There’s no worse sound than playing a guitar that’s out of tune. Okay, maybe there is, but it’s pretty unpleasant and can easily ruin the song you’re trying to play. Follow these steps to learn how to tune a guitar.

Tuning your guitar is simple once you figure out the steps. Using a guitar tuner is probably the easiest way to go, but there are also some tricks you can learn without a tuning device that can help keep your strings in check while playing.

Standard Tuning

For beginners, learning how to tune your guitar using standard tuning is all you really need. There are of course many different ways to tune a guitar to different keys, but let’s not worry about this for now.

tune a guitar

In standard tuning, the open notes (strings) are in the key of E. The first string (the thinnest one) is the high E, and the sixth string (the thickest one) is the low E.

The order of these strings is as follows: E A D G B E.

It’s helpful to come up with a clever system to remember the notes. For example, Eat A Dang Grape Billy Evans or Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears. Or really anything that works for you…

Tuning Methods

Now that you’ve hopefully memorised the open strings of the guitar, you can begin the tuning process.

Probably the easiest way to find the notes is to use an electronic tuning device, however, there are other ways to tune a guitar that we’ll discuss.

Acoustic Guitar

Tuners come in various sizes and styles, but you can usually find something that clips to the guitar. These styles are microphone or vibration-based. A clip-on picks up the vibration of each string and is usually a little more accurate.

tune a guitar

Personally, I find clip-on ones are pretty great for practicing because they can just live on the guitar head. These can usually can be mounted on or off the clip part to store or transport safely.

Electric Guitar

You can use the above tuners for electric guitars as well, however, there are specific tuners for electric guitars that might be easier. These tuners usually plug directly into your guitar through a cable.

tune an electric guitar

There are also peddles or other fancy gadgets that will have internal tuning systems. If you want to (or already) have an effect peddle anyway, this is a good option. But this may not be necessary for a beginner, at least until your band is spending more time in venues rocking out!

Apps

Also, there are guitar tuning apps you can download on your phone that are decently accurate. This comes in handy when you don’t have other tuner devices around and one I personally use as a backup plan. However, some people only use app tuners and seem to do just fine.

Other Instruments

Headstock

If you have another instrument around that you know is tuned correctly, you can use this to help you find the right notes. This is usually easiest to do with a piano or another guitar, but really any instrument will do. For this to be accurate, you’ll need to rely on some sharp ears and some extra patience.

The Actual Guitar

The same goes for using your guitar. Usually, the low E string is the first to tune, so you’ll either need to have a good ear for knowing if it’s in tune or use a device to help make sure it’s good to go.

Once this string is in tune, you can use the fretboard to help tune the rest of the strings. (We’ll go into more detail on this method later).

The Guitar Parts

First, take a look at the end of your guitar neck with all the little screws that hold the strings. This is called the “headstock” and is what you’ll be using to tighten or loosen each individual string.

Guitar parts

The little screws are called “machine heads” and each string is attached to one of the six heads.

Starting with the low E string, you’ll want to find the machine head that attaches to this particular string. If you’re facing your guitar, it will be the first machine head on the lower left side.

The easiest way to track this is to follow the string from the guitar body to the headstock so you know you’re tuning the right string. Over time, this will become muscle memory, just like everything else!

The Tuning part

At this point, you’ll take your tuning device or tuning method (mentioned above) and use this to match each string to its proper note. (Yes, you’re about to know how to properly

Guitar tuning

These are the steps:

Step 1: Pluck the string:

You’ll want to pluck the string you’re tuning over and over until you match it to the correct pitch. Many beginners are timid and just pluck the string once and wait for the guitar tuner to do its thing, but it’s better to pluck frequently while tuning to get the true tone.

Step 2: Turning the machine head:

While you’re plucking, you’ll slowly turn the machine head attached to this string in one direction or the other depending on whether it needs to be loosened or tightened. The tighter the string, the sharper (or higher) the note will be and vice versa.

It may take some time to get to the right note, but be patient and you’ll have some beautiful sounds coming from that baby in no time!

Step 3: Matching the right note:

If you’re using one of the tuning devices above, it will usually show the letter (note) in the middle that the string is supposed to align with.

tablature

Then it will either show the color red or a needle that points left or right to show the note is too low (flat) or high (sharp). There will be a green color when the note is tuned correctly and if there’s a needle, it will point directly at the note.

You’ll repeat this process for each string until each one is in tune. Then, you can go off and start practicing your chord progressions or reading tabs to learn how to play your favorite songs.

Instrument Tuning:

If you’re using another instrument for this part, you’ll do the same steps as above (strumming and matching the note), but using your ears instead of the device to know when it’s in tune.

Using Your Guitar:

When using your guitar to tune itself, you’ll need to be sure the first (low E) string is in tune so you can match the rest of the notes in the scale. Perhaps you have great pitch memory, but this usually takes lots of experience.

You may need to use another instrument or device to make sure the low string is in tune and work from there.

You then place your finger on the 5th fret of the low E string and play this note. This is the A note and should match the next open string exactly (also A). Use the same steps above of plucking and matching until both notes sound the same.

Repeat this with the A, D, and G strings. When you get to tune the B string, you will actually play the G string on the 4th fret instead of the 5th to match both notes.

If you’re wondering why:

This has to do with the scale you are playing to match the notes together, but it’s not necessary to know this now.

Once you’ve tuned the B string, you’ll go back to using the 5th fret to tune the high E.

Make Some Noise

Ta-da! Tuning your guitar is not longer a secret for you. Assuming you followed the steps above correctly, you’re ready to go.

tune a guitar

At this point, you can play a simple chord, like a C or G chord, to decipher whether you’ve tuned it correctly. If it sounds off, go back and make sure you tuned the right note in the correct standard tuning order that we mentioned above.

Now that you learned how to tune a guitar, you can start strumming away and making some noise!