How to tune a guitar the right way
You need to learn how to tune a guitar. Tuning a guitar is the first step to mastering the instrument. There are chances you have more or less skills right out from the start, but if your guitar is not in tune, you´ll never be good. This article will be the absolutely ultimate guide for you to learn not only how to tune your guitar, also why to do it. Get ready, go look for your six-stringer and let´s get started; the path to mastering the guitar is a long and beautiful one, there´s a lot to do.
Please read the full article as we recommend some of our favorite tuners at the end.
Why you need to tune your guitar (always)
This is the first thing you need to know about tuning an instrument: it hurts when it´s out of tune. All the fellow guitar players in the audience are going to suffer physically from it. Also, whenever you play with someone else, you have to be able to be in tune with someone else (other than the vibe). Tuning the guitar is something you should do every time you are about to play it. Let´s go through some of the main reasons why:
· Ear education – If you do not take this advice about tuning the guitar always and play a lot of time with a guitar out of tune, especially in the beginning years, you are risking your ear education. Once your ears become used to this out-of-tune sound, you´ll have to make a huge effort to re-teach them the in-tune sound.
· Playing along – One of the first things most of us do and that can really help you shape your playing is to strum along with our favorite tunes. If you are not in tune with the person playing on the original recording, you´ll never figure out notes and chords. Even nowadays, following a tab on a song with an out-of-tune guitar is as close to a nightmare as you can get.
· Singing – If you are trying to be a singer-songwriter and add your vocal abilities to your playing but your playing is out of tune, what do you think is going to happen to your voice? Well, you are right; it will be just as out of tune as the guitar. It’s important to teach our vocal chords the right notes from day zero, otherwise re-teaching them can be painful and tedious.
Also, very important, is that you take this advice and apply it every time you are to pick up the guitar. An out of tune guitar can be your worst teacher. The first step towards your tuning now that you know why to do it is to memorize the string names on your guitar. Regular tuning goes like this: EADGBe. Memorizing them will help you a lot.
What are the methods of how to tune a guitar?
There are several methods you can try to tune your guitar. For these methods I will tell you about, you will always need a reference string tuned properly. You can tune your entire guitar by just knowing how to tune each string with the next. These are great when your guitar is not entirely out of tune but there is a string or a couple of them that are not entirely in tune. These methods will also teach your ears about your guitar´s tuning, so it is an interesting exercise in that sense as well.
Each string with the above – This is a very easy and well-known method. You can play all notes on each of your guitar strings. So, for this method we´ll play with the string in the fifth fret. This means you´ll press the 6th string with your index finger and play it together with the 5th string. They should make the same note and hence you can tune it turning the tuning pegs. Repeat this method until the 3rd string, where you´ll have to press on the 4th fret instead of the 5th. Everything goes back to normal for the second and first.
Harmonics – This is kind of the grown-up version of the one mentioned above. The great benefit of tuning with harmonics is that you don´t need both hands to make the sound, so you can hear the notes and adjust in real time with both of them sounding. To make harmonics you need to softly put your finger slightly pressing the string on top of the fifth fret (not in between frets like a regular note, on the fret) and do the same on the seventh fret of the following string. The only one you can´t do with harmonics is still B (your second string) so the moment you get to it, switch to the technique above and then go on with the harmonics.
These two methods are tested and true and have been around since I started playing, and that was 20+ years ago. As long as you are not trying any other tuning than standard and can tune at least one string (you´ll see further along what a tuning key is), your ears will benefit hugely from it. Don´t miss out on this chance to learn better and faster with something you can practice daily and effortlessly.
Which is the best tuner?
There are almost as many tuners as there are guitars in the market nowadays. There are even free apps for your phone and YouTube videos that can help you getting your guitar in tune. These are the different categories and what they are best for. If you own an acoustic guitar that has a preamp with a tuner on board, then you can use that.
Let´s first divide them into two groups and then take a look at the different categories.
This kind of tuner “reads” one note at the time, so you have to silence all the others. It will most likely display the note in the center and then move towards the flat zone to the left and the sharp zone to the right.
Polyphonic tuners make your job simpler because they can “read” all the strings of your instrument at the same time. They commonly show all the strings vertically and then to the left the flat zone and to the right the sharp zone. This way you´ll only have to strum your instrument once to tune it entirely.
Within these two groups, you´ll find them in the following categories.
· Headstock tuners – These are becoming increasingly popular and more accurate than ever. These comfortable tuners will just clip on the headstock of your guitar and pick up the vibrations to measure the tuning. This way you can tune your guitar in a noisy room or a loud and noisy stage without interference from the sound of other instruments. There are some I´ve been using for some time that attach to the back of the neck and are really micro with just enough info to tune on the fly and play on. You can get monophonic and polyphonic headstock tuners.
· Floor tuners – Also known as tuner pedals, these devices go on the floor and you can find them in monophonic and polyphonic. They are mostly powered either by a 9V battery or an AC adapter and you plug your guitar to it. You need to have an acoustic electric or electric, of course. They usually mute the signal so you can be completely silent on stage tuning between songs or even when playing with your friends.
· Tuning Key – A tuning key is the oldest device available to tune a guitar but one that will make you exercise your ears. A tuning key vibrates the same as your A string. Once you´ve tuned that string, you can use either of the methods above and tune your entire guitar. This way you´ll familiarize with the sound of each string and each note and learn much faster and better.
A little final tip: get a metronome as well
This is a piece of advice that I wish someone would have given me starting out: get a metronome with that tuner. Developing a poor sense of rhythm and getting used to not follow a definite tempo can really ruin your playing. Believe me, it took me years to re-teach my right hand how to do things the right way after learning them wrong that I wouldn´t like you to go through the same. Once you get the metronome, make sure you use it always that you don´t have a backing track. Never practice your playing without a backing tempo; the metronome is the best way to do it.
Here are some of my picks for the best tuners around:
If you’re still struggling then why not check out this video for further info:
Playing guitar is a beautiful habit that can turn into a passion and a lifestyle if done the right way. By tuning your guitar religiously and practicing with a metronome next to you as a shadow, you´ll be assuring a great future. Most of the amateur players’ biggest problems are tuning and tempo; practicing regularly the right way, you´ll come out being strong in those areas everyone has a weakness. With all the possibilities to tune your guitar with your cellphone or the computer and for free there are no excuses not to be consistent with tuning.