tune your guitar.  Without this, your guitar isn’t going to be making the sounds you want it to make.  You’ll be thinking that you aren’t progressing, when in fact, it’s your guitar that isn’t in tune.

I was in the same position many years ago, learning how to tune my guitar for the first time.  It didn’t go well and had to get my guitar teacher to tune up before my lessons.  With many attempts I got it. Today, I’m going to show you different ways of solving this problem, step-by-step.

Electronic tuners

Types of electronic tuners

Tuning Without a Tuner

Use Another Instrument to Tune Your Guitar

Use the Fifth Fret Method to Tune Your Guitar

Final Tuning Tips

We want to tune to standard tuning: EADGBE.

The first thing that we want to take a look at when we talk about tuning the guitar is to learn the parts of the headstock.  

Let’s talk about the tuning machines.  These tuning machines tighten and loosen the strings so that we can change the pitch of the string.  When we turn the tuning machine toward ourselves the string loosens, lowering the pitch of the string.  When we turn the tuning machine away from ourselves we tighten the string, raising the pitch.  

Electronic tuners

Types of electronic tuners

There are a few different types of electronic tuners 

  1. Microphone Tuners Guitar Tuner
  2. Vibration Tuners Vibration tuner on a guitar showing a tuned A string
  3. Pedal TunersPedal Tuners

There are different types of guitar tuners but they will all tell you the same important information:

  1. What note the string you are playing is closest to.
  2. How far away the note is via a needle
  3. And a light on the tuner to show you if you are in tune.

Now that we understand a bit about how the tuning machines work let’s talk about how to use electronic tuners.

  1. Turn the tuner on
  2. Tell tuner which string you are trying to tune
  3. Pluck string
  4. Look at the tuner.  Turn the tuning machine. If the needle is moving away from the centre, turn the tuning machine in the opposite direction.  
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the needle is in the center showing that the string is in tune.

Tip: don’t be afraid to keep plucking the string as you are turning the tuning machines.  This helps the tuner to read the pitch of the string consistently as the pitch changes. 

Repeat the process for the rest of the strings on the guitar until all the strings are in tune.  

Tuning Without a Tuner

In some situations, we just won’t have access to a tuner.  Lucky for us we still have the old-fashioned way of using our ears to tune our guitars.  Even if you are a beginner, the benefit of trying to learn how to tune your guitar by ear is massive.  By learning how to tune your guitar by ear you begin to develop your musical ear training by determining which note is higher or lower.  This becomes important as you develop yourself as a musician.

The process will be similar to how we used a tuner to tune our guitar.  We will:

  1. Play the string and the tuned note at the same time
  2. Listen for whether our string is lower or higher than the tuned note
    1. Higher means that we will be loosening the string or tuning downward
    2. Lower means that we will be tightening the string or tuning upward

As there are many different types of tuners, there are many different ways to tune without a tuner.

Use Another Instrument to Tune Your Guitar

You can use a tuned piano or a keyboard to tune your guitar by ear.  You would need to find all the correct notes to tune to.  Use the image below to find the notes to tune your guitar by ear. Using the method of playing the tuned note first and tuning the peg until the strings match the piano in pitch will get the job done.

Guitar notes on piano


Use the Fifth Fret Method to Tune Your Guitar

If you know that the Low E is tuned, you can tune the rest of the guitar.  

Playing the fifth fret on the Low E will give you the A, which is the same pitch as the next open A string.  Using the method of playing the strings in unison and adjusting the pitch with the tuning machines will help you tune the guitar.  

using the fifth fret to tune the guitar

Here’s a quick musical theory lesson for you.  The guitar is tuned by an interval of fourths.  An interval is the distance between two notes.  The distance between E and A is a fourth.  We start counting on E, F is the 2nd interval, G is the third interval, and finally, A is the fourth interval.  

Since we know this we can use the fifth fret to tune our guitars.  Playing the fifth fret of the A string gives you the note D, which you can use to tune your open D string by ear.  Playing the fifth fret on the D string gives you a G.  

The B string is slightly different.  Instead of playing the fifth string, we will play the fourth fret on the G string which gives us the note B.  We can use this to tune the open B string.

Finally, we can use the fifth fret to play the E.  Play and tune the open E string.  

Final Tuning Tips

Now you know how to tune your guitar.  We learned a bit about different types of tuners as well as how to use them.  We also learned how to tune a guitar to itself by using the fifth fret method.  I want to leave you with some final tips:

  1. Tune your guitar up every time you pick up the guitar.  The guitar will go slightly out of tune as you’re playing it.  Since the guitar is sensitive, when you pick it up again it will be even more out of tune.  
  2. Because the guitar is so sensitive, you’ll want to leave it out of hot and cold areas.  Changing temperatures not only affects the strings but also affects the rest of the body and neck as it is all made of wood.  

Follow these tips and you’ll keep your guitar tuned more often than not. 

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