Tuning your guitar is something you should do every time you play before strumming the first chord. In the video above, I walk through how to tune a guitar with two different types of tuners, as well as how to tune it without a tuner at all.
Sharps and flats
The first thing we should talk about is the concept of sharps and flats. Notes have names, and they go from A to G. Some of the notes have in between notes, called sharps and flats. For example, the note just above A (between A and B) is A# (A sharp). It’s also called Bb (B flat), but the reason why the same note has two different names isn’t that important right now. All you really need to know is that sharp means higher and flat means lower.
When we tune a guitar, a typical guitar tuner will display the note that it is reading. For example, if you are tuning the low E string (assuming the note is close), the tuner will read E. Usually there is a needle that goes to the right and to the left. When the note is slightly below E (lower = flat), the needle will be to the left of the note. When it is slightly above E (higher = sharp), the needle will be to the right. You’ll need to turn the tuning pegs to correct the note, either lower or higher.
To tune your guitar, you’ll need a tuner. Here are some links to tuners I like to use:
I think this is the first tuner that most guitar players use – it’s cheap, simple, and it works. It uses a microphone to listen to the note. You can also plug your guitar into it if you have an electric guitar or acoustic with electronics.
This is the tuner I use on my pedalboard (and in this video). They are accurate and the display is great. You must plug your guitar into the tuner for it to work, and it requires a power source.
It’s not free, but it is a great iOS tuner. It uses the phones microphone to listen to the note. I use this app all the time.
How to tune
You change the note of the string by turning the tuning pegs. Depending on how the guitar is set up and strung, turning the peg one way will make the note sharper (higher) and turning the other way will make it flatter (lower).
To tune your guitar, plug into a tuner (or place a tuner with a microphone close to the sound hole of your guitar) and pluck the string. If the string is flat, turn the peg slowly so that the note becomes in pitch. If it is sharp, turn the peg so that the note goes slightly flat, and then turn the other way so that it is in tune. If a note is sharp, it’s good practice to make the note slightly flat, and then tune it up to pitch (rather than down to pitch). This will help with tuning stability.
If your guitar is really out of tune, you’ll want to tune to a reference pitch first. Sometimes if the guitar is very out of tune, the strings may be so far away from their standard pitch that a tuner won’t read them correctly. For example, if a guitar is very out of tune flat (low), the low E may actually be closer to D or even C. The tuner won’t even read D, and if you’re not experienced to know what to do you may turn the peg in the wrong direction or be a bit lost. The first thing you should do is find a reference pitch (this video is great). Pluck your low E and manually tune it to a reference E pitch, and then fine tune with a tuner.
Never turn the tuning pegs unless the string is playing. In other words, don’t let the string go silent and then turn the pegs – only turn them while the string is playing. This way you’ll be able to hear what you’re doing when you turn them.
Only turn the pegs a little bit at a time – never turn them a lot at once. You can break the strings if you do this. If a note is sharp, make sure you don’t continue to tune it sharper – again the string will break.
Tune the guitar to itself
You can tune the guitar without a tuner, but you’ll need a good ear, and you’ll need your low E string to be in tune (or at least close). To do this:
- Fret the low E string on the 5th fret. This is an A note – the A string should be exactly the same pitch. Tune the A string to the low E on the 5th fret.
- Fret the A string on the 5th fret. This is a D note – tune the D string to the same pitch.
- Fret the D string on the 5th fret. This is a G note – tune the G string to the same pitch.
- Fret the G string on the 4th fret. This is a B note – tune the B string to the same pitch.
- Fret the B string on the 5th fret. This is a E note – tune the high E string to the same pitch.
Tuning takes a bit of practice but once you get it down it becomes pretty simple.