Important tuning guidelines
- Be careful not to tighten the strings too hard - this may break them.
- It is always easier to tune towards a higher pitch, i.e. tightening the string, than to loosen it. Also some tuner mechanics on certain guitars may be poor, and if you tune by loosening the string you may never get it right.
- Don't be lazy - learn to tune by your ear! It will take time but it will also be extremely rewarding in the long run.
- Even though you tuned every string with your fancy Yamaha/KORG tuner there is a possibility that you made one string too lose, too tight. It is therefore important that you do a check without the tuner as well (again, learn to tune without a tuner).
Video guide for how to tune the guitar by ear
Tuning reference notes
Using a tuner
As a beginner I recommend you to buy a tuner. It does not really matter which brand you buy, they are all good - but I can recommend Yamaha tuners, since I have one myself. It is ridicuolosly easy to tune with a tuner, as long as you have a somewhat good idea of how the strings should sound.
Every string has a particular pitch - a pitch is simply a term used to describe the quality of a note/sound; whether it is brigher or darker. A brighter (or higher) sound has a higher pitch than a darker (or lower) sound.
Listen to the reference notes above, for instance. Compare the A to the B note.
The A note is much darker than the B note, therefore is has a lower pitchIf you tune a certain string with a much higher pitch than it should have (practivally it means if you tighten the string too much), the string will break. We don't want that do we?
In order to avoid this you need to know roughly the sound of the strings. It is difficult to know by heart, so you will need a reference that you know is valid/correct. These reference notes are found above.
Using this information you can try to tighten the strings as you listen to the reference notes.
When you have done this you can use a guitar tuner to do fine adjustments - it will tell you when the string resonates at a precise pitch. But to be sure you are tuning at the right pitch you need to listen to the reference notes, as I already mentioned 2 or 3 times =).
Other ways of getting reference notes is using a tuning fork, tuning pipe or other instruments that are always tuned, such as a keyboard.
Using tuning programs works just as fine as using a tuner - but then you will need to have a microphone hooked up to your computer. I have such a program online on this site here.
Tuning without a tuner
Being able to tune your guitar without the use of a tuner is a skill that takes some time to master, however it is very important to know as a guitarist.
If you do not already have a well-developed musical ear (and believe me when I say that it takes some time to get one) - then you simply will not be able to do this in the beginning. There's the fact - without sugarcoating.
But you will be able to do it quite soon if you give it time and practise, like everything else. Most likely you will be able to tune your guitar somewhat, but to get it perfect (or near-perfect) takes longer time. but not to worry - you will be able to do this.
After a couple of years of playing (or shorter time, it's very individual) you might even be able to tune a guitar by remembering how a specific note sounds. A tip is to remember a certain riff in a song where they play a specific note.
When your ear is really well tuned, you can tune your guitar by just playing a chord and tuning for how the chord should sound - but this is a skill that takes even longer time.
Tuning with new guitar strings
After you have put on your guitar strings, simply tune them up just as you would normally, then leave your guitar for 2-3 hours. Then tune them again. Alternatively, if you want to play now, you have to tune each string several times, pulling the string slighty after each time you tune it (it will fall out of tune a few times after pulling it, but after 4-5 times it will stay in tune even after a pull).
The standard guitar tuning method
The most common way of tuning a guitar is by fretting a lower pitch string to match the proper sound of a higher pitch string.
Sounds messy? It isn't. I explain it very well in the video above, but here it all is in plain text for you as well =).
If we, for instance, have a tuned lower E-string - this means that all the notes that you play on this string are tuned and correct notes.
On the fifth fret of the tuned lower E-string you have the note A, which has the same pitch and sound as a loose (unfretted) A string should have. By comparing the sound of the fifth fret of the lower E-string you can then tune your A string by turning the tuner until it sounds the same.
Then you can do the same with the rest of the strings until the higher e-string. So all of these strings will be tuned by the initial tuned lower E string.
Exception: the B string is tuned by fretting the fourth fret on the G string instead of the fifth. You can see the fretting pattern in the picture. Now try it out - and then compare with the sounds of the reference tones below
Tuning reference notes
Tuning your guitar using harmonics
Harmonics is a term used to describe the sounds you can get by plucking a when you gently touch it with the tip of your finger. It is not easy to do in the beginning, I remember how I used to try to do it but it just wouldn't work, hehe.
The key in doing this is to:
a. Hold your finger just above the metal pin, and not in between two pins (as you usually do when you fret)
b. use the clean harmonics positions that are found on the 5th, 7th and 12th frets.
The harmonic on the same fret is the same note you get when you actually fret the string on the 12th fret.
Here are the steps for tuning with harmonics:
- Tune the low E-string by ear (use a reference note above)
- Compare the 5th fret harmonic of the lower E string with the 7th fret harmonic of the A string.
- Compare the 5th fret harm. on the A-string with the 7th fret harmonic of the D-string
- Compare the 5th fret harm. on the D-string with the 7th fret harmonic of the G-string
- Compare the 7th fret harmonic of the lower E string with the open B string.
- Compare the 7th fret harmonic of the A string with the open B string.
It is advisable that you control your tuning with hte previous tuning method, or by just playing a chord and making sure it sounds right.
Note well that this tuning method does not work on all guitars. But it is still good to know - and also it is cool to know how to do the harmonics as an effect=).
Now you should have some idea of how to tune your guitar with /without a tuner. There are other ways to tune the guitar, using different reference notes etc, but these are the most common ways.
If you are following my beginner guitar course step by step, click here to learn how to hold the guitar properly and continue with my course in lesson 2
Also don't forget to bookmark the online guitar tuner page so that you can tune your guitar before each lesson.