If you’re wondering how to tune your guitar, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this lesson:
- The step-by-step method to tuning a guitar
- How to use an electronic tuner to tune to standard tuning
- How to tune if you don’t have an electronic tuner handy
- Final tips
Ok, let’s get straight into how to tune a guitar! But make sure you read all the way through this post for some more useful info and frequently asked questions.
Table of Contents
Guitar Tuning Method: Standard Tuning
There are many different ways to tune a guitar, but the overwhelmingly most common for most styles of guitar players is called ‘Standard Tuning’.
The 6 strings of your guitar create notes that you’ll use all the time just as they are, no pressing down on them required. We tune these strings to the notes: E A D G B & E again.
Memorize the name of the open strings in standard tuning.
You don’t want to have to look up the names of the open strings every time you play your guitar. So let’s just memorize them. There’s only 6!
Mnemonics can help you remember the order of the six open strings in standard tuning, going from the thickest string to the thinnest string: E A D G B E.
Here’s my favorite:
- Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie
If you feel unhappy about Eddie’s demise and want some other options to remember the guitar tuning notes, try these instead:
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Eating Apples Daily Gives Bright Eyes
- Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually
It doesn’t matter which mnemonic you use or even if you make up one of your own. As long as it helps you to remember the names of the open strings in standard tuning it’ll work!
A common question:
“Do I turn the tuning peg to the right or to the left???”
Answer: It depends
Some guitars have all 6 strings wound the same way, with all of the tuning pegs on one side of the headstock. Others have 3 tuning pegs on one side and 3 on the other, and that makes a difference.
So the easiest way to answer this that covers all tuning peg combinations is to follow this general rule:
Tighten the string to make the note go up, loosen the string to make the note go down
Turn the tuning peg slightly away from you.
Did the note go up? Then you just tightened the string.
Did the note go down? Then you just loosened the string.
Make a mental note of which direction tightens and loosens each string. You’ll need to know that when you start to tune!
Typically all tuning pegs on the same side of the headstock will turn in the same direction to tighten/loosen, but again, that’s only if the string is wound properly.
There are a few ways to tune your guitar but the easiest and perhaps most precise way is to use an electronic tuner.
Electronic tuners come in a variety of formats:
- Stand alone
- Phone apps
No matter which type of electronic tuner you use to tune your guitar, they all basically function the same way, with only slight differences in the visual display.
So let’s learn the basics of how one works, and once you learn that, you can use any of the wide assortment of tuners that are available.
How they work:
Watch the video above the beginning to learn how an electronic tuner works. If you don’t have a physical tuner and need a good (and free!) online tuner, you can find one here: ProGuitar.com Online Guitar Tuner.
How to tune if you don’t have a tuner (or don’t want to use one):
Electronic tuners have never been more widely available and affordable than they are now, but what if you don’t have one handy and don’t have access to a computer or smartphone, but you still need to tune up quickly?
Fortunately, there are a couple of options, but let’s start with an easy one that will require you to put your ears to work. We’ll learn the whole process of how to tune all 6 guitar strings below, but you can use it to tune up a single string that may have fallen out of tune quickly and easily.
Let’s call it the 55545 method:
Here are the steps, but watch the video above to see it in action.
- Memorize this pattern: 5 5 5 4 5
- Start from the lowest note E.
- Tune each string to itself (see the video above for instructions)
Note: this will get the guitar close enough in tune with itself, but whether it will be in tune with other instruments will depend on how in tune that first note E was.
These days it is so easy to use an online tuner or an app on your phone, I recommend that approach over the 55545 method – it’s easier and more accurate with an app. Here are the ones we recommend: https://www.guitarlessons.org/lessons/tune-guitar-online-free/
Perform a tuning check
No matter which method you use to tune your guitar, using an electronic tuner or the 55545 method, you’re still not done just yet!
Even after going through each string one by one, it’s possible that one of them is a little off. Or the string was perfectly in tune, loosened (lowered in pitch) as you were tuning the other strings.
Also, if your guitar strings are relatively new you may have to tune it up a few times, as new strings have to ‘stretch out’ a bit before they become stable in holding pitch.
No problem, just do a simple check by slowly strumming a couple of different chords. Does it sound good, or does something seem a little off?
You can also use the video below to test each string using your ears. Does your string(s) sound like the audio in the video?
(Hint: you can come back to this webpage and use your ears to tune up anytime by comparing your guitar strings with the samples above. This is GREAT training for your ears!)
- Make sure only the guitar string you are tuning is ringing out. More than one note can confuse the tuner! It’s very common to have what’s known as ‘sympathetic vibration’, or a string vibrating in response to noise or tone. No problem, simply mute all other strings by lightly touching them.
- Strike the string to be tuned about 1x per second. Since the notes of a guitar string start fading in volume relatively quickly, it helps the tuner to ‘hear’ the note if you give it a constant stream of that note.
- Strike the string loud enough to be heard (or felt with a vibration-based tuner) but not TOO hard. This will cause the note to go sharp (too high) and give you a false reading for a second (and you might break the string!). Just pluck the string with the same intensity as you do when you play.
- Give the tuner a moment to find the correct note. When you first strike a string, the note is likely to be just a little sharp (too high), even if you don’t strike it too hard, due to the string being ‘bent’ out of position, so ignore that initial reading on the tuner and let the string settle back into position. This all happens very fast, like half a second! Playing the note repeatedly (see above) smooths this out for the tuner.
- Like everything having to do with playing guitar, the more you tune your guitar, the easier and faster the process gets. It may take you minutes the first time to do it right, but eventually, you’ll tune up in seconds! So be patient and keep doing it every time you’re about to play your guitar.
- Don’t forget to turn your tuner off when not using it. The battery life is usually pretty long in stand alone and clip-on tuners, many months up to a year, but can drain to zero fast if you forget to turn it off.
Why is it important to tune my guitar?
Tuning a guitar might seem like a small detail and one that you may feel like skipping sometimes, but don’t!
Always playing a properly tuned guitar is essential for a number of reasons:
- Making Your Guitar Sound Good: Proper tuning ensures that when you strum a chord or pick a note, it rings with a clear and pleasant sound. Without tuning, the result could be a sonic mess.
- Playing In A Band: In a musical group, each instrument needs to be in tune with the others. Otherwise, the combined sounds won’t harmonize as intended – an unpleasant experience for both the performers and the audience.
- Sounding Like The Original: For covering existing songs, riffs or licks along with a recording, maintaining proper tuning ensures that your sound matches the original. Otherwise, you could be playing your part perfectly, but if your guitar isn’t in tune, like the one in the recording, you’ll think you’re doing something wrong – not cool!
- Performance Confidence: A tuned guitar empowers you as a performer. Knowing that your instrument is in tune boosts your confidence on stage, allowing you to focus on musical expression rather than worrying about off-key notes.
Tuning an acoustic guitar vs tuning an electric guitar - is there a difference?
It doesn’t matter if you’re tuning an acoustic or electric guitar; the process is the exact same. The only difference is that the acoustic will have slightly thicker strings and 4 wound/2 unwound strings, and the electric has 3 wound/3 unwound*.
*for most 6 string guitars, which was the focus of this lesson.
We will be learning how to tune a 6-string guitar to Standard Tuning, which is the most common way to tune a string for most genres of music.
We’ll touch a bit on some ‘alternate’ tunings that are also widely used in another lesson, depending on the style of music and the type of guitar (acoustic or electric)
What is the correct tuning for a guitar?
There is no ‘correct’ way to tune a guitar, as some great and timeless music has been written and played in a variety of tunings. But there is a most common way to tune acoustic and electric guitars. This is referred to as Standard Tuning, which is what you learned in this lesson!
How is an acoustic guitar tuned?
Just like with electric guitars, many different tunings are possible. Both electric and acoustic guitars are most commonly tuned to Standard Tuning (E A D G B E).
Which guitar tuning is best for beginners?
Exploring the musical possibilities when using different tunings is one of the joys of writing for and playing the guitar. But before you head down that road, it is advised that beginners start with the most common way to tune a guitar, Standard Tuning. Not only are the most popular songs in almost every genre played using standard tuning, but most guitar instructional material is also written for standard tuning.
Do guitars go out of tune over time?
Guitars can and do go out of tune over time for a variety of reasons. These range from old or poor-quality strings to temperature and humidity issues. So as a general rule of thumb, you should tune your guitar each time before you play it for the day.
Some other tips for keeping your guitar in tune:
- Be sure to store your guitar away from extremes in heat or cold and in a relatively dry environment.
- If you can’t remember the last time your guitar had new strings put on … it’s probably time to change them!
So there you have it – everything you need to know about how to tune a guitar. Leave a comment below if you have any questions about tuning and if you have any comments about today’s lesson. Let’s get the conversation started…