How to Tune a Guitar: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Knowing how to tune a guitar is essential. You could play like Jimi Hendrix, but if you’re out of tune, you’ll sound like Jeff Hendricks. (Sorry, Jeff).

How to tune a guitar

Knowing how to tune a guitar is essential. You could play like Jimi Hendrix, but if you’re out of tune, you’ll sound like Jeff Hendricks. (Sorry, Jeff).

In our Mammoth guide to tuning your guitar, we’ll explore various methods, including electronic tuners, smartphone apps, other instruments, and developing your own musical ear. 

I’ve been playing guitar for over 25 years, and trust me, the sooner you learn how to tune a guitar, the better you’re going to sound.

I wanted to write the ultimate guide on how to tune a guitar properly, by giving you essential tips to help you maintain your guitar’s tuning accuracy and make sure you always sound fantastic.

You might also want to read our guides on:

Let’s dive into how to tune a guitar.

How to tune a guitar: Standard Tuning

Standard tuning is the most common turning by far and is what you need to learn first. Depending on the style you want to play, it’s likely to be the tuning for 90% of the songs you’ll ever learn. 

While you’re a beginner, standard tuning is the place to start. Just know that further down the road, there’s a lot of fun and creativity to be had, by learning other guitar tunings.

Standard tuning is as follows: 

E – A – D – G – B – E. 

That’s the order of the strings from the lowest (and thickest) string, to the highest (and thinnest) string. 

Remembering the notes in standard tuning:

You’ll need to memorize the notes for standard tuning. To make it easier, just remember:

Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie.” 

How to tune a guitar: the basics

The machine heads, also known as tuning pegs, are what we use to tune the guitar. 

Turn them one way and the string will lower in pitch (as the string slackens) and turn them the other way to raise the pitch (as the string tightens).

How to tune a guitar: Electronic Tuners

When you’re starting out, an electronic turner is the best way to go. 

It’s a foolproof method for achieving precise tuning. Here is a breakdown of how to tune your guitar using this invaluable tool. 

There are many types of electronic tuners:

  1. Clip on tuners that attach to the headstock of your guitar and work on vibrations.
  2. Pedal tuners that take the signal from an electric guitar via an instrument table.
  3. Microphone-based tuners, which are useful for acoustic guitars. 

Whatever the type of electronic guitar tuner you are using, they all tend to work in a similar way. 

Using an Electronic Guitar Tuner

1. Connecting the Tuner

Attach the electronic tuner to the headstock of your guitar, or position it near the soundhole for acoustic-electric guitars, or plug it into your signal chain, depending on what type you’re using. 

2. Plucking the String

Start with the lowest E string and observe the tuner’s display. It will indicate whether the note is too high (sharp ), too low (flat), or accurately in tune.

3. Adjusting the String

Based on the guitar tuner’s feedback, turn the corresponding tuning peg to tighten or loosen the string until the tuner’s display confirms that the string is accurately in tune.

4. Repeating for All Strings

Repeat this process for each string, taking the A next and moving along after each one, progressing towards the thinnest.

5. Checking Your Tuning

Tuning can make your guitar’s neck move a little, which means you’ll need to go back through each string and check if it’s still in. Move back through the strings one by one, and make any micro-adjustments that you need to. 

How to Tune a Guitar: Using a Smartphone App

If an electronic tuner is unavailable, you can use a smartphone app specifically designed for guitar tuning. There are lots of free ones that work perfectly. There are also ones on websites like this:

Pro-Guitar Online Guitar Tuner

Follow these steps to tune your guitar using this technology:

1. Installing a Tuning App

Navigate to your smartphone’s app store and search for a reliable guitar tuning app. Download and install the standard guitar tuning app that best suits your needs.

2. Opening the App and Selecting Tuning

Upon installing the app, open it and select the desired tuning, such as standard tuning (EADGBE) or any alternative tunings of your preference.

3. Follow steps 3-5 from the list above. 

How to tune a Guitar: Using Other Instruments

You can use a well-tuned instrument, such as a piano, keyboard or properly tuned guitar as a reference to tune your guitar. (You can also use a song you like, which you know is in the correct tuning. For example, Back in Black by AC/DC starts with a low E note). 

This is a more advanced technique, and not really suitable for total beginners, as it requires you to have a trained ear, to be able to tell if the note is flat or sharp compared to the reference note. This takes a bit of time, but the only way you’ll learn is if you practise and it’s great training for your ear – an essential part of becoming a well-rounded musician. 

How to tune using a reference instrument: 

1. Matching the Reference Pitch

Play a note on the reference instrument, such as the E note on a piano, and pluck the low E of your guitar as the piano continues to ring out. The E note that’s two octaves below middle C on a piano is the same octave as the low E note on a guitar. 

2. Adjusting the String

If the guitar string sounds higher than the reference pitch, loosen the corresponding tuning peg. If it sounds lower, tighten the peg. Continue making adjustments until both pitches align harmoniously.

3. Repeating for All Strings

Repeat this process for each string. Use the reference instrument to play each of the notes (E-A-D-G-B-E) in order, as a guide for each of the strings. 

How to tune a Guitar: by tuning the guitar to itself

If you have no tuner or any other reference, you can tune a guitar to itself, just by using your ear. And as covered in the previous example, tuning your guitar by ear is a valuable skill and improves you as a musician. 

1. Starting with a Reference Note – or not

You can start this process with a reference note to get the E correct. Or if you have no reference, you can get the E as close as you can based on what feels right.

As long as the other stings are all tuned in relation to the low E, you’ll still sound good, even if the low E isn’t actually an E. But this only works if you’re playing without other musicians, or you’re not trying to play along to a piece of music – as you’ll be out of tune with everyone else.

2. Using Fretted Notes

Once the low E string is properly tuned, play the 5th fret on the E to play an A note. As you play this fretted note, play the next string and tune it to the same note. 

Continue this process up to the G string, using the 5th fret as a reference for the next string. So play the 5th fret of the A string to tune the D string. 

The 5th fret of the D string to tune the G string. 

When you reach the B string, you need to play the 4th fret on the G string as the reference note. 

For the high E string, you return to playing the 5th fret of the B string. 

4. Fine-tuning with Unison

After employing the fretted notes as a rough guide, pluck each open string alongside its corresponding adjacent fretted note. Make slight adjustments to the tuning pegs until the open string and the fretted note produce the same pitch, achieving a perfect unison.

How Often Should You Tune a Guitar?

Every time you pick it up. If you want to sound great, you need to be in turn. And all sorts of factors make your guitar go out. Temperature, humidity, and playing intensity can cause the strings to lose their tune, especially if you’re bending a lot of notes, or hammering the strings really hard with your picking hand. 

It is recommended that you tune your guitar:

– Before each practice session or performance.

– Regularly during a performance.

– When transitioning between different tunings.

– Whenever you notice any tonal discrepancies or the strings feeling loose.

Tips to Keep Your Guitar in Tune & Sounding Great

In addition to regular tuning, here are some valuable tips to help you maintain your guitar’s tuning stability and overall sound quality.

We’ve also got a full article on why your guitar won’t stay in tune.

1. Proper String Winding

When changing strings, ensure that they are wound neatly around the tuning pegs, avoiding overlapping or leaving excessive slack. This promotes stability and prevents string slippage.

2. Stretching the Strings

Newly installed strings tend to stretch and settle. After changing strings, gently pull and stretch each string multiple times, then retune. Repeat this process until the strings hold their tune more effectively.

3. Checking the Nut and Bridge

Check that the strings are seated properly in the nut slots and bridge saddles. Poor string placement can lead to tuning issues. Additionally, lubricating the nut slots with graphite from a pencil can reduce friction and improve tuning stability.

4. Keeping your cool

Extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations can impact your guitar’s tuning. To reduce these problems, store your instrument in a controlled environment, use a humidifier in dry conditions, and avoid exposing it to direct sunlight or extreme heat/cold. In other words, don’t lean your precious guitar on the radiator. 

5. Regular string changes

While brand-new strings can take a little time to settle, old strings don’t hold their tuning as well. They also sound dull and lifeless, lacking brightness and clarity.

6. Regular Maintenance

Performing regular maintenance on your guitar helps with better tuning stability and sound quality – you can ask your local guitar shop to run a setup on it to make sure everything’s perfect. And clean your guitar’s fretboard between string changes. A well-maintained guitar is more likely to stay in tune and produce a rich and resonant tone.

7. Proper String Action and Intonation

Ensure that your guitar’s string action (the height of the strings above the fretboard) and intonation (the accuracy of the pitch at different fret positions) are properly set. High or uneven string action and inaccurate intonation can lead to tuning issues. If you are unsure how to adjust these aspects, seek assistance from a professional guitar technician, or ask them to do it for you (at a charge). 

8. Check the Tuning Stability

Periodically, while playing, check the tuning stability of your guitar, one guitar string at a time. After a few minutes of playing, strum all the strings gently and listen for any noticeable changes in tuning. If you detect any inconsistencies, it is advisable to re-tune your guitar.

How to Tune a Guitar: Conclusion

I hope this article has covered how to tune a guitar in enough depth for you.

Tuning your guitar is a vital skill that every guitarist has to master. Whether you choose to use an electronic tuner, smartphone app, other instruments, or rely on your musical ear, the result is the same – a great sounding guitar. 

Regular tuning, combined with proper maintenance and care, will keep your guitar sounding its best and set you on the right path. So, embrace the art of tuning. 

FAQs – How to Tune a Guitar

What tools do I need to tune my guitar?

Typically, you will need a guitar tuner. This can be a physical tuner or a digital guitar tuner app available as an app on smartphones or online. Other options include tuning by ear or using a pitch pipe or a piano.

Can I tune my guitar without a tuner?

Yes, it’s possible to tune a guitar without a tuner. One common method is to use ‘relative tuning’, where you use one string as a reference to tune the other strings. However, this method might not be as precise as using a tuner.

How often should I tune my guitar?

Guitars should ideally be tuned every time you play. Factors like temperature, humidity changes, or simply playing the instrument can cause it to go out of tune.

What does standard tuning mean?

Standard tuning refers to the tuning E-A-D-G-B-E, from the lowest (thickest) string to the highest (thinnest) string. This is the most common tuning used for six-string guitars.

How do I know if my guitar is out of tune?

An out-of-tune guitar often sounds “off”. Chords might not resonate correctly, and the music may seem dissonant. If you’re new to the guitar, a tuner can help identify whether your guitar is out of tune.

What are some common alternate tunings?

Some common alternate tunings include Drop D, Open G, Open D, DADGAD, and many others. These can create different tones and allow for different chord shapes and sounds.

Can tuning my guitar incorrectly damage it?

Yes, incorrect tuning can potentially damage your guitar. If you tune the strings too tight, they might break and can potentially damage the guitar, particularly the neck and the bridge.

What is ‘intonation’ in guitar tuning?

Intonation refers to the guitar’s ability to stay in tune across the entire length of the fretboard. A guitar with good intonation will sound in tune whether you’re playing open strings or fretting notes higher up the neck.

Can different string gauges affect tuning?

Yes, different string gauges can affect both the tone and the tuning of your guitar. Heavier strings typically require more tension to reach the correct pitch, which can result in a fuller, louder sound. They might also stay in tune slightly better than lighter strings.

Why does my newly-stringed guitar go out of tune quickly?

New strings need a period of “stretching” before they hold their tuning well. You can speed up this process by gently pulling on the strings and re-tuning until they stay in tune.

Certainly, here are the additional frequently asked questions about tuning guitars along with their answers:

Can I use a piano to tune my guitar?

Yes, using a piano is a viable option to tune your guitar. You can compare the pitches of the guitar strings to the corresponding keys on a piano. However, keep in mind that pianos are typically tuned to a specific temperament, so this method might not be as precise as using a dedicated guitar tuner.

Is tuning guitar strings with harmonics different from regular tuning?

Guitar tuning with harmonics involves lightly touching the string at specific points and plucking it to create a chime-like sound. This can help improve the accuracy of tuning by reducing interference from the guitar’s body. While it requires a bit more practice, it can result in a more finely-tuned instrument.

Can I tune an electric guitar the same way as an acoustic guitar?

Yes, the tuning process is the same for both electric and acoustic guitars. The main difference might be in the sound production due to the amplification and electronics in electric guitars, but the tuning principles remain consistent.

How can I tune a 12-string guitar?

Tuning a 12-string guitar follows the same principles as a 6-string guitar, but with double sets of strings for each note. You’ll need to tune each set of strings to the same pitch, usually in octaves or unison, depending on the desired sound.

What’s the importance of using a tuning reference pitch?

A tuning reference pitch is a specific note used as a reference to tune your guitar. It helps ensure that your guitar is in tune with other instruments. Common reference pitches include A440 (440 Hz), which is the standard for orchestras and ensembles.

Can I tune my guitar to different pitches for unique sounds?

Yes, you can experiment with alternate tunings to achieve different sounds and play styles. For instance, tuning down a half-step or a whole step can give your guitar a different vibe, often favored in rock and blues genres.

Are there tuners that can help with alternate tunings?

Yes, there are chromatic tuners that allow you to select and tune to different pitches beyond the standard EADGBE tuning. They are helpful for achieving accurate tuning in various alternate tunings.

How do I maintain tuning stability while playing?

Factors like excessive bending of strings or using a heavy hand while strumming can cause your guitar to go out of tune. Developing a lighter touch and practicing proper string bending techniques can help maintain tuning stability during playing.

Can I use online tuners effectively?

Online tuners can be useful if you don’t have a physical tuner. However, the quality can vary, and ambient noise might affect accuracy. It’s recommended to use headphones and ensure a quiet environment for the best results.

What if I want to play along with a song that’s not in standard tuning?

You can adjust your guitar’s tuning to match the song. Alternatively, you can use a capo to change the pitch without altering the actual tuning of your guitar. This is helpful for playing along with songs that have been transposed to a different key.