Tune A Guitar: A How-To Guide

tune a guitar
Written by Nancy Shumate from BestGuitarAdvisor.com

How to Tune a Guitar

One of the most essential skills you can ever acquire as a guitarist is how to properly tune a guitar. Many beginner guitar players give up on their first guitar as soon as they acquire it just because it initially seems impossible for them to make a beautiful sound with it. If you don’t get an expert to tune it for you, or without a proper guidance on how to make it sound good, you can end up feeling terrible about your guitar playing skills. Learning to play a song well might seem to be the toughest part, though using a properly tuned guitar is the secret to a beautiful sound. This tutorial will guide you on how to properly tune your guitar and give it the most appealing sound possible.


Identify the Strings

Guitars typically have six strings that count upwards from the bottom. Putting a guitar in tune involves adjusting the six strings on the instrument until it can produce the perfect sound. To do that, you must first know which string is which. The names of the open strings are E-A-D-G-B-E. The first string at the bottom, an E string, is the thinnest and the highest pitched string. The sixth string, also an E string, is the thickest and the lowest pitched string. Knowing the strings also involves understanding their unique qualities and abilities.


Flats and Sharps

The flat symbol looks like a lowercase b. When the flat symbol is next to a natural note, it means the note is flat. A flat note needs to come up a bit when tuning a guitar. On the other hand, the sharp symbol looks like a tic-tac-toe grid. This symbol means the note is somehow too high and needs to come down when tuning the guitar.


Identify the Right Tuning Peg for Each String

Make sure you are turning the correct tuning key for each string when doing the adjustments. Follow each string to the neck to find the associated tuning peg. For example, if you want to tune the A string, follow the string along the fretboard up to the headstock to find the right tuning key. Pluck the string while turning its associated tuning key. Clockwise makes the pitch go up while anticlockwise forces it to go down. Go gentle on the pegs since they are susceptible to breakage under intense pressure. Turn each of them slowly and smoothly.


Tuning the Sixth String (Low E)

You need a reference pitch from another source to guide you into tuning your guitar right. To tune your instrument perfectly, you first tune the sixth string so that you use it as a reference string for tuning the other five strings on your guitar. You can use a guitar or a piano’s low-E from a YouTube video or a practical equipment. You can also use a tuning fork if you like. Listen to the reference pitch and match it with the sound of your sixth string. To achieve the perfect tune, you should turn the tuning peg of the sixth string gently while you pluck the string until it sounds in tune with the low-E on your reference sound source. It is advisable that you play the reference instrument as much as possible as you turn the tuning peg until the sound matches the reference pitch perfectly.


Tuning the Other 5 Strings

Once you have put your sixth string in tune, you are left with five more strings to tune to that note. Using a little bit of the basic music theory, tuning the five strings isn’t difficult at all, though, for a beginner, a little guidance is necessary. The next step after tuning the sixth string requires you to tune the A-string to the fifth fret of the E-string. With the bottom E-string correctly tuned, place your finger on the fifth fret of the string and pluck it. The note you get when you pluck this string should match the note you get when you pluck the open fifth string.


So, go ahead and tune the open fifth string until it sounds like the sixth string, fifth fret. Use the tuning peg for the fifth string to adjust the open string until it sounds exactly like the sixth string, fifth fret. Once you have achieved the note on this string, then you can assume that the note A on the fifth fret is in tune too. Once A is in tune, you repeat the process to the next string. With the same step, tune the D-string to the fifth fret of the A-string, and once the D string is in tune, you move to the next string. When you are through with tuning the last string, double-check the strings to ensure that all of them are in tune.


Electric Tuner

You can also tune a guitar with an electric tuner. Unlike the previous method where you use the strings to find the correct tunes for the next string, an electric tuner reads and interprets the sound waves it picks up from the guitar and displays what it reads in notes. All you have to do is turn on the electric tuner and pluck the string. The tuner will tell you if your guitar is in tune in just a matter of seconds. Note that there are several guitar tuners to choose from, and some are better than others. With the right electric guitar tuner, your guitar will always sound fantastic.


Final Verdict

New guitarist often see fine tuning a guitar as a very difficult ordeal. Tuning a guitar is a special skill that requires you to listen to pitches extra closely before fine tuning them. It takes dedicated practice to develop the skill to excellence. It isn’t always easy to identify the lower or higher between two notes. The best part about learning to tune a guitar is that it may be difficult when you are a beginner, but with continued practice, you will get better and better. It even reaches a point where you don’t need a reference instrument to tune your guitar to perfection.



4 thoughts on “Tune A Guitar: A How-To Guide

  1. I wish it was that simple.
    If your guitar is not intonated correctly, it will NEVER be in tune no matter what you do. If the guitar is an electric, it will probably be adjustable, if acoustic, then quality matters more since the bridge is fixed.
    New, or reasonably good strings are also important. Not to mention that good tuning pegs,(machines) such as Grover or Schaller are also very important. Lets not for get that necks move and sway as the strings are tuned and temperature and humidity also play a role.

    1. Tune by ear will improve over time as the many hours grow over the time period. Get close then use the methods listed above. For those who are getting older (me😐) use your lap top

  2. Tune by ear will improve over time as the many hours grow over the time period. Get close then use the methods listed above. For those who are getting older (me😐) use your lap top

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