This is one of the first questions that beginner musicians face. However, tuning the guitar is very important not only for them – when you play regularly, you have to tune your guitar regularly. It can get easily out of tune due to factors such as changes in temperature, transportation, and simply due to frequent use. Don’t worry though – there’s nothing complicated in tuning a guitar. Once you understand how it works, it will become a routine. Below you will find instructions that apply to both acoustic, classical and electric guitars.
Tuning a guitar actually means tuning its strings. It doesn’t matter which string you begin with, but to avoid confusion, it is best to start with the thickest one at the top of the neck or the E. Then continue down until you finish with the thinnest string at the bottom of the neck, also known as the e string. Here is a fun way to remember how the strings go: E-very B-ear G-oes D-ancing A-fter E-ating or E-B-G-D-A-E!
Tune a guitar with an electric tuner
This is one of the easiest ways to tune a guitar. Instead of using the strings to find the right tones for the other strings, the electric tuner will detect the sound waves your guitar creates and show you which note they correspond to. All you have to do is turn on the tuner and pluck the string. The tuner will show you if the string is in tune in a few seconds. If not, you just need to rotate the appropriate tuning peg until the string plays the desired tone. You can find out which key to turn by tracking where the string you just played goes.
Tuners that I recommend can be found HERE.
How to Tune a Guitar by Ear
If you insist on knowing how to tune a guitar the old-fashioned way, first tune the 6th string to low E. If you already know this pitch, go right ahead. Otherwise go online to find samples of a low E, use a tuner or other reference tones such as a piano or other musical instrument. Otherwise, you can always just proceed with the steps below in order to make your guitar in tune with itself. That way when you play, the things you play won’t sound wrong.
Pluck your tuned low E string with your right hand (or left hand, depending on with which you play) while holding the string down with your left hand at the 5th fret. The note that rings will be an A.
Pluck the open string below it (“open”, because you are not holding down the string on any frets) and turn the second tuning peg until your A string produces the same tone as your low E string when played at the 5th fret. Following this, play the A string at the 5th fret to find the correct tone for the D string, and the D string at the 5th fret to find the G string. When you’re tuning your B string, you have to then play the G string at the 4th fret instead of the 5th (the one exception). To tune the last high E string, move back to the 5th fret and play the B string to find your high E tone.
It may sound confusing to you now, but after doing it a few times, it will become second nature.
Via harmonics (2nd way to do this by ear)
This technique is for the more advanced players. If you don’t know what a harmonic is and how it’s played, it might be best to skip this way of doing things, as you should be confident playing them before you proceed. This technique is ideal for tuning your guitar to itself quickly. But if you’d like to be in tune with other instruments, then you need to tune your high E string first.
Then we continue with tuning our 6th string. Play a harmonic on the 6th string, 5th fret and tune it to the open 1st string. They need to be making the same sound. To tune the 5th string, play a harmonic on 5th fret, 6th string and 7th fret, 5th string. Same for the 4th string – a ahrmonic on 5th fret, 5th string and 7th fret, 4th string. Also for the 3rd string – a harmonic on 5th fret 4th string and 7th fret, 3rd string. As before, the 2nd string is the exception – for it, you need to play a harmonic on the 7th fret, 1st string and 5th fret on 2nd string.
Help from a friend
We’re sure you can handle tuning your guitar, but if all this is confusing, you can always ask for help. Any more advanced guitarist has certainly mastered their guitar tuning skills and probably wouldn’t mind helping you. You can also sign up for a guitar lesson – in her first lesson with new students, one of the things Neli does is exactly to show how to tune a guitar. The first lesson with Neli is also with a 50% discount!