Tuning a guitar may seem like a complex skill at first but it is absolutely necessary for every beginner to have knowledge. Because no matter how well you master producing music on a guitar if your precious instrument is out of tune then you will never be fully satisfied with the results.
So we take it that you are learning to play the guitar and you are interested in learning how to tune an acoustic guitar. There are a few ways in which you can tune your guitar and we will discuss some of them here today.
We will begin with the simplest profile which is also the most popular one and it is the standard tuning. In order to be able to tune your guitar in standard tuning, you need to be familiar with the notes first.
Stick around as we give you all the details on standard tuning and ways in which to tune an acoustic guitar.
You will notice that the six strings on your guitar go from thick to thin. Each of these strings has what we call ‘notes’ and they go like this:
E, A, D, G, B, E
You can make some sentences using the letters above to remember the order for example:
Eggs Are Dirty Get Bananas Everyday
Once you have memorized the order you need to now learn how to tune your guitar to the notes E-A-D-G-B-E.
The guitar’s headstock which extends right after the neck/fretboard has machine heads that look like keys.
You will notice six machine heads-one for each string. As you turn a machine head you will be changing the pitch of that particular attached string. Turning the heads will allow you to tune each string to note and with the help of a tuner you can easily find out what note you are working with.
Let us now take a look at the 3 most common techniques of tuning an acoustic guitar:
a) Tuning using an app
b) Tuning using an electronic tuner
c) Tuning using the strings
How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar Using a Tuning App?
Got a smartphone? Great.
Many guitarists turn to smartphone apps that help to accurately tune a guitar without costing you anything. Most of these apps are free so as a beginner you don’t have to worry about extra expenses.
Once you have one of these apps installed on your phone all you have to do is follow the instructions that come on the app to successfully complete the tuning process.
But of course, if you want to really get the feel of tuning your guitar you can also consider using an electronic tuner which we will discuss next.
How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar with a Tuner?
There are several different kinds of electric tuners but they all work more or less the same and give you the fastest and most accurate readings.
The good thing about electric tuners is that they don’t only tell you which string you are trying to tune but will also display how far off you are in terms of either going too flat or too sharp.
Follow these easy steps to start the process:
1. Power on the tuner
2. Depending on the tuner you may need to manually set the tuner to ‘listen’ to the string you are tuning or you could set it to auto-detect.
3. Pluck the string and see where the needle (vertical line) is positioned.
4. If it is placed in the middle then the string is already tuned to the right note but if it is not then you need to turn the machine head of that particular string.
5. Turn the machine head in a certain direction to see which way it goes. You need to figure out the right direction to get the needle to come to the middle.
6. You need to pluck the string often to allow the machine to listen and work on it.
7. Once the needle is in the middle then move on to your next string and repeat steps 2-6 until all the strings are perfectly tuned.
This is how an electric tuner works:
For example, if you are tuning the 4th string which is D then you will see 4D on the screen of your electric tuner.
Next, there will be three lights- a red light on the left, a green light on the middle, and another red light on the right.
A vertical line on the screen should be in the middle corresponding with the green light indicating that the note is in tune.
If the line, however, is more to the left and the red light on the left is lit then you should understand that the note is flat.
Again if the line is more to the right side with the red light on the right lit that indicates that the note is too high.
You can also check this video to understand how to tune a guitar with a tuner:
Tuning Your Guitar Using its Own Strings
If you don’t have a tuner app installed on your phone or you forgot your electric tuner at home then you need to know about how to tune an acoustic guitar without a tuner or how to tune an acoustic guitar by ear. And in that case, you can try to tune your instrument by following these steps:
1. Start with first tuning the thickest string which is the 6th string.
If you know what the thickest string sounds like then try and tune it closest to a low E. This is important because you will use this as a guideline to tune the remaining 5 strings.
2. Next, you will be working on the 5th string and for that, you must place your finger on the fifth fret of the 6th string.
Once you pluck this string you should be able to hear an A note, the sound you will be aiming for on the 5th string.
Tune the 5th string and while still having your finger on the fifth fret pick both the 6th and the 5th string. Keep turning the 5th strings machine head until both strings sound the same.
3. Moving on to the 4th string you will be following the same method but with a higher string.
In order to get a D note, you must place your first finger on the fifth fret of the 5th string and pluck. The sound you get is what you need from the 4th string.
Turn the machine head of the 4th string and pluck in turn with the 5th string to get both the strings to sound the same.
4. Repeat the same process with the 3rd string but this time starting with your finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string and using it as a guide.
5. A slight change takes place here where in order to tune the 2nd string you must place your finger on the 4th fret of the 3rd string instead of the 5th fret. The rest of the process is the same.
6. To tune the 1st string you go back to the 5th fret of the 2nd string and work from there.
This is an easy way to tune your guitar using the strings and your listening power only. Just remember that while tuning the second string you use the 4th fret of the 3rd string whereas for all the other strings use the 5th fret of the previous string.
Here’s another video to clarify the process of how to tune a guitar without a tuner:
So there you have it, these are some common ways of tuning your guitar. We recommend tuning your guitar every time you play because even if you don’t notice any changes chances are that your guitar is out of tune after every playing session.
Take care of your guitar by keeping it away from extreme hot or cold places and do try to loosen the strings while your instrument is not in use. This helps to keep your guitar in great shape by protecting it against any environmental pressure.
Also Read: Acoustic Guitar String Guide