3.7 Tuning Your Guitar

Andy | August 24, 2015 | 18 Comments

To say this is the most important facet of playing the guitar is an understatement. If your guitar is out of tune forget even trying to play – you will sound awful. Similarly, as happens on many occasions, even if you are playing a lead solo when the rhythm guitar is out of tune, even this will not do you any favours. Anyway, that’s the lecturing over and done with, so let’s get on with it.

You will need to tune your guitar every time it goes out of tune, which will be easier to spot as you become more experienced and will depend on many factors such as:

  How hard you strike the strings

  How new your strings are (new strings need “playing in”)

  How much bodily fluid (sweat) you excrete

  What gauge strings you use (lighter strings tend to go out of tune more frequently)

There are numerous ways to tune your guitar, but the most common is to use a tuner App. However you can also do this without any technology (well almost). Initially it may take up to 5 minutes to do, but you’ll have this process finely tuned (no pun intended) so it will take seconds.

But, before we do this, there is an element of theory and knowledge to understand concerning how the string notes are linked to each other. Andy relays the methodology he uses for his students which will also start you playing some notes and how to play them properly.

To begin with, let’s have a look at the strings on your guitar:

The thickest string is an E and is the lowest note. If you are right handed, this is the string closest to your face.

Moving away from your face, towards your legs, the strings become thinner and the notes higher. In this order, they are

E…A…D…G…B…E

Tuning

It is important you know the names of the strings (for numerous reasons that will become apparent later). Here are a couple of acronyms to help you:

  Elephants And Donkeys Got Big Ears

  Even After Dinner Giant Boys Eat

The various apps that Andy demonstrates will either play you a note that you can tune to, or pick up the pitch frequency of a string and indicate whether the pitch is too high or too low. You can then use the tuning pegs to make the note higher or lower until it is in tune.

Alternatively, you can make sure the guitar is in tune but using the bottom E string. You will have to use a tuner or app to get your bottom E string in tune, but once this is achieved you can tune all the other strings to the bottom E. If you are a tad more experienced, you can tune to a record where you know the basic chords to ensure one or more of the strings are in tune. This is more complicated and will probably be something you can move on to in the near future.

Anyway, now on to a bit more theory… huge apologies!

Once the bottom E is in tune, you need to “press down” (fret) the 5th fret of the bottom E string, which is an A note. Using the tuning pegs, turn these to adjust the pitch of the A string so it matches the pich of the 5th fret of the bottom E string on the fifth fret.

Now perform the same exercise with the A and D strings, where the 5th fret notes are D on the A string and G on the D string.

However, on the G string, you will need to fret the 4th fret as this is the B note to ensure the B string is in tune. Finally, you press the 5th fret of the B string, which is an E note and, as before, adjust the tuning pegs so the top E string pitch matches the 5th fret of the A string.

Once you have performed this exercise you will (hopefully) be in tune. It is good practice to use this method as will help your fretting and ability to hear the notes… having said that, if you struggle, use a tool to help you which, at the outset, is much simpler.

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Comments (18)

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  1. David Slatton says:

    Those little sayings are very helpful …”Even After Dinner Giant Boys Eat” etc.

  2. jim crossland says:

    Just a point about using tuners as they are all at a different pitch as you commented about the issue with yours i have several types and they all have slighly different pitches

  3. Gary Stout says:

    3.7 Tuning Your Guitar: Good image, but you might want to change the string lettering to all capital letters except the high-E. In some sheet music, it’s a convention to show tuning and the lower case-e helps newbies know that it is the high-E. You may also mention that it can take a little practice to allow the ear to hear the difference when the strings are nearly tuned to each other but not quite there, so they don’t get frustrated when they first try that tuning technique and can’t quite get it right. “Alternatively, you can make sure the guitar is in tune but using the bottom E string” Do you mean “by” instead of “but”?

  4. Ronnie Holderfield says:

    Hey Andy, Ed makes a good point, but I’m sure that you can take care of that. I’m just taking for granted that you will teach the students that always when tuning their guitar to take the string that you are tuning down below the target before getting to the target. I’ve always done it this way and it is a lot better than having played a song and have to re tune your guitar because you didn’t do it. They’ll learn later about the choice they have in the guitar that they play

  5. Ed Heskett says:

    Hi Andy. I’m a Primary School teacher and professional musician who has been teaching guitar to beginners of all ages for the past 30 years. I was wondering why your guitar is detuned a half step. I understand that you are teaching beginners to tune the guitar to itself, but most of my beginners start with an electronic tuner as their ears are not that well attuned to pitch variation. As they progress I teach them to tune by ear. To me it seems it would be simpler to have your guitar at standard pitch so that those who choose to use a tuner will be in tune with the video.

    I checked the first song video, and your guitar was still one step down, making it difficult for me to follow the lesson as my guitars are all at standard pitch. The only way I could follow was to return to this section and tune to you.

    • Andy says:

      Hi Ed, yes there is an issue here which we’re trying to figure out – maybe some adjustment in my tuner within my pedal. Thanks 🙂

  6. Grant Thiele says:

    Maybe a quick explanation as to why the B string is tuned at the 4th fret rather than the 5th. (without going into too much theory, just layman’s terms).

  7. Brian Armstrong says:

    I think most guitar players when starting use an app or electronic tuner. When you started tuning on the first E you did not mention how you tuned that string. I may be missing something here but could not understand how the first E was tuned.

  8. Richard McKay says:

    #1 Every time you pick up a guitar you haven’t very recently played, assume it is out of tune. Be surprised it’s in tune but assume it isn’t. Hint: it isn’t.

    Always tune down below the target note first and tune up to pitch. Many beginners start cranking away on the wrong peg and end up breaking strings. Also, tune through all the strings one last time to make sure they’re all still in tune.

    Also, beginners are afraid to turn the pegs, assure them it’s easy and normal and has to be done all the time.

  9. Marcus Hunt says:

    Geez, I remember using an A tuning fork and pitch pipes when I first started playing 30 odd years ago. Whilst it is a good idea to learn to tune a guitar to itself you can’t beat a clip on tuner nowadays in my opinion. Trouble with aps, etc is they’re fine if you’re on your own in a quiet environment but go to a folk club, or open mic night, etc and with the ambient noise they often struggle. That said, one gig I did with my ceilidh band I left my tuner at home and luckily the tuning ap on my phone did the trick….just!

  10. Michael LaPaglia says:

    When using a tuning fork its easier for a beginner to start with an A 440 fork and start tuning on the A string. For a beginner it is easier to hear the A note than the E.

  11. Robin Haynes says:

    It’s generally considered best practice, if a string is sharp and you have to lower its pitch, to drop it down below the desired pitch and then bring it “up” until it’s in tune, rather than just lowering it to match the correct pitch. It’ll stay in tune better this way.

  12. JL Brunet says:

    When tuning strings through your exercise, it’s great to strum both strings *at the same time*. You’ll hear the dissonance very well. As opposed to the beauty of two well-tuned strings.

    Question: “Once the bottom E is in tune” — how do you do that without a tuner? Any tip? Something from nature or other?

    • Andy says:

      Yes good point about dissonance. You could also tune with a tuning fork, or another instrument such as a piano.

      • Doug Danner says:

        Or a pitch pipe.
        With records (CD’s), they don’t always play at the correct speed which can result in the guitar being slightly out of standard (440) tuning. Some players will tune down a half step for particular songs.
        I use a combo tuner/capo so I have to keep track of one less accessory.

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