In this tutorial I'll teach you how to tune a guitar. I'll be honest, tuning your guitar is not very easy, it'll take some time before you have mastered the art of tuning. If you are just starting to play the guitar, I suggest you buy yourself a good guitar tuner.
It's important to learn how to tune your guitar by ear because it is necesarry ear training. So even if you have a guitar tuner, try to tune by ear and afterwards check with your guitar tuner if your guitar is in tune.
An important thing to remember: you can't tune old strings. Safe yourself the frustration, don't try it. The normal life span of a set of strings if you play a lot (3 hours a day) is about 3 months, if you play less, about 6 months. So if your strings are old, go buy yourself a new set and follow this tutorial on changing guitar strings.
1. How to Tune a Guitar - The Fretted Method
You need to know the note names of the guitar strings for this tutorial. Here's a reference:
Guitar strings are numbered from high to low pitch. The high e (skiniest string) is string 1, the b string is string 2, ... The low E string (the fat one) is string number 6.
First you need to tune the low E string (string 6) to a reference tone. This can be done by playing an E note on the piano, by using a pitch pipe or by using a recorded E note, such as this one:
Push the play button on the above reference tone (you might have to push twice) and listen to the tone carefully. Now strike the low E-string of your guitar. Does the low E of your guitar sound lower or higher comparred to the reference tone?
If your guitar sounds lower: turn the tuning key slowly in clockwise direction until it is about the same pitch as the reference key. When the pitch of the guitar comes close to the reference pitch, you'll notice that the sound begins to wave. Turn the tuning key bit by bit and the wave will begin to slow down until it comletely stops. That's when the 2 tones are in tune. If you go too far, the wave will increase again (go to the next point if that happens).
If your guitar sounds higher: turn the tuning key in counter clockwise direction until is lower than the reference tone. Then go back to the previous point. Always go lower first when you are tuned too high, otherwise the string might get stuck in some places.
Now finger the low E-string close to the 5th fret:
The note you are holding with your finger is an A, the same note as the 5th string in open position. To tune the A string, play both strings together and use the tuning key to adjust the pitch of the A string. Use the method from step 2 to do this.
When the A string is in tune, finger the 5th fret on the A string. This is a D note, the same note as the 4th string. Play both strings together and get them in tune.
Finger the 5th fret on the D string. This produces a G note, the same note as the 3rd string. Play both strings together and tune. If you are learning how to tune a bass guitar, then this is where it stops, only 4 strings on a bass guitar.
This step is a little different. Instead of fingering the 5th fret, we are now going to use the 4th fret of the G string. This produces a B note, the same note as the second string. Play them together and get them in tune.
Hold the 5th fret on the B string. This produces an E note, the same note as the high E string. Play both strings together and tune them.
2. How to Tune a Guitar - The Harmonics Method
Here is another method to tune your guitar, it uses harmonics. This way of tuning is more accurate compared to the fretted method.
Play a harmonic note at the 5th fret of the low E string. You can produce a harmonic by lightly touching the string with a left hand finger above the 5th fret. Do not press down, just lightly hold your finger on the string. Now pick the note.
The tone you hear is an E note. Tune that note to our reference note, in the same way we did in the fretted method (see above):
Use your left hand index finger to play the same harmonic on the 5th fret of the E string and while the note is still sounding, play the harmonic on the 7th fret of the A string with you pinky. These are the same notes (E), tune the A string until both notes match. Again, play attention to the wave effect.
Note that you do not have to hold your finger on the string after you have picked the note, the sound will continue when you remove your finger.
Play the harmonic on the 5th fret of the A string and the one on the 7th fret of the D string and tune the D string.
Play the harmonic on the 5th fret of the D string and on the 7th fret of the G string. Tune the G string.
To tune the B string we have to use the fretted method (see above) because we can't play a harmonic on the 6th fret of the B string. Play the normal note on the 5th fret of the G string together with the open B string and tune the B string.
Play the harmonic on the 5th fret of the B string and on the 7th fret of the high E string and tune the E string.
Guitar tuning tips:
You can't tune old strings. To keep your guitar strings alive for as long as possible, wipe your strings with a cloth after playing and keep your hands clean.
A new string gets out of tune very easily. You can make new guitar strings become more stable by yanking each string a couple of times. Retune after yanking and keep yanking until the string doesn't get out of tune anymore after yanking (I've never used the word yanking so many times in one sentence!).