Every day, thousands of people decide that they want to learn to play guitar — especially acoustic guitar. While some acoustic guitar players, decide to take lessons at a local music shop, many guitar players pursue beginner guitar lessons online. Regardless of where you are on your guitar journey, it’s important to know how to properly tune a guitar.
When musicians can’t properly tune their guitar, it can impact their confidence and the ability to express their creativity. In addition, tuning a guitar can help you sound better when playing with others. Making sure you know how to tune a guitar the right way will help you on your guitar journey.
Remember that all of these awesome online guitar lessons like this one are made possible by Acoustic Life. Designed by guitar geeks, for guitar geeks, Acoustic Life celebrates all things related to guitar. Whether you want to find some gear reviews or tune into our Acoustic Tuesday Show, Acoustic Life has you covered.
If you are looking for a better way to learn to play guitar, go ahead and request an invite for Tony’s Acoustic Challenge. Online guitar lessons like no other, Tony’s Acoustic Challenge guides you on your acoustic guitar journey. Request an invite today!
1. Guitar Tuners (it’s not wrong to use one!)
So often in the guitar world, there can be a stigma surrounding who uses a tuner to tune a guitar. Whether it’s because it feels like you’re cheating or it might not make your guitar the most in-tune with itself, there’s no shame in using a tuner.
In fact, tuning a guitar with a tuner is a great way to make sure that you are in tune. For beginners, tuning a guitar with a tuner can yield quick and accurate results to ensure your guitar is in tune.
If you’re having trouble tuning your guitar with a tuner, try hitting the harmonics on the 12th fret of your guitar. Harmonics can be picked up by tuners easier than normal notes.
That said, here’s a great guide if you’re looking to learn how to tune your guitar by ear.
2. Detune and Start Over
If you’re struggling to tune a specific string — if you can’t tell whether you’re above or below the correct pitch — tuning your guitar down and starting over is a great option. Think of this as recentering yourself. When you detune by tuning the string down, you essentially start all over. Starting off on a pitch that is so low will help you identify and find the correct pitch as you start tuning the guitar.
Approaching the correct pitch from below also helps reach that pitch more precisely. Because of the way the tuning machines work on a guitar, you can accurately approach your desired pitch from below. If you try to approach the desired pitch from above, the string may slip and it will be harder to find the desired pitch.
3. Tune Your Guitar Without Using Tuners
Learning how to tune your guitar without using tuners is an important skill to have. Whenever you are just slightly sharp or slightly flat, you can tune your guitar without even touching the tuners. To make quick adjustments without getting completely lost in the tuning process, try these two handy tips:
- If your string is sharp, try grabbing the string and gently lifting it away from the guitar. By doing this, you are stretching the guitar string, making the pitch flatter.
- If your string is flat, apply pressure to the string in the area above the nut and before the tuning machines. This will apply more pressure on the string, making the pitch sharper.
To make these methods of tuning more effective, try lubricating the nut of your guitar with a pencil when you next change your strings. By just drawing in the slots with a graphite pencil, you lubricate the slot so the string responds to changes in applied pressure with greater ease.
4. Retune when Using a Capo
Most of us know how to use a capo, but did you know that using a capo can change the intonation (tuning) on your guitar? Not all capos apply equal pressure across different strings. As a result, it might make certain strings sharper or other strings flatter.
To alleviate these issues, it is important to retune your guitar after you put the capo on the strings. Certain capos allow you to adjust the downward tension the capo places on the string. If you are someone who places with capos frequently, consider getting a capo with an adjustable tension, and don’t forget to retune when you put on or take off a capo.
5. Be Patient with New Strings
Many guitar players are excited to immediately play when they get new strings. Unfortunately, those new strings are going to need some time to stretch out and adjust. If you do want to start playing, just know that you are going to need to retune often.
If you want to speed up the stretching process, try stretching the strings manually. Similar to how you tuned down in guitar tuning hack #3, gently lift the strings away from the guitar to give them a good stretch. As you continue playing, just make sure to retune frequently.
Learn More with Online Guitar Lessons
By checking out our guitar tuning hacks, you have started learning a valuable skill. Learning to tune a guitar properly will help you on your guitar journey. If you are looking for an even better way to continue your guitar journey, be sure to check out Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
Tony’s Acoustic Challenge is like no other online guitar lesson platform. We help eliminate limiting beliefs while giving you the confidence to start learning how to play the guitar. For more information, request an invite today!
Very helpful as usual. I’ve done a lot of time with excellent teaches — and you fill in many of the little blanks that get left just because there is so much to cover. Re tuning, the first person who taught me to tune a guitar said you “tune UP” meaning that you start low and go high; as you suggested, if you can’t get it right. His idea was that you want to maintain the max tension on the string, so you pull it to the right pitch and then leave it there.
Tony. great info. I am 77 years old going on 50 something. I bought a J 45 in 1968 and sill play it. My life got busy with family and work so the Gibson spent many days unused. Well about 18 months ago I started playing again and was surprised that my old blue grass genes came back. This has turned into a 7 person group playing on a regular basis. I share this with you so other seniors who used to play decades ago can find interest in picking up their gift and play on. It is great mind rejuvenating fun.
Hi Hilford. My story is very similar, except that I’m ‘only’ 67 and not quite as far along in my re-learning. But I still own my first good instrument – a 1965 Gibson J-50 (same as the J-45, but w/ natural finish instead of sunburst).
I hadn’t played in about 35 yrs and my goal is to become a WAY better guitarist than I was back in the day, so lots of hard work ahead… along with the fun.
Good luck & Happy Pickin’ Art
Kool! I use the Theme from Close Encounters of the third Kind in harmonics to check my tuning but the 12th fret harmonics was a great tip! Thank you!
Great advice man. Thanks
Awesome tips. I’m 51 and just picked up guitar playing. I’m mean I’m new. Sometimes when I tune, my strings make a screeching sound and I’m in fear I’m tightening too much, is this common?
You say to retune after adding a capo. Do you need to do anything to the tuner? Because the capo will make the strings have a higher pitch, won’t my tuner “hear” each string as out of tune? I’m not clear on the concept of retuning after adding the capo.
Your tuner should hear the notes your strings make w/ the capo in place and you should tune to them. For example, if you capo at the 3rd fret, your ‘standard tuning’ is now G C F A# D G (3 half-steps up from EADGBE).
The capo might make some (or all) of the strings go slightly sharp, so you only have to make small adjustments.
I hope that helps!
Great tips as you always have. One tuning tip to add to your five is to custom tune each string based on your own string tension applied when fretting. This usually means tuning each string flatter when struck open with the thicker strings requiring more slack or flatter tuning than the thinner strings. The pro players even retune when they change keys during a performance.
As a luthier I recommend expanding #5 to include being patient with new guitars. I am constantly amazed at how a newly finished guitar takes a while to stay in tune despite the strings being stable. The glues I use (PVA/resin) take a while to truly harden and the instrument has to either absorb moisture or give it off in order to acclimate. For these reasons I am reluctant to let a new guitar out of the shop for at least a couple of months.
Yes…helpful…familiar w most but few nuggets and good reminders. Thanks.
You didn’t say anything about “tinks”. A tink is when the winding on the string catches on the corner of the groove in the nut causing the string to slip past the intended pitch. That would be an unfriendly tink. A friendly tink will let you get to the desired pitch. But either way, you want to get rid of them. These usually happen on the 3rd and 4th strings because of the angle of the sting between the not and the post of the machine head though they can happen on any wound string. While a little graphite from a pencil is helpful, if it keep happening, you can use a piece of fine emery cloth inside the groove to smooth down the corner of the groove where the string is catching.
I”m 80 years young and trying to learn to play the guitar…good video but I’m not sure how you go about tuning the guitar with a capo on the strings. I’m also an Tony’s Acoustic Guitar subscriber.
Art’s answer to Randy’s question covers the same basic idea very well. If you are intending to play the same chord shapes you know and love when the guitar is in standard tuning, all you need to remember is that the pitch will be higher when you place the capo versus when it is removed. Art gave you the note pitches that would occur at Capo 3. Just for fun, lets consider Capo 5. Most players learn very early that if they fret the ,ow E sting at capo t, it will match the adjacent A string’s open pitch. In fact, many people use that fact to tune their guitars or check their tuning. In most cases, the fifth fret is the one that matches the pitch of the next higher string. Five frets = 5 semitones (half steps). This is an interval of a perfect fourth (five half- steps). The exception is the B string, which is tuned a major third (only four frets) above the G string. Here are the relationships for all the strings, comparing the pitches you and your guitar tuner will hear when the strings are open and when you fret them at the 5th fret (i.e capo 5).
String Open Capo 5
1 High E A
2 B E
3 G C
4 D. G
5 A D
6. Low E A
All this time I thought there was something wrong with my guitar because when I put on a capo some strings would be out of tune. Now I know Rule #4 – always re-tune.
thanks all good tips, I have never push down on the strings behind the nut.
I hope TAC is still growing in members. I wish I had the money to keep playing with you’ll but too much for meds and doctors. for now. Have a very nice 4 th