Learning how to tune a guitar is an essential skill for every guitarist. Here below are all the common methods for tuning a guitar which I have tried countless times. Do practice more to train up your “musical ear”. Enjoy 🙂
Guitar Tuning Basic
Machine Heads at the Headstock
To tune your guitar, you need to use the small ‘keys’ at the headstock that you can turn.
We call these Machine Heads, Tuning Pegs, Tuners, or Tuning Keys.
Each string is attached to its machine head. When we turn these keys, we change the pitch of that string.
- Tightening = higher pitch
- Loosening = lower pitch
Standard Guitar Tuning
In standard guitar tuning, the notes of the guitar, from thickest to thinnest, are as follows:
How to remember the order of the guitar strings:
Mnemonics to help remember the order of the 6 open strings “E, A, D, G, B, E”
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie
- EDGE + A between E & D and B between G & E
Methods for Guitar Tuning
There are many different ways to tune a guitar. The easier way is to use an electronic tuner or a mobile app. But for a beginner, you need to train your ‘musical ear’ by using the ‘Relative Tuning’ method especially when there is no handy tuner or other musical instruments around. The more you try to tune your guitar by your ear, the more you get familiar with the sounds of the notes of the strings.
Remember to tune your guitar before you play since guitars go out of tune from playing. It is very demotivating to play the guitar when it sounds bad.
- While tuning, keep plucking those relative strings until it has reached the correct note.
- Stretch the strings while turning the machine heads to get the strings stabilized. It usually brings the pitch down a little bit. Don’t worry, just tune it back on. This tip is even more essential when restring your guitar (Electric, Acoustic & Classical)
- Play a few chords and listen carefully to check whether or not they sound great after tuning.
1, Electronic Guitar Tuner
Tuning with an electronic guitar tuner is my personal best option as it is fast, accurate, and simple to use. When you pluck a note and the tuner will tell you:
- The string you are trying to tune and the note you just played
- How far away from the note you are with an oscillating ‘needle’
You need to get the ‘needle’ in the middle by adjusting the machine heads. Then the green light is lit, which means that the note is perfectly in tune. Otherwise, the red light is on with the needle either over to the left or right; meaning that the note is too high or too low.
Most of the tuners can ‘auto-detect’ the strings you want to tune. However, you may have to select the string manually with some tuners.
3 types of Electronic Tuner:
- It clips on your guitar’s headstock
- Excellent performance in a noisy environment since it detects the notes through vibration
- It will automatically detect which string and its notes when you pluck it
- Very accurate and with LCD – easy to read
- Here are my recommendations:
- Suitable for guitar and bass guitar
- Fast, accurate tuning from 435 to 445Hz, designed for beginners and professionals.
- 180° rotatable hinge matches your need better.
- Power saving mode and automatic shutdown. Auto power-off function, the device will turn off automatically if there is no signal present or operation in 3mins.
- Bright, colorful LCD.
- Small and exquisite appearance, convenient to carry.
- Faster processing chip
- “Stay Put” Clip
- Enhanced accuracy
- High definition screen
- Screen can be read from any angle
- Poly tune technology – tune all 6 strings simultaneously
- Chromatic (/- 0.5 cent) and extra accurate strobe (/- 0.02 cent) modes
- Ultra-bright and easy to read adaptive display – ensures a perfect readout No matter what orientation clip is attached
- Flat tuning and capo modes
- Elegant yet durable design, with high-quality stainless steel clip
Plug-in / Pedal-based
- Very accurate and it connects directly to your electric, bass or electro-acoustic guitar via a jack lead
- Here are my recommendations:
- 21-segment LED meter with brightness control
- High-Brightness mode enhances meter visibility outdoors
- Accurate to +/- one cent
- Accu-Pitch Sign function provides visual verification when tuning is complete
- Chromatic and Guitar/Bass mode (tune by string number, with support for 7-string guitars and 6-string basses)
- Tiny polyphonic Tuner gives you fast, accurate tuning and a high-quality tone tool in a single unit
- Quickly tune-up with polyphonic, chromatic and strobe tuning modes
- Built-in Bonafide buffer keeps tone crisp through long cables and large pedal boards
- Polyphonic Mode tunes all your strings at once
- Lightning-fast chromatic tuner
- No need to clip on your headstock
- Some of them even have input for you to plug your instrument in
- The downside is that you need to hear the note clearly
- A noisy environment will affect the performance of the tuning
- My recommendation is Korg GA50
- An even more readable display, with a larger note name indication
- Guitar and bass modes provided, with support for 7-string guitars and 5 or 6-string basses
- Sound out mode assists when you replace strings; output jack lets you tune even during a performance
- Dramatic increase in battery life; stylish Body design with excellent functionality
- Memory backup function and auto power-off function provided
2, Smartphone App / Online Tuner
- Many decent free or paid apps are available
- It operates the same as the microphone-based electronic tuners
- You can tune your guitar by ear with an online tuner
- ‘Guitar Tuna’ is popular and good.
- 10+ FREE Instrument Tuner App
- Online Guitar Tuner with 100+ Million Downloads
- Good Tuning Quality
- Pick an instrument and start tuning right away
- Choose from 22 tuning options
- It has an App version
3, Relative Tuning Method (by using its own strings and your ear)
The following are the most popular 3 relative tuning methods:
5th Fret Method
Get a reference note from a tuning fork, pitch pipe, or musical instrument like a piano to tune your Low E String. If you cannot find any handy instrument around, try your best to tune the 6th E String as accurately as possible and then tune the rest of the strings relative to it. It is still fine to play whenever the guitar is in tune itself.
Here below are the relationships between the fretted notes and the notes of the open strings. Tune the open strings by turning the machine heads until the notes are in harmony.
- 5th Fretted E String = Open A String
- 5th Fretted A String = Open D String
- 5th Fretted D String = Open G String
- 4th Fretted G String = Open B String*
- 5th Fretted B String = Open e String
*Note that the B string is the only one using the 4th fret to tune. All the others use the 5th fret.
7th Fret Method
The 7th fret method is similar to the 5th fret method in nature but only that you tune your guitar by using the 7th fret of the string and we start with the 1st string instead of the 6th string. Likewise, we need a reference note to tune the 1st high E string.
- 7th Fretted e String = Open B String
- 8th Fretted B String = Open G String*
- 7th Fretted G String = Open D String
- 7th Fretted D String = Open A String
- 7th Fretted A String = Open E String
*Note that the B string is the only one using the 8th fret to tune. All the others use the 7th fret.
Harmonics Tuning Method
The harmonic of the 5th fret of one string sounds the same as the 7th fret of the next string down. Rest your finger lightly on the fret, touching but not pressing down.
Remember, place your finger exactly above the fret for harmonics, i.e. above the metal bit itself.
- 5th Fret Harmonic of E String = 7th Fret Harmonic of A String
- 5th Fret Harmonic of A String = 7th Fret Harmonic of D String
- 5th Fret Harmonic of D String = 7th Fret Harmonic of G String
- 7th Fret Harmonic of E String = Open B String*
- 5th Fret Harmonic of B String = 7th Fret Harmonic of e String
*Note that the B string is the only one using the E string 7th fret harmonic to tune.
Pros of Harmonics over the other two methods:
- With the 5th fret and 7th fret methods, the notes don’t ring when take your hand off the fretted note to tune. With harmonics, the notes ring even if you take your hand off while you tuning.
- It is a much more effective technique.
- It is always good to fine-tune the guitar using harmonics after the 5th or 7th fret method.
Way to tune a 7-string guitar
The 7-string guitar is with a Low B string (7th string). We can use the 5th Fret Method to tune it by matching the pitch on the 5th fret of this 7th string to the pitch of the open 6th string.
Tuning with Other Instruments
You can use other musical instruments like a piano and other properly tuned guitars to tune your guitar.
Firstly you need to find E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, and E4 on your instrument. (On a keyboard or piano, E2 is two octaves below middle C4.)
Play each note on your instrument and tune your guitar relative to that note. Your string is in tune when the two notes start to resonate and sound in harmony.
Tips for Guitar Maintenance
In order to let your instrument in good shape and prolong its life, you have to properly maintain your guitar. Here below are some general tips for you to notice and take action. For details, please check out our guide on Comprehensive Tips For Keeping Your Guitar In Great Shape and Superb Playability.
- Get your guitars professionally set up and regular check.
- Clean your guitar including strings and fretboard with a soft cloth after playing to remove any sweat and dirt.
- Store your guitar in a high-quality gig bag or a hard case.
- Avoid extreme temperature and humidity.
- Keep your guitar away from direct sunlight.
- Restring your guitar regularly. The rule of thumb is to change the strings in 3 months or after 100 hours of playing.