How To Tune A Guitar: Beginner’s Guide

How do you tune a guitar? In this post I’ll cover three methods you can use.

The three tuning methods I’ll cover are:

  1. Tune a guitar to itself
  2. Tune a guitar using a tuner
  3. Tune a guitar to another instrument

Standard tuning

Standard tuning is the most commonly used tuning on the guitar. Starting from the sixth (thickest) string, the strings are tuned to these notes: E-A-D-G-B-E.

standard tuning chart

For additional non-standard tunings, check out my post on 5 different guitar tunings you should know.

Method 1: Tune a guitar to itself

For this method all you need is your guitar. You’ll tune the guitar by ear using the 6th string E note as your starting point.

Start by tuning the 5th string (A). Place your finger on the 6th string in 5th position, this is the A note. Play that note and then play the open 5th string. Turn the tuning peg on the 5th string until the notes match.

Continue on to tune the 4th string (D). Place your finger on the 5th string in 5th position, this is the D note. Play that note and then play the open 4th string. Turn the tuning peg on the 4th string until the notes match.

Now tune the 3rd string (G). Place your finger on the 4th string in 5th position, this is the G note. Play that note and then play the open 3rd string. Turn the tuning peg on the 3rd string until the notes match.

Continue on to tune the 2nd string (B). Place your finger on the 3rd string in 4th position, this is the B note. Play that note and then play the open 2nd string. Turn the tuning peg on the 2nd string until the notes match.

Finally tune the 1st string (E). Place your finger on the 2nd string in 5th position, this is the E note. Play that note and then play the open 1st string. Turn the tuning peg on the 1st string until the notes match.

Tip 1: Going backward

If your sixth string E note is out of tune, but you have a different string that is in tune, you can reverse this process. But instead of using 5th position, you’ll use 7th position. For example if you play in 7th position on the 5th string, that is an E note. You can use this note to tune the 6th string by playing the open 6th string. Similarly, 7th position on the 4th string (D) is the A note, which you can use to tune the 5th string by playing the open 5th string. The only exception is the 2nd string (B), where you’ll need 8th position to get the G note.

Tip 2: Reference note

YouTube has videos like this that play single, in tune notes for you to reference. This is great if your sixth E string is out of tune. You can use this video to tune your sixth string, and then tune the remaining strings using the method described above.

Method 2: Tune a guitar using a tuner

A tuner is an electronic device that will assist you with tuning your guitar. It’s a very precise and quick way to tune your guitar.

clip-on guitar tuner
Clip-on guitar tuner

If you’re using a clip-on tuner, attach it to the head of your guitar. Play the open 6th (E) string. The tuner will light up and display if the note is sharp or flat. Turn the tuning peg until the tuner indicates that the note is in tune. Proceed with the remaining strings. In this method you’ll only play the open string, one string at a time while tuning. 

Method 3: Tune a guitar to another instrument

In this method you’ll tune your guitar to another instrument, such as a piano. Play an E note on the piano, then play the open 6th string (E) string on your guitar. Turn the tuning peg until the note on your guitar matches the piano.

You now have two options. Option one is to tune the remaining strings (A-D-G-B-E) to the notes on the piano. Option two is to tune the remaining strings by ear using method 1 (tune a guitar to itself) described above.

Additional Tips

Tip 1: How often to tune

When I first pick up the guitar I start by playing a standard G chord. If the chord sounds in tune then I know the guitar is in tune. If not, I’ll tune the guitar. Typically I’ll need to tune the guitar once a day.

A guitar’s tuning stability can be impacted by many different things, such as the age of the strings, the climate, and your playing.

Tip 2: Start from the 6th E string

When tuning your guitar start from the 6th E string and work your way down to the 1st string. You can start from the 1st string and work your way up, but I recommend starting from the 6th string. Pick one of these options versus tuning the strings in a random order (such as going from the 4th to the 2nd, to the 6th…).

Tip 3: Make the note flat and tune up

When turning the tuning peg to tune a string, I like to make the note flat (the string is “looser”) and then tune the string up (by “tightening” the string) to the correct pitch. I’ve found that this improves the tuning stability of the guitar, versus making the note sharp and then bringing it down to the correct pitch.

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