If you’ve ever pulled a guitar out of the closet after a long period of disuse, you’ve no doubt experienced the unpleasant sound of an out-of-tune guitar.
If you’re not quite sure how to go about tuning your guitar, don’t fret. We’ve got you covered with this beginner’s guide to tuning.
Why does tuning matter?
Guitar tuning is essential because it determines what you’re able to do with the guitar. Different tunings have different uses.
For example, standard tuning was designed to allow for the easiest access to the most commonly-played chords. Just about any chord can be played without stretching your hand across more than four frets.
On the other hand, some non-standard tunings (often called alternate tunings) are far better for different styles like slide guitar.
For example, “Open G” tuning allows you to play major chords up and down the neck with ease, since all you need to do is barre across a single fret. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to play minor chords in an open major tuning.
Preferred tunings vary based on the style of the guitarist, and on a song-to-song basis.
In other words, there are benefits to every tuning. Try different ones out and get a feel for what each tuning is best-used for.
How to Tune Your Guitar
Once you’ve decided what tuning you want to adjust your guitar strings to, the process is pretty straightforward. Regardless of what tuning method you use, you’ll want to play the string you’re adjusting open (without pressing down on any of the frets) and then adjust it according to the sound.
If the pitch is too low, tighten the string by turning the tuning peg so that the pitch becomes higher.
If it’s too high, loosen the string by turning the tuning peg the opposite direction. When tuning down, however, always make sure that your final adjustment tightens the string. If your top string is tuned to E and you want to down-tune it to D, tune it down to slightly below D and then tighten it back to D.
This practice may seem strange, but it’s paramount if you want your strings to stay in tune for as long as possible.
There are a multitude of ways to tune your guitar, and each is slightly different. Here are a couple of the best tuning techniques:
Use a Pitch Pipe
Pitch pipes are specially designed instruments with six mouthpieces that create six different pitches.
The majority of pitch pipes are designed for standard tuning, meaning they have pitches of E, A, D, G, B, and E.
Tuning your guitar with a pitch pipe requires a certain degree of pitch-recognition skill, since you’ll have to blow into the pipe and then adjust the guitar string to the pitch you heard. Using a pitch pipe revolves around your ability to compare two pitches and make them as similar as possible.
For this reason, pitch pipes are a bit less precise than some methods. Additionally, you’ll have a hard time finding alternate-tuning pitch pipes, and you’ll have to buy a separate pipe for each tuning.
Because of these factors, it’s probably best to use an electronic tuner, but using a pitch pipe still holds some benefit as it will help train you to recognize and replicate pitches.
Use an Electronic Tuner
Electronic tuners are incredibly easy to use, and they’re remarkably affordable. Many modern guitars even come with these built-in. If yours doesn’t, we recommend a Super Snark.
These tuners differ from pitch pipes in that they actually show you what pitch a string is tuned to, and they offer the added benefit of far greater precision.
To use an electronic tuner, turn it on and play the string that you’re adjusting open. If the pitch displays as too low, tighten it a little bit and strum it again. If it’s too high, turn the tuning peg the other direction (but remember to finish by tightening).
Keep adjusting until it’s perfectly tuned to the note in question. The tuner will display the note that’s being played, and it will show green when the string is perfectly tuned to that pitch.
Run through these steps with every string, and your guitar will sound perfect.
How often should you tune your guitar?
It’s difficult to say how often you’ll need to tune your guitar, as this depends heavily on a number of factors. The more you play your guitar, the more often you’ll need to tune it.
Some guitars also hold a tune better than others. As a general rule, higher-end guitars tend to hold a tune for much longer than cheaper ones, as the parts are higher-quality.
If you guitar sounds good, you don’t need to tune it (unless you’re switching to a different tuning). Whenever you start to notice that it sounds “off,” though, it’s probably time to give the strings a good adjustment.