Tuning your guitar well is important to make the most out of each song you play. If it isn’t in the right tuning, it can sound way too flat or sharp. Thankfully, it’s easy to fix your guitar’s tuning, no matter how new you are to the instrument.
In this guide, we’ll show you a few approachable ways to tune your guitar. By the end you’ll know exactly how to tune a guitar.
A Note on Standard Tuning
If you’re a guitar rookie, you should know what standard tuning is before you start plucking those strings.
Standard guitar tuning is the notes your strings play when they’re open. By open, we mean that you don’t have your fingers on any of the frets.
In standard tuning, the 6th to 1st string will play a Low E A D G B High E sequence. The low E string should be the first string facing you when you’re playing.
Some people will change their guitar out of standard tuning on purpose. For example, many musicians in the blues genre will change their guitar to Open A tuning. By adjusting each string’s notes, they can make it easier to play different chords in a song.
In this guide, though, we’ll teach you how to do standard tuning. It’s the one you need to know for almost any beginner’s song, and will always take with you on your learning journey.
How to Tune a Guitar With an Electric Tuner
Using an electric tuner is one of the easiest ways to get each note right, no matter your level. Newbies can find affordable ones under $15 to help them recognize new sounds. Meanwhile, professionals may also use them to tune their guitars in noisy venues.
A non-chromatic tuner will help your guitar reach the perfect EADGBE sequence. However, if you’re feeling creative, you can use a chromatic tuner for alternative sequences.
Electric tuners come in plenty of different forms. Standard, clip-on, pedal, and polyphonic tuners are just a few of the options out there. You can even find smartphone applications that act as digital tuners. However, you might find that standard and clip-ons are the easiest to access.
For this guide, we’ll show you how to use a clip-on tuner. They tend to display what note you’re playing in a similar way to standard tuners, so you may be able to use these instructions for both types.
How to Use a Clip-On Tuner
Clip-on tuners are normally very intuitive to use. They detect your guitar’s vibrations directly, meaning they won’t get thrown off by outside noise. So, here’s how you can use it.
1. Clip the tuner onto your guitar headstock.
2. Pluck the string you want to tune and look at the wheel on the clip-on. It will show you what note the string played.
3. Adjust the guitar peg, and keep plucking the string until the tuner shows the target note.
4. Stop turning the peg once it’s perfectly on the target note.
Clip-on tuners usually have a wheel that helps you detect flat or sharp notes, too. So, you might see it says G, which was your target note. Still, something sounds off. If that’s the case, look to the wheel to see where it falls.
Tuning by the 5th Fret
This method for guitar tuning is handy because you don’t need any equipment for it. It also has an easy pattern to follow. However, you will need to have already tuned your Low E string correctly for this.
To do that, you can use a video reference to make sure your E sounds like it. Or, see if you have a metronome. Some of them have buttons playing each note to help you match your guitar.
Once your Low E is ready, you can use it as a reference for the rest of the strings as follows:
- Hold the 5th fret of the Low E string. When you pluck the string, it’ll play an A note. Then, pluck the open A string (the 5th on your guitar) at the same time. Adjust it so it matches the sound of the Low E 5th fret hold.
2. Hold the 5th fret of the A string, and try to make the open D string match it.
3. One more time. Hold the 5th fret of the D string, and tune the open G string to match it.
4. The pattern switches for the B string. Hold the 4th fret of G, and tune open B to match it.
5. Hold the 5th fret of the B string, and tune open High E to match it.
And there you have it! When you strum your guitar with completely open strings, it should all harmonize up now.
This is one of the best methods to tune your guitar without aid. However, it’s still not the most accurate. Keep reading for a slightly more challenging, but very accurate tuning method.
Tuning by Harmonics
Tuning by harmonics can take a bit of time to master. But when you do get it, it’s an incredibly fluid way to tune your guitar.
For this method, you won’t be holding any frets down. Instead, you’ll put your finger lightly on each string. Use enough pressure to deafen it, but not enough to play a note.
Like the 5th fret method, you need at least one string in perfect tuning for this. In this case, tune your A (5th) string as the basis for the rest of them.
Then, follow this lead:
- Match the 5th fret of the Low E string to the 7th fret of the A string.
- Match the 7th fret of the D string to the 5th fret of the A string.
- Match the 2nd fret of the G string to the 12th fret of the A string.
- Match the 5th fret of the B string to the 7th fret of the A string.
- Match the open High E string to the 7th fret of the A string.
Since this method is a little trickier, it can be useful to have a reference. In this YouTube video, you can watch Berklee instructor Thaddeus Hogarth practice standard tuning by harmonics. Pay extra attention to how much pressure he applies on the strings, and you’ll nail it.
These are just a few ways you can learn to tune the guitar. A bonus way to do it is by tuning with people playing different instruments. Of course, that means at least one person should already be in tune. But it’s a great idea if you’re learning to play for a band.
As you grow into a guitar professional, you’ll find it gets easier to tune everything by ear. But in the meantime, we hope these tools will give you the theory to start. Once you’ve fined tuned your guitar check our list of easy guitar songs.