How to Tune a Guitar

How to tune a guitar is one of the first lessons when starting the instrument. The best player will sound bad if the guitar strings are not in tune or are slipping out of tune. The below guide will explain how to use an electric guitar tuner and how to tune by ear. Also non standard tuning and restringing tips.

How does tuning work?

The strings on a guitar run from the bridge on the body of the guitar up to the neck where they wrap around tuning pegs/nuts. These tuning pegs/nuts when turned will stretch (tighten) or un-stretch (loosen) the strings. As a string tightens the pitch of the note will get higher conversely, when a string loosens the pitch lowers. This explains the basics of how to change the sound of a guitar string. 

What is standard tuning?

Standard tuning on a 6 string guitar is E A D G B E starting from the low E (The fattest string as you look down on the guitar. The guitar strings should play these notes when struck open (no fingers pushing down on the fret board. They should also play the same note when the string pressed down at the 12th fret. The note will be 1 octave higher than when playing the string open.

The standard tuning on a Bass Guitar is E A D G (The same tuning as the top for strings on a standard guitar as above) 

When you are a beginner standard tuning is recommended as other tuning types can be tried once comfortable with the standard set up.

Other tuning types are D A D G A D famously used by Jimmy Page  and ‘Drop D’ – D A D G B E.

Tuning the Guitar

The tuning pegs when looking at them face on will tighten the string when turned counterclockwise and loosen the string when turned clockwise.  Strings should always be tuned from loose strings up and not over tightened else they could snap.

Start with the low E (fattest string closest to your chin) and Tune that to E. It is helpful to use an electronic tuner while you tune your ear to recognize the note and manually tune to it. Manual tuning by ear can take some time and practice but it is a skill worth having.

After the Low E is in tune an electronic tuner can be used for the remainder of the strings or each string can be tuned by ear. However if no tuner is available,  once the Low E is found the following method can be used:

    • On the low E, Press the 5th Fret which will play an A. the string below can be tuned to match this string
    • When the 2nd string is tuned to A again press the 5th fret and tune the 3rd string beneath to match this note which is a D
    • Once the 3rd string is tuned to D again press the 5th fret and tune the 4th string beneath to match this note which is a G
    • Now the 4th string is tuned to G again press the 4th fret and tune the 5th string beneath to match this note which is a B
    • Finally, Once the 5th string is tuned to G again press the 5th fret and tune the 6th string beneath to match this note which is an E

This Method is recommended as it helps train the ear to hear the note!

How to stop my guitar coming out of tune

An often asked question is how to stop a guitar coming out of tune. The answer is there isn’t as the string and guitar structure is affected by temperature change, being knocked, or the age of the strings. However, there are tips to stop strings slipping or coming out of tune.

  • Replace strings regularly
  • Tune the guitar often
  • Use locking nuts
  • Use  string lock technique when restring the guitar:
      • before the string is wound loop the end of the string underneath the string running down the guitar and pull up.
      • Now wind the string which will wrap around the end of the string pulled up.
      • This tight lock helps stop strings slipping on a guitar.

Online Guitar Tuners

A quick Google search will find a number of online tuners. Below are a few that have proven useful