One of the fundamentals of guitar, besides actually learning how to play, is learning how to tune the guitar. It is an inevitably challenging task at first, but like changing the strings on a guitar, it is something that becomes easier over time and is important—if your guitar isn’t tuned right, you won’t sound good no matter how well you play.
Fortunately for beginners, the current electronic tuners make tuning a breeze. It is still worth learning, however, to tune a guitar the good old fashioned way—using a piano or other reference. In this lesson, we’ll go over both methods of tuning.
Using an Electronic Tuner to Tune:
Electronic tuners, such as the excellent Korg CA-30, offer an extremely quick, easy and effective way of tuning the guitar. The instructions for using such a tuner are quite simple:
- Turn the tuner on by pressing the “power" button.
- Pick the low e string open. The tuner will show what note it is. If the tuner shows a D note, you’ll want to increase tension (tune up) by turning the tuning peg counterclockwise. If the tuner shows an F note, then you’ll want to decrease tension (tune down) by turning the tuning peg clockwise. Keep decreasing/increasing tension until the note shows up as an E.
- Next, pick the A string open. The tuner will show what note the string is. If it’s a G#, tune up; if it’s a B or C, tune down. As with the low e string, repeat the process of decreasing/increasing until the note shows up as an A.
- Repeat the above process with the last 4 strings until they show up as D, G, B, and E notes, respectively. You want to tune all six strings into standard tuning: E (6th string, closest to you) A D G B E (1st string, furthest from you).
Using a Piano/Keyboard to Tune:
If you want to develop your ear, or just don’t want to buy a tuner to tune the guitar, the alternative is to use a Piano or Keyboard as a reference. You’ll do the following to tune this way:
- Find a piano and locate the E key. Look for the two white keys with no black key between them. The first white key is an E, the second an F.
- Play the E key.
- Next, play your low E string. Play the E key again and try to match the open low E string with the sound of the E key.
- When the two sound identical, or almost the same, you can move on to tuning the rest of the strings.
- Play the 5th fret of the low E string. Then play the open A string. If the two notes you have played sound practically the same, then the A string is in tune. If not, tune your A string to the sound of note on the 5th fret of the low E string.
- Now, play the 5th fret of the A string and then the D string open. Tune your D string to the sound of the note on the 5th fret of the A string.
- Play the 5th fret of the D string. Tune your G string to the sound of the note on the 5th fret of the D string.
- Play the 4th fret of the G string. Tune your B string to the sound of that note. It is worth noting that this is the only string where you play the 4th fret, and not the 5th.
- Finally, play the 5th fret of the G string and tune your high E (first string) to the sound of that note.
If you don’t have access to a piano or keyboard, you can always find a reference (perhaps an MP3 of the low e string) and tune the strings to that using the second method described.
Developing your ear to hear the individual notes will take time, so there probably will be some frustration with the above method of tuning. In spite of this, it is still an excellent idea to learn both methods of tuning, not just the first one.
Gray Rollins is a featured writer for GuitarsLand.com. To learn more about how to tune a guitar and for alternate guitar tunings , please visit us.