If you’ve just started to learn to play the guitar, at some point you are going to have to tune it. Have you been putting off learning how to tune a guitar because you’re not sure how?
Well, you’re not alone. Quite a lot of novice guitarists lack confidence when it comes to tuning their instrument. But you can’t make a guitar sound good if it is out of tune!
But, fear not. This handy guide on how to tune your guitar will give you all the information you need to tune your instrument and help it stay in tune for longer. So you can concentrate on making great music.
How to Tune a Guitar: The Basics
First, when tuning a guitar you need to familiarize yourself with the ‘anatomy’ of the guitar.
Whether it is an electric or acoustic guitar, the strings will all be attached to a bridge on the main body of the guitar. The strings run up the neck of the instrument and are wound around pegs called ‘machine heads‘ on the head of the guitar.
These machine heads, or tuning pegs, are used to tune the strings. Tightening the strings, ie: making them shorter, will raise the pitch. Loosening them will lower the pitch.
So, if the string is flat (too low) it will need to be tightened, and vice versa.
Many new guitarists can be a bit nervous about tightening the machine heads on their guitar. This comes from a fear that the string will snap. But be reassured that it is very unlikely the string will break if you turn the tuning pegs slowly and gently.
Unless the guitar is wildly out of tune, you will only ever be turning the machine heads in fractions, which is not enough to break the string.
How Often Should You Tune Your Guitar
A question that is often asked in guitar lessons is – how often should I tune my guitar? The answer is really – whenever you use it.
If you have been to any concert and show, you will often see musicians and bands tuning their guitars as regularly as between each song. You might not need to do it that often, as you might not be playing it quite so exuberantly! but basically, if you think you are out of tune at any point, stop and tune it.
You should get into the habit of tuning your guitar each time you pick it up to play it. That way you know your guitar will always be in tune when you start to practice. It can be bad for your confidence to start playing and it sounds bad. But it might not be due to your playing, just that your instrument is not in tune.
How to Use an Electronic Guitar Tuner
These days there are plenty of devices that can help you tune your guitar. There are electronic guitar tuners that you plug your electric guitar into. There are clip-on tuners that pick up the vibrations of the guitar strings, and there are even apps you can use on your smartphone.
These devices all work roughly in the same way. They usually have a series of lights that come on, so when you adjust the tuning of your guitar and it hits the correct note, a light comes on to show you it is in tune.
These devices are useful, especially if you are somewhere a bit noisy, or don’t have access to a piano or keyboard to tune by ear.
The Best Online Guitar Tuners & Guitar Tuning Apps (Android & Apple iOS)
Below, we compiled a list of the top online guitar tuners & guitar tuning apps that will show you guitar string names and guitar tuning notes (for Android & iOs). They provide an accurate pitch reference for tuning your guitar on the go if you are unable to tune your guitar by ear or don’t have access to other accessories such as the tuning fork.
Top 5 Online Guitar Tuners
- Online Guitar Tuner by Fender
- Web-Based Guitar Tuner by Gieson.com
- Free Online Guitar Tuner by 8notes.com
- Another Free Online Guitar Tuner by TrueFire
- Online Guitar Tuner with Mic by Tuner-Online.com
Top 5 Guitar Tuner Apps for Android
- GuitarTuna – A Free Guitar Tuner
- Pro Guitar Tuner
- Fender Tune – Another Free Guitar Tuner by Fender
- Guitar Tunio – Guitar Tuner
- Guitar Tuner
Top 5 Guitar Tuner Apps for Apple iOS
- GuitarTuna – Guitar, Bass Tuner
- DoubleTune – Ukulele & Bass
- CoachTuner – Easy Tune Chords
- Fender Tune – Chords, Scales & Metronome
- Tune Pro – Guitar, Bass and Ukulele Tuner
How to Tune a Guitar Without a Tuner (Acoustic Guitar Tuning)
If you don’t have an electronic guitar tuner, then you can always tune your guitar the old-fashioned way. The most usual way to do this is to tune by ear using a piano, a keyboard, or another musical instrument that you know is in tune.
Some accomplished musicians are so experienced that they can just tune their guitar by ear, or by their own voice. You wouldn’t expect a new guitarist to do this though, don’t worry!
If you don’t have a musical instrument at home, then the cheapest and easiest way is to use a guitar tuning fork. These little devices are wonderfully simple to use and fit in your pocket so you can tune-up anywhere.
When using a guitar tuning fork, however, it will only make one note. Therefore you have to tune one string first, and then tune the other strings from that one.
Tuning Each Guitar String (Standard Guitar Tuning)
A guitar’s standard tuning is (going from low to high) E, A, D, G, B, and E. All basic guitar books will list all the notes on a guitar, but there are loads of cool ways you can remember this. Such as “Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears”.
So, if you are using a guitar tuning fork and need to tune all the strings from one string, you can work out how to do it.
So if the bottom E string is in tune, you know the A string should sound the same as the fifth fret on the bottom E. And so on.
How to Stay in Tune for Longer
It can be frustrating if it feels like your guitar keeps going out of tune. It can interrupt your practice and just generally be quite annoying.
There are a few things to help you keep your guitar in tune for a bit longer at a time.
First, guitars are affected by temperature. The wood can expand and contract, as can metal strings. This means a warm guitar will go out of tune if it cools down. So keeping your guitar at a relatively constant temperature will help.
Also, guitar strings can wear out. Once they have started to wear out, they can slip on the machine heads, and just generally lose their tension a bit. This will make it hard to keep your guitar in tune. So replacing strings regularly will help.
General guitar maintenance – keeping it clean, warm and dry, will help the overall tuning of your instrument.
So that’s beginner’s guide on how to tune a guitar. It will not take long for you to build up confidence about tuning your guitar, and you’ll soon develop an instinct for when and how to tune it.
If you have any queries about other aspects of learning guitar, check out our article “100+ Easy Guitar Songs for Beginners“, it includes chords and tabs to help you learn how to play the guitar.
Happy guitar playing!