As a beginner guitarist, knowing how to tune a guitar is one of the most vital pieces of knowledge you should be having. As a guitar player, you need to know how to tune a guitar to play it correctly and make it sound the way it should. By tuning your guitar, you are also ensuring that the guitar is set in the correct pitch, to further play the chords, riffs, and scales. For any guitarist, guitar tuning is an important skill, and for playing the guitar properly.
Remember that you should tune your guitar every time you play. Since there are a lot of natural factors that lead to untuning of a guitar, it is always suggestible that you tune a guitar every time you play it. It is a really good habit.
1. Causes Of Untuning Of A Guitar Strings
One of the main causes that lead to untuning of a guitar is when it is placed in relatively hotter or cooler places. Simply because a guitar is made out of wood, and temperature affects wood. Other normal happenings such as something banging against the guitar, or the guitar falling also affect the tuning of a guitar and can lead it to go out of tune.
Also, one thing to note is that whenever you’re travelling with your guitar, transporting it to different places, or storing it for a long time make sure to loosen the strings a little bit. This practice is also highly recommended by a lot of professionals.
Now you know that guitars get untuned due to a variety of reasons normally, and tuning them is very important in general. With this, let’s learn how to tune a guitar!
2. Basics Of A Guitar Strings
Before you start tuning your guitar, you must know the basics of a guitar, especially its strings. There are 6 strings in a standard guitar-
- High E string (thinnest and last string)
- B string (second string)
- G string (third string)
- D string (fourth string)
- A string (fifth string)
- and low E string (thickest and sixth string).
In short form, these are written as E, B, G, D, A, E. There are numerous ways through which you can remember the sequence. For instance, most favorite way to remember the phrase is – Every Beautiful Girl Deserves An Egg. The first letter of every word in this sentence is the names of the strings in consecutive order. Other such sentences you could use include ‘Every Boy Gets Dinner At Eight‘ and even ‘Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie‘. Choose the one you find the easiest to remember, and then you’re good to go!
2.1. Tuning Pegs Of A Guitar
After you’ve familiarized yourself with the guitar strings, you should now look at the 6 pegs present in the head of your guitar. These are called machine heads or tuning pegs. Turning those machine heads either left or right side enables a guitar string to tune by changing the pitch. There is a tuning peg for each string attached separately.
2.2. Guitar Tuner
But how would you know how much to turn to get the correct pitch? By using a guitar tuner! A guitar tuner is a device that measures the frequencies produced by the strings and further instructs you on how to tune the string according to its situation.
One other thing you should also know is that there are different types of tuning. The most common type of tuning of a guitar is the ‘standard guitar tuning‘ which is the most common and widely used tuning (E, A, D, G, B, E).
However, along with these, there are other various tuning types as well including-
The Drop D Tuning, The Open D tuning without a third, The Celtic tuning (Open Dsus4), The Open E tuning without a third, The Open C tuning without a third and many more.
Nevertheless, the standard tuning is the tuning that is used by the highest majority of guitarists across the world and the tuning that ideally everyone should know.
Now you’re ready to tune your guitar! What you should essentially know is that there are several methods of tuning a guitar, and each guitarist prefers their way. Some of the easiest and most common ways include using tuner apps on your phone, using an electronic tuner, or using its other strings as a reference.
Let’s tune a guitar using the standard tuning pattern!
Here are some methods which are most commonly used to tune a guitar, and are highly recommended, especially for beginners.
3. How To Tune A Guitar Using Tuner Apps On Your Phone?
This is the most convenient and easy and used mostly for tuning my guitar strings. There are various tuner apps (free and paid) available in the app store and the google play store for you to download and install. This method is also the easiest and cheapest for any beginner or a new guitarist to follow.
- To follow this method, firstly, you must download any tuner app on your smartphone. Some apps that I recommend are ‘OmniTuner‘, ‘GuitarTuna‘, ‘Pro Guitar Tuner‘, and ‘Guitar Tuner Pro‘. You can choose to install any other tuner app of your choice as well, but make sure that there’s a tuner for guitar too (since sometimes people mistakenly download tuners for ukuleles and banjos). Most guitarists prefer to use the GuitarTuna app as beginners.
- Open the app, and enable microphone access.
- Let’s use the GuitarTuna app as an example. You can find a guitar head, names for the six strings, and a straight red line with a tick mark on the app’s home page (this shows the accuracy level of the correct pitch the string sounds like at that moment).
- It is always advised to start with the top string (the low E string) and work your way one string at a time gradually downward (toward the high E string).
- To start, open your tuner app and start plucking the low E string of your guitar using your finger or a pick continuously. Simultaneously, look at how the app is showing the pitch to be. The line will show how low, high, or perfect the sound of the string is according to its ideal pitch frequency. Listen carefully and turn the machine heads accordingly.
- Once the pitch is seeming perfect according to the tuner, you’re good to go. You just tuned your low E string. Repeat the same steps with the other 5 strings as well.
- In the end, re-pluck all the strings once again and make sure all of them are tuned. Now, your guitar is tuned! It’s that simple.
4. How To Tune A Guitar Using Electronic Guitar Tuners?
Electronic guitar tuners are also one of the most common, easy, and convenient ways of tuning a guitar. These guitar tuners detect signals through microphones, sensors, or instrument cables, which helps us categorize them mainly into 3 types- Plug-in and pedal tuners, Vibration-based electronic tuners, and Microphone-based electronic tuners.
The signals that come into the tuner, are then converted into digital. After that, the tuners calculate an average of the series of sound waves to finally show the results.
4.1. How To Tune A Guitar Using The Plug-in And Pedal Tuners?
Plug-in and pedal tuners are used by a lot of guitarists worldwide since they’re very accurate and their precision level is very high. They’re able to do this as these tuners are directly connected to your guitar through a jack lead.
In the end, re-pluck all the strings once again and make sure all of them are tuned. Now, your guitar is tuned! It’s that simple.
Remember that to use this method, your guitar needs to have a jack lead. Plug-in and pedal tuners can be a little expensive, nevertheless, they serve you very well and if you’re aiming to be a long-time guitarist, they can be worth it.
4.2. How To Tune A Guitar Using Vibration-Based Electronic Tuners?
Another type of electronic tuner is a vibration-based electronic tuner.
Fundamentally, as the word itself suggests, vibration-based tuners work by detecting the pitch of the strings using vibrations.
These tuners are clipped into the peghead or the headstock of the guitar. Then as you start plucking the strings, the needle in the tuner will show you the results and help you tune your guitar.
4.3. How To Tune A Guitar Using Microphone-Based Electronic Tuners?
Microphone-based tuners recognize the sound of the strings when you pluck them, and then show you the results. They’re really good and convenient. Like the other electronic tuners, you don’t need to clip in the tuner anywhere.
In contrast, one disadvantage of using these types of tuners is that any existing sounds or noise (such as other instruments, music, or regular background noise) could affect the results since it’s the sound that the tuner takes in.
Other than that, you can find microphone tuners as a great way to start your guitar journey.
4.4. How To Tune A Guitar Using Other Strings?
What if your smartphone microphone stops working? Or your tuner stops working? This method can be very useful in case of such urgent situations and is the perfect alternative to any tuner available.
If you’re new to playing the guitar, this could seem a little confusing, but trust me, it’s just a matter of time, and soon you will become a pro in this.
To follow this method, a little knowledge of basic musical theory would help you.
- Firstly, you need to understand that every string in every fret you play is specific notes. For your reference, the note sequence is A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G# (the ‘#’ symbolizes ‘sharp‘). Some people like to remember these through the flat notes and you could choose to do that as well.
- There are various octets of these notes throughout your fretboard. From these, the same notes will sound a little similar to each other.
- One small requirement would also be that you need to have a fine memory of how the low E string sounds. If not this string particularly, you can rely on any other string as well (even though it is suggested you start with the low e string.)
- Once you’re confident with that, keep plucking the open low e-string continuously until you think it sounds like how it should and is in the correct pitch. Plucking open strings means that you’re just playing the string without pressing your finger on the fretboard.
- Now this sound will be your reference pitch to tune other strings.
- Remember it doesn’t have to be 100% perfect, just try to make it sound as accurate as you can by recalling how the string generally sounds.
- From here, now place your finger on the fifth fret of the low e string. Since the open low e string makes the sound of the ‘e‘ note, the first fret makes the sound of the ‘f‘ note. Similarly, the second fret makes the sound of an ‘f#‘ note. Then the third fret makes the sound of the ‘g‘ note and the fourth fret makes the sound of the ‘g#‘ note. This sums up for us that the fifth fret of the low e string makes the sound of the ‘a’ note (refer to the musical note sequence mentioned earlier for clarity if you’re confused).
- Now, if you’re wondering why we’re focusing on the ‘a‘ note here, it is because the next string after the low e string is the A string. And the ‘a‘ note you get by pressing the fifth fret in the thickest string will sound similar to the open fifth string (A string).
- Keep plucking these strings alternatively till you can make the open fifth string sound very similar to the ‘a‘ note in the sixth string. Once you’re confident about enough similarity in their sound, you can move on to the next 4 strings.
- To tune the fourth string (d string), you need to repeat the same process again.
- Place your finger on the fifth fret of the fifth string and take that as a reference note to tune the fourth string.
- Again, you should know why you’ve placed your finger on the fifth fret. The open fifth string produces the sound of the ‘a‘ note as we all know through the previous step. This means that the first fret will make the sound of ‘a#‘ note, the second fret will make the sound of a ‘b‘ note, the third fret will make the sound of a ‘c‘ note, and the fourth fret will make the sound of ‘c#‘ note and lastly, the fifth fret will make the sound of the ‘d‘ note which is exactly what we need. And why do we need the sound of ‘d‘ note? Since the next string, we’ve to tune is the ‘d‘ string (fourth string).
- After you are done with the fourth string, now move on to the third-string which is the ‘g‘ string. Following the same process again, place your finger on the fifth fret of the fourth string since that’ll give you the ‘g‘ note according to the theory of musical scales. Keep playing the two strings till they sound fairly similar and move on to the second string.
- Now there is a little difference here. Instead of placing your finger in the fifth fret of the ‘g‘ string, you are going to place it in the fourth fret of the ‘g‘ string. Now why that? Let’s recall the theory.
- The open third string gives us the ‘g‘ note. Meaning, that placing your finger in the first fret will give you the sound of the ‘g#‘ note, the second fret will make the sound of ‘a‘ note, the third fret will make the sound of ‘a#‘ note, and the fourth fret will make the sound of the ‘b‘ note which is what we need since the second string of the guitar is the ‘b‘ string.
- Moving on to the last string that’s left, the high e string, and the process remains the same. You will have to place your finger on the fifth fret of the ‘b‘ string again and repeat the process.
Henceforth, this way, without using any device or tuner, you can tune a guitar!
In case the entire theory becomes too overwhelming to sink in at once, especially for beginners, the easy way to remember this is through this- 5 5 5 4 5 (only to tune the second string, you change your fret in the third string.)
In conclusion, these are the several ways through which you can tune your guitar. Choose the one which seems the most convenient for you and go with it. Remember that knowing how to tune a guitar and regularly making a habit to tune your guitar is very important for guitarists since it overall affects the way your guitar sounds.