How to Tune a Guitar

Learning how to tune a guitar with or without an electronic tuner, but especially by ear, is a very important aspect of learning and playing the guitar as guitars go out of tune all the time.

To go straight to the videos just click on either of the links below or please read on for more information...

Tuning with an Electronic Tuner
How to Tune a Guitar by Ear
Tuning a Guitar to Concert Pitch

Guitars lose their 'tuned state' for various reasons. One very common reason is due to 'string slippage'. This is where the string slips at its connection to the tuning peg. This is easily prevented though by making certain that the strings are indeed fitted correctly in the first place. 

New strings that have been fitted correctly can still slip a little anyway though, until they become settled. This can take a few days or more depending on how much you play the newly fitted strings. A good way to reduce the probability of new strings from slipping is to stretch, bend and gently pull the newly fitted strings away from the fret board. This should be done while continually checking and re-tuning the guitar as you go. This will considerably reduce the 'settling in time' of newly fitted strings.

Also, a guitarist who plays a lot of lead guitar with lots of 'hard playing' and string bending will also increase the likelihood of the guitar going out of tune, as does the heavy use of a tremolo arm. Quick temperature changes, different woods used in construction and thinner gauged strings can all have an effect on the guitar staying 'in tune' or not. Needless to say, the importance of knowing how to tune a guitar properly can't be emphasized enough. 

The Beginner

Learning how to tune a guitar can be a little tricky for the beginner as it often requires your ears to have the ability of detecting slight differences in pitch from two different places on the fret board. I have to admit, that for me personally, it was quite a struggle in my early days. It took me quite some time to be able to know whether the note was flat, and it had to go up, or it was sharp and it had to go down?!

The good news is, that with continued practice, determination and patience, even the most tone deaf individual can and will develop their ear to such an extent that it will in fact become quick and easy to tune a guitar by ear. 

Some people are naturally gifted in this way though as they possess a good musical ear without having to work at it at all. For those of us that are indeed 'tone deaf', learning how to tune a guitar can be a bit of a nightmare. The best way to get started therefore, is to use a digital or electronic guitar tuner. I have been using one of these for years. It helped me to keep my guitar in-tune in the early days of my practice, and is now used every now and then to keep my guitars at the correct musical pitch (concert pitch). Concert pitch is discussed further down.

However, even if you are starting off and need to use a digital guitar tuner of some sort or another, it is still good practice to try to learn how to tune a guitar by ear. This way, you will slowly train your ear to learn how to detect whether the note is indeed sharp or flat, and therefore, whether the open string in question has to be raised or lowered. This will all have a knock-on effect that will only help to increase your musical ear's ability to recognise when you may be playing in or out of key later on as you progress. This will of course only make you a better overall guitarist in the long-run.

You can still use the electronic guitar tuner to help you to check that you have indeed made the right choices and your guitar is therefore perfectly tuned, or maybe that it is not and is in need of further tuning.

One good point that may help you to learn how to tune a guitar by ear is to remain relaxed and calm and to really take your time. I know this may seem like obvious advice, but being calm and really focusing helped me a lot in my early days. It's surprising how many people might still try to rush something like this, so do take your time and be patient.

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Video Showing How to Tune a Guitar with an Electronic Tuner

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There are a number of electronic guitar tuners available such as the ones shown below that can be purchased from Amazon. These particular ones are very popular with the main differences being that the SN-1 is a tuner for both guitar and bass. The SN-2 is an all-instrument tuner that also has a built-in metronome which is great for helping you learn how to keep in time. And the SN-14 is a guitar tuner only. There are many other tuners over at Amazon with plenty of reviews to help you decide which one is best for you, so why not go and take a look.

I have to admit I haven't used any of these myself but only because I've had my particular tuner for many years and it still works fine.

Another good tuner, going by the reviews, is the Fender FT-004 which can be viewed at the link below.

Fender FT-004 Chromatic Clip-On Tuner Packs

Learning How to Tune a Guitar by Ear

Learning how to tune a guitar without the need of a digital/electronic guitar tuner is relatively very simple but may take some time to master. The correct method should really start first of all by making certain that the bottom E string (the fattest string) is not too tight before you start or the other strings further down may break when they are tuned up to the correct pitch. Therefore, it is ideally best to have the bottom E string tuned to 'Concert Pitch'. This should be done by using an electronic guitar tuner to get you started in the right direction. 

Other methods for tuning a guitar are pitch pipes or a tuning fork. The difference between the three is that an electronic tuner does it all for you, but pitch pipes and a tuning fork still require your ear to do some work. This would defeat the object of getting the bottom E string spot on and so it may be a little counter-productive at this stage to use these methods for this purpose. Anyway, once the bottom E string is tuned correctly, you can then attempt to tune the rest of the strings by ear for the purpose of developing your musical ear's sensitivity.

Of course, you can tune all the guitar strings with the electronic guitar tuner if you wish, but then you won't learn how to tune a guitar by ear yourself will you. Practice is the only way to train your ear to become more sensitive. With practice, you will eventually learn how to tune a guitar very close to concert pitch by ear alone, without the need of a digital/electronic guitar tuner, pitch pipes or a tuning fork. 

Concert Pitch

'Concert Pitch' is the term given to the standard tuning of musical instruments. This 'standard pitch', is how to tune a guitar correctly from a musical perspective. It is what musicians 'tune-up' to when playing together in a concert, or any other musical group arrangement. This way, they are not only in tune with one another, but are also correctly tuned to the standard concert pitch 

This is very important, as tuning to Concert pitch not only makes certain everyone is in tune with one another for obvious reasons, but it also ensures that all the strings on stringed instruments are at the correct tension. The reason that this is important is because the internal structure of all stringed instruments such as; guitars, violins, violas, cellos etc. are designed for the instrument to be tuned to this concert pitch. Strings that are tuned too tightly can place unnecessary stresses upon the internal structure of the instrument as well as the strings of course. Over time this can reduce its quality of play and therefore affect the instrument's overall performance.

Ultimately, learning how to tune a guitar properly by ear is all part of being able to play a guitar no matter how serious you are. After all, you wouldn't want to find yourself around somebody's house with no way of tuning a guitar that happened to be there would you? 

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How to Tune a Guitar by Ear 
1st Method

There's a video on this first method of how to tune a guitar further down after the informative text.

There are three standard methods for tuning a guitar with the first method by far the most commonly used and easiest to learn. There is also a video further down for instruction on this first method. Many guitarists use a combination of either all of the following methods or just two of them.

Caution: when first learning how to tune a guitar by ear, you should keep a check on the tension of the strings, especially the top E string (thinnest string) as they can break, particularly if the strings are a little old.

Note: If any string that you are tuning is a little sharp and needs to be lowered, slacken the string off more than it needs so it becomes flat before tuning it back up to the correct pitch. This is a far more stable way of tuning than just tuning the sharp string down to the correct pitch. This is because it tightens the string up to the desired pitch rather than loosening the string down to the desired pitch. This is an important habit to develop when first learning how to tune a guitar.

6TH STRING/BOTTOM E STRING (fattest string)

The bottom E string should ideally be tuned with an electronic guitar tuner, pitch pipes or tuning forks. If none of these are available make certain that the string is not too tight. Once you are satisfied with the tension and/or pitch of the open bottom E string, you can begin to tune the second string down, the open A string. The term 'open' means the string is played alone with no fingers on the fret board.

5TH STRING/A STRING

To tune the A string, place any finger that feels comfortable on the fifth (5th) fret of the bottom E string and play that note, which is A. You now have to match the open A string with that fifth fret note of A on the bottom E string. Tune the open A string up or down to match that fifth fret note of A on the bottom E string. 

4TH STRING/D STRING

Now repeat the above process for the open D string. Place any finger that feels comfortable on the fifth (5th) fret of the A string and play that note, which is D. You now have to match the open D string with that fifth fret note of on the A string. Tune the open D string up or down to match that fifth fret note of D on the A string. 

3RD STRING/G STRING 

Now repeat the above process for the open G string. Place any finger that feels comfortable on the fifth (5th) fret of the D string and play that note, which is G. You now have to match the open G string with that fifth fret note of on the D string. Tune the open G string up or down to match that fifth fret note of G on the D string.  

2ND STRING/B STRING

The open B string is tuned slightly different to the previous strings. Place any finger that feels comfortable on the fourth (4th) fret of the G string and play that note, which is B. You now have to match the open B string with that fourth fret note of on the G string. Tune the open B string up or down to match that fourth fret note of B on the G string.

1ST STRING/TOP E STRING (thinnest string)

We now go back to the original method by placing any finger that feels comfortable on the fifth (5th) fret of the B string and play that note, which is E. You now have to match the open top E string with that fifth fret note of on the B string. Tune the open top E string up or down to match that fifth fret note of E on the B string. 

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Video Showing How to Tune a Guitar by Ear
Using the 1st Method

How to Tune a Guitar by Ear
2nd Method

If you're a complete beginner and only just learning how to tune a guitar by ear, then this second approach may cause a few problems. The first method asks your ears to match exactly the same note when tuning. This second method however, asks you to match the same notes but at different pitches.

This second method for tuning a guitar can also be used in combination with either of the other two methods or alone. This second approach starts on the 1st string or 'top E' (the thinnest string) and works its way up the strings from the bottom of the guitar fret board towards the 6th string or bottom E (fattest string).

Note: Be a little careful of this if you're a complete beginner. Learning how to tune a guitar using this second approach may cause the strings to get too tight if you don't fully understand the concept of different pitches etc. You'd be better off mastering the first method before moving on to this one.

1ST STRING/TOP E STRING (thinnest string)

Using an electronic guitar tuner, pitch pipes or tuning forks, make certain that the top E string is at the correct pitch or at least not too tight.

2ND STRING/B STRING

Next, play a B note on the 7th fret of the top E and tune the open B string above it to match the same note. 

3RD STRING/G STRING 

Next, play the note of G on the 3rd fret also on the top E string and tune the open G string to match that note.

4TH STRING/D STRING

Play the note of D on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string (B string) and tune the open D string to match this note.

5TH STRING/A STRING

Play the note of A on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string (G string) and tune the open A string to match this note.

6TH STRING/BOTTOM E STRING (fattest string)

Play the note of E on the 2nd fret of the 4th string (D string) and tune the open bottom E string to match this note.

Once this is completed check both the bottom E and top E strings both sound the same. They will of course be at different pitches, but they should still both be the note of E and therefore sound similar.

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How to Tune a Guitar by Ear
3rd Method

Like the previous methods for tuning a guitar, this third approach can also be used in combination with either or both of the other two methods or on its own.

Note: Again, if you are only just learning how to tune a guitar by ear then be a little careful of this 3rd method also. Ideally, if you're a beginner you would be better off learning how to tune a guitar using the first approach, as this 3rd method, like the second, may cause the strings to get too tight if you don't fully understand the concept of different pitches and octaves etc.

1/ Ideally start by using an electronic guitar tuner, pitch pipes or a tuning fork to tune the 5th string (open A string) to concert pitch.  

2/ Play the note of E on the 7th fret of the 5th string (A string) and tune both the 1st string (open top E string) and 6th string (open bottom E string) to this note. 

3/ Play the note of B on the 7th fret of the 1st string (top E string). Tune the 2nd string (open B string) to this note.

4/ Play the note of G on the 8th fret of the 2nd string (B string) and tune the 3rd string (open G string) to this note.

5/ Play the note of D on the 7th fret of the 3rd string (G string). Tune the 4th string (open D string) to this note.

6/ Play the note of A on the 7th fret of the 4th string (D string) Check and tune if necessary, the 2nd string (open A string) to this note which is where you originally started.

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Tuning a Guitar to Concert Pitch

Below is a video of my fender acoustic guitar that has been tuned to concert pitch. This is another way of tuning a guitar. Just match your guitar's open strings to the open strings played below.

Without seeming to state the obvious, the only way to learn how to tune a guitar really well by ear is to practice, practice and practice some more. Trial and error is the only way. With continued practice, patience and determination, the frustration that often comes with trying to learn how to tune a guitar will undoubtedly become a thing of the past.

Good luck, and keep practicing!

I hope you found this page helpful and it has helped you to understand and hear how to tune a guitar correctly. Please return to this site as I will continue to add more charts and videos over time for beginners and more advanced players on many aspects of playing this wonderful instrument.

Keep up the practice!

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