How To Tune Your Guitar

“Reality is a sound, you have to tune in to it not just keep yelling.” - Anne Carson

Like any other instrument, we have to make sure that it sounds as it’s supposed to sound. For the guitar, that means that each string must be tuned to a specific note, or else our playing will sound like crap.

In this lesson we'll learn how to tune your guitar to make sure it sounds correctly.

Check the video lesson below, where I'll show you how to use a common standard tuner as well as the built-in tuners on my multi-effects pedals, or continue reading for more details.

Regarding the way they work, there are two kinds of tuners:

  • Standard tuners.

These tuners are designed to tune a guitar to the standard tuning (EADGBE). Some can be set to offset the tuning by a couple of semitones (usually flats), but you cannot change the tuning of a string to any other note.

  • Chromatic tuners.

These tuners give you maximum flexibility, and can tune your guitar to just about any tuning you might want to.

As for their shape and form, we have the following possibilities:

  • Plug-or-mic tuner.

These tuners can be used to tune acoustic or electric guitars by either pluging the lead cable into it, or hearing the notes with their built-in microphone. Some models have a built-in speaker that can give you a reference note to tune the string to, although to use this feature you need to develop your ear a little first.

These are usually standard tuners only.

Very practical to have one on your gig bag.

  • Clip-on tuner.

These tuners tend to be used more for acoustic guitars. They clip on the guitar neck and hear the vibrations in order to tune the notes.

These tend to be chromatic tuners, and are the easier ones to use.

  • Pedal tuner.

These tuners can come in the shape of a single stand-alone pedal or be included along with modern multi-effects pedals. They can be used with electric or electro-acoustic guitars, as they require a signal (they have no microphone).

These tend to be chromatic. I have two multi-effects pedals; both have tuners built-in, and they are great.

  • Tuning apps.

If you don't want to carry extra gear with you, you can certainly use this. If you have any modern smartphone or tablet, you can find many tuning apps that will use the device's microphone to hear the notes and give you a reading, which means you will be able to use them for both acoustic or electric guitars.

Just search on your platform's store for "guitar tuner" and you'll find plenty of options like PitchLab or Alt Guitar Tuner.

Depending on the app, it can work as a standard or chromatic tuner.

The way all tuners work is pretty straightforward, although it differs between standard and chromatic tuners.

With a standard tuner, when you play a single string, it will check if that note is close to any of the notes on the standard tuning, including the octave. If it is close to any of them, it will tell you which note it is and show you a meter that tells you how far off it is from the intended frequency, both flat and sharp.

If the note played is too far from any of the standard tuning, it will not respond.

On the other hand, a chromatic tuner will always give you a reading on which note the string is closer to, along with a reading on how far off it it, both flat and sharp.

The real difference between the two kinds of tuners, therefore, is that the standard tuner is easier for a beginner to tune the guitar to the standard tuning only.

The way we tune the guitar is by turning the tuning pegs of the guitar to tighten or loosen the strings. Which way it will tighten and loosen will depend on how the string has been wound (it's easy to find out).

Tightening the string will make the note go up, while loosening it will make it go down. With the reading from the tuner, we will be able to know just how much tightening or loosening we will need to get the string to the proper note.

If you have any trouble tuning your instrument, let me know.

Good luck!