In this post, I’m going to show you how to tune a guitar and share a few reliable tips to help you get the hang of it.
In fact, these are the same techniques I’ve been using for my entire musical career.
Each method of tuning a guitar has its use, depending on the situation.
To make things easy, I’ll tackle tuning your guitar in three sections:
- Theory and tips
- Tuning a guitar with a tuner
- Tuning a guitar by ear
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Let’s kick things off with some simple background you should know before you learn how to tune a guitar.
Originally published on March 22, 2019, this post was republished on May 30, 2023.
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I talked about the musical alphabet in a previous lesson on guitar notes, but here’s a quick recap:
- The musical alphabet has the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G
- The strings on a guitar are, from thickest to thinnest, E-A-D-G-B-E
- The letters by themselves are called naturals.
In addition to naturals, there are also flats and sharps.
If there is a “b” symbol next to a natural, that means that the note is flat.
Alternatively, if a “#” symbol appears next to a natural, that means the note is sharp.
When using a clip-on tuner or a tuner with a microphone, there are a few ways to tell if your strings are sharp or flat:
- Most tuners have lights that will indicate whether your string is sharp or flat.
- If the light is going off on the right, that means your string is sharp.
- When the left side lights up, that means your string is flat.
How to Memorize EADGBE
As you can probably tell by now, knowing the order of the strings is a pretty important part of your guitar-learning journey – luckily, it’s quite an easy one.
The strings go from thickest (the lowest) to thinnest (the highest): E – A – D – G – B – E
A fun way of memorizing the order of the strings is to remember one or both of these two phrases:
- Elvis Always Does Good Bread Everyday
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
And if either of these doesn’t resonate with you, then make one up of your own that you can remember!
Tip #1: Make Sure You Are Tuning the Right String
Make sure you’re tuning the right string.
I know that sounds silly, but people frequently turn the wrong tuning key.
To help prevent that, make sure to follow the string you want to tune all the way to its respective tuning key.
Always make sure to double-check that you’re tuning the same string that you’re turning the tuning key for.
Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Common Sense
Don’t be afraid to use common sense.
If the string feels too tight or it sounds too high, it probably is.
If that happens, don’t be afraid to loosen the string by tuning it down. From there, you can start over.
I always encourage folks to play around with the tuning keys. Don’t be afraid to turn them — make sure you know how much the pitch changes when you turn the tuning key.
Tip #3: Tune Up to a Note Instead of Down From a Note
Tune up to a note instead of down from a note.
When you tune up to a note, it helps the string stay in tune longer.
If you’re tuning a string that’s too sharp, try tuning down below the target first, so the note becomes a little flat. Then tune back up to reach the correct note.
How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar With a Tuner
There are hundreds of different electronic tuners you can buy. We’re talking clip-on, handheld, smartphone, and so many more types of tuners.
Regardless of what kind you choose, you can get a decent-quality tuner for around $15-25.
When you get an electric tuner, make sure to calibrate it.
- Turn the tuner on.
- If it displays a series of numbers, make sure it says A 440 Hz.
- When there are different numbers, consult the instructions to change the frequency.
- If there are no numbers displayed, your tuner is most likely permanently set on A 440 Hz.
If you don’t calibrate your tuner, you will sound slightly off from everyone else who is in tune.
Here’s how to tune your guitar with an electronic tuner:
- Get on the right note names: Make sure the tuner displays the correct note name for each string. That means each string is approximately at the right note. For example, you want the low E string to show as an “E” on the tuner, even if it’s still out of tune.
- Fine-tune: Once the string is displaying the right note name, begin to fine-tune until the needle on your tuner is in the middle – or the tuner turns green.
- Check the strings again: Once you tune all of your strings, go back and check that each string is still in tune. Learning how to tune a guitar requires double-checking because a string may have slipped out of tune as you adjusted a different one.
How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar With Your Phone
If you don’t have a tuner on hand, you can actually tune your guitar using an app on your phone.
In fact, there are a ton of free tuning apps online!
These apps work with your phone’s built-in microphone to identify the note you’re playing and determine if it’s flat or not.
One of my favorites is Simply Tune – it’s free, easy to use, and has great visuals to help you as you go.
Keep in mind that while guitar tuning apps are a great way to tune on the go, they’re typically a bit less accurate than traditional tuners.
How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar by Ear
Learning how to tune a guitar by ear can help develop your ear and allow you to tune when you don’t have an electronic tuner.
As long as one of your strings is in tune, you can use a method of tuning by ear that has been used by thousands, if not millions, of guitarists.
Tuning a Guitar From the 5th Fret
To tune your guitar using the 5th fret, you need your low E string to be in tune. You can use another guitar, a piano, or an electronic pitch.
How to Tune a Guitar by Ear Using the 5th Fret:
- Make sure the low E string is in tune using another source
Once your fingers are in place, play an A note and listen closely.
- Fret the 5th fret of the E string and play an A note
Let the A note ring out, and then with your fingers, pluck the A string.
- While that note is ringing, pluck the open A string
Listen closely to make sure their pitches sound exactly the same.
- These two notes should sound exactly the same
If they don’t sound the same, figure out whether the 5th string is higher or lower and adjust it accordingly. Turn the tuning peg clockwise to make it higher or anticlockwise to make it lower.
- Adjust the open A string until it matches the pitch of the A note played on the low E string
Move on to the next string and apply the same process. Tune each string to match the note on the 5th fret of the string below.
- Continue the same process to tune strings D and G, tuning each string to match the note on the 5th fret of the string below
- Tune the B string to match a B note played on the 4th fret of the G string
Again, let both of these notes ring together and if something sounds off, adjust the string accordingly.
- Tune the high E string to match the E note played on the 5th fret on the B string
And finally, let both of these notes ring together and adjust accordingly if they sound off.
NOTE: The B string is a little different than the others. Fret the 4th fret of the G string to get a B note — play that pitch against the open B string. All the other strings can be tuned to match the 5th fret of the string below.
Anytime, Anywhere, Alternate Tuning Method
Another tuning method to tune a guitar is by listening to other instruments.
This is perhaps more suited to more advanced players, but it can be fun to try anyway:
- Take an in-tune piano for example as the second instrument
- Play a note on the piano which will act as your reference pitch
- Copy the note on the guitar
- As with above: if it sounds a bit off, adjust the string accordingly
This method is a bit trickier than the ones I outlined above as you’re essentially tuning by ear.
That being said, I encourage you to try it out when you practice or need to tune your guitar. As you gain more skill with guitar playing and your ear develops, this type of thing will become easier to do.
How Often Should I Tune My Guitar?
I always recommend tuning your guitar every time you play it. Guitars can go out of tune very easily. Traveling with it, playing it, or simply moving it can knock it out of tune.
What Are the 3 Ways to Tune Guitar?
The three classic ways to tune a guitar are:
- Using a tuning fork
- By ear
- Using an electric guitar tuner
What Is the Most Common Guitar Tuning?
The most common guitar tuning, also called standard tuning is: E – A – D – G – B – E.
If you’re not sure what to play yet, maybe you need some inspiration and ideas to get you practicing and having fun with your guitar.
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