How To Tune A Guitar

How To Tune A Guitar - Boss TU-3 Tuner Pedal display

Knowing how to tune a guitar is an essential skill for any guitarist – here’s an outline of how to do it

Regardless of how talented you are, if you don’t know how to tune a guitar, your playing will never sound great. Getting your guitar in tune and ready to play is the first step towards a great performance.

If you’re a beginner, this can be a bit of a mystery. Here we outline the basics of tuning a guitar to standard tuning (i.e. from thickest string to thinnest, they should be tuned EADGBE).

How To Tune A Guitar - Boss TU-10 Clip-On Chromatic Tuner

The easiest method – using a tuner

It may be obvious, but the easiest way of tuning is with a tuner (duh…). Most common devices have a built in microphone for acoustic guitars, and a jack socket to plug in an electric guitar.

The method is simple: play each note individually, and the tuner will detect which string is being tuned (unless it’s incredibly out of tune) and indicate whether the string is flat (lower than the desired pitch) or sharp (higher than the desired pitch).

This can be via a simple LED, or a needle (either real or simulated). In the case of a needle-based indicator, the needle being to the left the central position will indicate a flat string, and a needle to the right will indicate a sharp string.

How To Tune A Guitar - Korg GA-1

If the string is flat, slowly tighten it until it reaches the correct tuning. A light, or the needle being in the central position usually indicates correct tuning. If the string is sharp, slowly loosen it until it is in tune.

Repeat this with all strings until they are in correct tuning. Have a look at our online store for a full range of guitar tuners.

How To Tune A Guitar - Relative Tuning

Relative tuning

Guitar strings are all tuned relative to each other. In other words, if you know the correct pitch of one string, you can tune the rest.

The most common method is to get the correct the pitch of the low (thickest) E string, and tune the rest from that. This can be via another tuned instrument, such as a piano, or a simple device such as pitch pipe.

Once this is tuned to E, hold down the 5th fret, and play a note. This note is A. Tune the 5th string (2nd thickest string) to this.

This process can be applied to the remaining strings.

  • So, play the 5th fret of the 5th string, and tune the 4th string (D) to this.
  • Play the 5th Fret of the 4th string, and tune the 3rd string to this (G)
  • The next string differs slightly- play the 4th fret of the 3rd string, and tune the 2nd string to this (B)
  • Play the 5th fret of the 2nd string, and tune the 1st string to this (E).

If you don’t have a pitch pipe or another instrument, this is an easy way of getting all of the strings in tune with each other.

For beginners, getting used to these methods of how to tune a guitar is essential. Ideally, a guitar tuner should be used, but relative tuning is a handy ‘fix’ if you don’t have one near.

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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.