How to Tune a Guitar

Knowing how to tune a guitar properly can be the difference between sounding good and bad! In this blog, we walk you through everything you need to know!

Chris Toft

Chris Toft

If you’re reading this blog, the chances are you are the start of your guitar-playing journey. This is a really exciting time and you’re no doubt raring to go. However, there is one really important skill you need to learn before playing your first notes – tuning your guitar! You can be the best guitarist in the world, but if your guitar is out of tune, it is not going to sound good! In this blog we explain how to tune a guitar and look at some of the best ways to go about it.

Tuning a Guitar in Standard Tuning

Standard tuning is, as the name suggests, the most commonly used tuning pattern for both electric and acoustic guitars. In standard tuning, the guitar strings are tuned (from thickest to thinnest) E, A, D, G, B, E.

 

Guitar String Tunings

 

We recommend coming up with a silly mnemonic to help you remember the notes. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Eddie And Dave’s Guitars Beat Everyone
  • Even Average Dogs Get Bones Everyday
  • Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears

Well, you get the idea! The possibilities are endless so get creative and think of one that’ll help you remember the notes!

How to Tune a Guitar

Now that you know the right notes, it’s time to actually tune your guitar! But how, we hear you ask! Let’s start by looking at the guitar’s headstock, or the bit at the top! Assuming you’re learning on a six-string guitar (which we strongly recommend you do) you will see six identical keys around which the strings are wound. These are called tuning machines or machine heads, but it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to them simply as tuners. When you turn each machine head, you either increase or decrease the amount of string tension, which in turn, alters the pitch of the string.

Guitar Machine Heads

Machine heads on a Gibson Les Paul

How Do You Know if Your Guitar is in Tune?

If you’re fortunate enough to possess perfect pitch, you will be able to tune your guitar using only your ears. However, if like the majority of us mere mortals, you don’t have perfect pitch, you’ll need something you help you. We recommend using an electronic guitar tuner, which you can pick up for a little as a few pounds! Electronic tuners are the quickest and most accurate way of tuning your guitar and they’re incredibly easy to use.

In most cases, when you play each string, a series of lights or an oscillating ‘needle’ will move back and forth, indicating how in or out of tune the note is. The tuner detects which note you are playing and tells you whether it is sharp or flat. When the note on the screen matches the note you’re trying to find and the needle/lights are in the middle, you’re in tune! Simple!

The popular Snark “Super Tight” clip on tuner

Which Guitar Tuner Should I Get?

A selection of clip on and pedal style tuners

Electronic guitar tuners come in all shapes and sizes, from affordable clip on devices to professional grade pedal units. Deciding which one is best for you depends largely on your budget and where you intend to use it. If you’re just starting out, it’s unlikely you will be playing to an audience any time soon, so a clip on tuner is a great option that won’t break the bank. As you develop as a player, you may want to start playing gigs, so a pedal tuner that you can mount on a pedalboard is a popular option.

Clip On Tuners


Pedal Tuners

How to Tune a Guitar Without a Tuner

If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have a tuner to hand, don’t fret! There is a simple method you can employ to get your guitar in tune, or certainly very close, using just the guitar itself.

  1. Start by tuning the bottom E string to as close to pitch as you can – don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be perfectly in tune.
  2. Next, fret the bottom E string at the 5th fret and pluck the string. This is the A note which just so happens to be the pitch of the next string!
  3. Now, tune the open A string until it sounds the same as the note you played on the bottom E string.
  4. Repeat this process on the A and D strings whilst pushing down on the 5th frets to find the target notes.
  5. When you reach the G string (no jokes please), this time press down the string at the 4th fret to make the B note, and then tune the open B string to match it.
  6. Finally, play the B string at the 5th fret to make the E note and then tune the high E string to the same pitch.

This method won’t get your guitar perfectly in tune, but each of the six strings will be in tune relative to each other, which is good enough at a pinch!

How Often Should I Tune my Guitar?

Ideally, you should tune your guitar every time you play it. Changes in temperature and humidity can cause guitar strings to expand and contract, making them go out of tune. Even the most expensive of guitars can and will go out of tune from time to time. With that in mind, the importance of knowing how to tune your guitar properly cannot be overstated.

If you play your guitar regularly, you will probably find that you only need to tweak the tuning, rather than start from scratch each time. One thing to consider though is that old, worn out guitar strings will go out of tune quicker than new ones. A set of fresh, new guitar strings will ensure your guitar is sounding its best, assuming of course, it’s in tune!

Conclusion

We hope you have found this blog useful as you set off on your musical journey. When it comes to learning the guitar, as with most things, you will get out of it what you put in. Practice, practice and practice some more and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You will become a better player for it in the long run!

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Want to Learn More?

If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our other “Learn” articles by clicking here!

Chris Toft
Chris Toft
Chris is a Senior Digital Product Marketer at Andertons and a self confessed guitar nerd. With a love of all things 80s Rock and Hair Metal, Chris favours humbucker equipped guitars, high gain amps and plenty of chorus and reverb! Clean tones and spandex leggings are optional!

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