Tuning the guitar: Bring your instrument on track with or without tuner

Guitar Tutorials, 10.09.2020

The guitar sounds out of tune and your audience gets out of the way if you just put your fingers on the strings?
High Time to tune your guitar!

We offer you three different tuning methods – with and without tuner or with harmonics.

Tip: Get your guitar tuned by a professional for the first time. Afterwards it is easier to retune it.

Standard tuning for guitar

To tune your guitar correctly, you need to know what the standard tuning is.

The order of tuning shows the thickest string at the top to the thinnest string at the bottom:

E
A
d
g
b
e

To remember this tuning, you can use the familiar mnemonic again:

Eat all day get big easy.

Tuning a guitar with a tuner – tuning method no. 1

Let’s come to the first and easiest tuning method: tuning guitar with a tuner. This method is especially suitable for guitar beginners, since their hearing is usually not yet so well trained.

  1. Free the room in which you tune your guitar from background noise. Remove roommates, close windows and turn off kitchen appliances.
  2. Find out which knob aka tuning peg belongs to which string.
  3. Hold the tuner to your instrument.
  4. Pluck the first string – the thickest string at the top – the E.
  5. Make sure that you only pluck this string.
  6. Let the tone of the string sound clear.
  7. Now look at the tuner – it shows you if the string is tuned just right, too low or too high.
  8. The string is tuned too high? First tune it lower and then to the actual pitch.
  9. Do you want to tune strings higher? You tune the string higher by turning the tuning pegs that are pointing upwards counterclockwise (from your point of view) and turning the tuning pegs pointing downwards clockwise (from your point of view). Some guitars only have tuning peg ends pointing upwards. In this case you tune all strings higher by turning them counterclockwise.
  10. Do you want to tune the strings lower? You tune the strings down by turning the tuning pegs pointing up clockwise (from your point of view) and the tuning pegs pointing down counterclockwise (from your point of view).
  11. Now go through all the strings one after the other in this way.

Tuning a guitar by ear and without a tuner – tuning method no. 2

To tune a guitar you need good hearing and one correctly tuned string or reference tone. You can get this with the help of a tuning fork or a tone comparison via piano or keyboard.
Proceed slowly and concentrate.

Tune the guitar from the thickest string, the E:

  1. Grip the E-string at the 5th fret and strike it so that the tone is clear and distinct.
  2. Strike the A-string empty (without fretting) and compare the notes while they are still sounding simultaneously.
  3. Too low or too high?
  4. If the string sounds too high, turn the tuning peg of the A-string clockwise. If it sounds too low, turn the peg counterclockwise.
  5. Sounds good? Great, you just tuned the A-string.
  6. Fret the A-string in the 5th fret and let the note sound.
  7. Strike the D-string empty.
  8. Tune with the respective tuning peg until the desired tone sounds.
  9. Fret the D-string in the 5th fret and strike the string.
  10. Play the G-string empty.
  11. Turn the tuning knob to the G-string higher or lower.
  12. Fret the G-string in the 4th fret and play it to tune the B-string.
  13. Play the B string empty.
  14. Turn the corresponding peg so that the string is tuned again.
  15. Press the B-string in the 5th fret and strike it.
  16. Play the E-string (the thinnest string) empty and compare.
  17. Tune the E-string with the corresponding tuning peg.

Tuning with flageolet notes – tuning method no. 3

Let’s come to the third tuning method – tuning with harmonics.
Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?
And along the way you will also learn to play the special (whistling) tones.

They develop when you touch the strings in the 5th, 7th or 12th fret very lightly and strike them.
You play the flageolet tone of the low E-string by touching the string lightly with the index finger of your grasping hand after the 12th fret and striking it with the striking hand.

Tune your guitar as follows:

  1. Play a flageolet note in the 5th fret of the low E-string.
  2. Play a flageolet note in the 7th fret of the A-string.
  3. Compare the two tones and adjust the tuning of the A-string accordingly with the pegs.
  4. Play a flageolet note in the 12th fret of the A-string.
  5. Play a harmonics tone in the 7th fret of the D-string.
  6. Match the tones with each other and adjust the tuning of the D-string with the tuning knob.
  7. Tune the G-string by playing a flageolet tone in the 12th fret of the D-string.
  8. Then play a flageolet note in the 7th fret of the G-string.
  9. Compare the two tones and adjust the string with the tuning peg.
  10. Play a flageolet note in the 12th fret of the D-string.
  11. Then play a flageolet note in the 7th fret of the G-string and compare them.
  12. Adjust the tuning of the G-string with the tuning peg.
  13. Now play a flageolet tone in the 7th fret of the low E-string
  14. Then play the B-string empty.
  15. Compare the two pitches and tune the B-string accordingly.
  16. Play a flageolet tone in the 12th fret of the B-string of the high E-string.
  17. Play a flageolet tone in the 7th fret of the high E-string.
  18. Match the tones and tune the high E-string with the peg accordingly.

Buy tuners – Our recommendation

If you choose the method with tuner, get a chromatic tuner. Only these can reproduce semitones individually. Tuners also follow – logically – the standard tuning E A d g b e .

The functioning of tuners is relatively simple:
The tuner “hears” the note played via microphone or pickup. Then the device shows you whether the note for this string is too high or too low, wrong or right.

We have chosen a tuner for both acoustic and electric guitars:

Tuner for acoustic guitar: Thomann CTM-700

Tuner Thomann CTM 700 from front

Tuner for electric guitar: Thomann CTG-10 Clip Tuner

Tuner Thomann CTG-10 Clip Tuner from front

5 tips to help you tune your guitar

  1. Stretch your guitar strings
    You have rewound your strings, tuned them perfectly and want to play, the guitar sounds again like you stepped on the tail of a cat.
    That’s because the strings are still stretching a bit after you put them on.
    So get before the back and forth (winding – tuning – playing – tuning) and stretch the guitar strings after you have wound them. Do not pull the string too far up from the body. Then pull the strings slightly at the bridge and saddle.
    Now you can tune the guitar. Then stretch and tune the guitar again.
    But even without new strings, stretching the strings can save you a lot of tuning.
  2. Consider the tremolo
    If you play a guitar with tremolo, you need to do the tuning differently.
    Otherwise, as soon as you tune one string, all the others will go out of tune.
    First tune the low E-string, then the A-string, then the low E-string again, then the D-string and the A-string. Continue and save yourself frustration.
  3. Check your guitar before the performance
    Are you often on stage with your guitar? And every time your stringed instrument sounds crappy? Let your guitar get used to the conditions of the location.
    Often the heat of the surroundings (e.g. from spotlights) has influenced the tuning of guitars. Then check the tuning of your guitar before the performance.
  4. Things are going up
    You should always tune the strings of your guitar upwards. When you tune high, you tension the string. Even if the tone should be lower, don’t tune to the proper tone immediately, but first tune lower and then to the perfect pitch.
    This may sound complicated, but it is important. If you bypass this way, the string will be out of tune again, because only when you tune up will the whole string be tensioned and the tolerance will be ignored.
  5. Tuning like playing
    Tune in the way you play. If you hit the strings hard, you should hit them with the same force when tuning. The way you play is also relevant – if you play with pick, you should also tune with pick.
    Otherwise your guitar (especially with metal strings) will soon be out of tune again, because the pitch of the notes is set to a different playing style.

3 reasons why a guitar can become out of tune

  1. Extreme variations in temperature and air pressure affect your guitar. The material “moves” and so do the strings. The string tension decreases or increases. Your guitar is out of tune.
  2. When you play, pluck and pull, you put strain on the strings. The tuning mechanisms, which are operated by the tuning pegs, give way under these loads and detune the guitar.
  3. If you just put new strings on your guitar, they will still stretch afterwards. So if you tune your guitar immediately, you may well have to tune your guitar again a few moments later. Especially with nylon strings (because they are more flexible) you will have to struggle with them more often than with steel strings. Stretch your strings after you have wound them and tune them again.

How often should you tune your guitar?

Ideally, you should tune your guitar before each play.
However, if we are honest, this will not be the case for most guitarists.

But tune your guitar every time it has been exposed to more stress – heat, cold or hours of sessions.

Thomas Dill

Thomas Dill

Thomas is the head of our electric guitar section at music2me. He studied classical guitar at the University of Giessen and electric guitars at MGI Cologne. Thomas works as a freelance musician, producer and author at Bonedo.de. He is also a professional music teacher.

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