GUITAR

Beginner’s Guide to Tuning a Guitar

Learning how to tune a guitar is one of the first challenges a beginner faces when learning to play. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t make an out of tune guitar sound “right.” Using this guide will help you learn how to tune a guitar (with or without a tuner), identify guitar string notes, and keep your guitar in tune longer. Regular practice is essential to learning an instrument and being in tune makes practice much more fun and rewarding.

Basics of guitar tuning

First, let’s start with some of the basic parts of how to tune a guitar. Guitar tuning is controlled by the tuning pegs on the headstock of the guitar. Turning the pegs changes the pitch of the strings up or down. Tightening the strings makes the pitch go up; loosening the strings makes the pitch go down.

How often should you tune Your guitar?

You should tune your guitar every time you play it. You can’t expect your guitar to stay in tune between practice sessions. Guitars also go out tune from playing, especially if you are bending strings or playing for extended periods of time. As you are playing, it is a good idea to check your guitar tuning often. If you are playing a chord and it doesn’t sound quite right even when you know you are playing the correct notes, your guitar has gone out of tune. 

How to tune your guitar

Electronic tuners have made tuning guitar notes quick and easy.  You can also use a reference note (from another instrument, pitch pipe or tuning fork) to tune one of your strings and then tune “by ear”.

Tuning a guitar with a chromatic or pitch tuner

Clip-on electric tuners have revolutionized guitar tuning. Unlike old fashioned electric tuners that you have to plug into, they clip onto your guitar’s headstock and sense the vibrations of the strings. They will tell you if the string is “flat” (too low) or “sharp” (too high) or in tune. They work for both acoustic and electric guitars. These are inexpensive, accurate, and are an easy way to tune your guitar. Many practice amplifiers also feature built-in tuners as well.

How to tune your guitar without a tuner

If you’re wondering how to tune a guitar without a tuner, you’re not alone. Many musicians may find themselves in need of tuning their guitar without a tuner on the fly or if they’re traveling.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of tuner apps available for mobile devices, and many are even free.  These apps use the built in microphone in your device to hear the pitch of the strings, making this an easy way to tune your guitar.  As you adjust the pitch of the strings the display on your device tells you when you are in tune.

You can also tune using a reference pitch from another instrument like a piano or another guitar that you know is in tune. 

This is a little more difficult as you have to tune one of your strings to the reference pitch “by ear”.  This involves listening to the reference pitch, playing the same note on the guitar and comparing the pitches.  Adjust your note to match the reference pitch.  Once you have one string in tune, you can then tune the rest of the guitar string notes by playing a fretted note on a lower string and then tuning your open string to that note.

Finding guitar string notes: EADgbe

The guitar has 6 strings. Listed from low to high, the guitar string notes are:  E, A, D, G, B, E.

To help memorize these string names, there are a couple of sayings that we can use: Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie or Eat A Dead Grasshopper Before Everything. The 1st string is the high E and the low string is the 6th string.

Tuning each guitar string notes

Tip for tuning your E note

If you have a reference pitch, you can start by tuning your low E string (the thickest string). If there is not a reference pitch, play the 7th fret of the A string. This will produce an E note.

Fat E - 6th string

Tune the low E string to your reference note, adjust the pitch up or down until they are in agreement.

A - 5th string

Next, tune your A string by playing a note at the 5th fret of the E string, adjust the pitch up or down until they are in agreement.

D - 4th string

Next, tune your D string by playing a note at the 5th fret of the A string, adjust the pitch up or down until they are in agreement.

G - 3rd string

Next, tune your G string by playing a note at the 5th fret of the D string, adjust the pitch up or down until they are in agreement.

B - 2nd string

For this string there is a slight change, tune your B string by playing a note at the 4th fret of the G string, adjust the pitch up or down until they are in agreement.

E - 1st string

Next, tune your E string by playing a note at the 5th fret of the B string, adjust the pitch up or down until they are in agreement.

How to keep your guitar in tune longer

Once your guitar is in tune, there are several things you can do to keep it in tune longer.

  1. Change your strings often. Once your strings start to sound dead or have trouble staying in tune, replace them with new strings.
  2. Stretch your guitar strings. When you change strings, be sure to stretch your new strings.  You can do this by playing or by gently pulling up on the strings (be careful and don’t pull too hard or they will break.).
  3. Take care of your guitar. Don’t expose your guitar to big fluctuations in temperature or humidity.  When you are done playing guitar, wipe the strings down with a light cloth and then store your guitar in its case or bag.

Whether you use an electronic tuner or tune “by ear”, if you follow these simple steps you will have a guitar that is in tune, stays in tune and is more fun to play.

Thinking of buying a new guitar? Check out our Guitar Buying Guide