Guitars go out of tune much more frequently than other instruments. For instance, a piano can stay in tune for a year or more but a guitar often requires weekly or even daily tuning. For this reason, it’s important that everyone from the beginner level on up know the process of tuning a guitar. Don’t worry, it’s much easier than you might think when starting out and all you need is a reference pitch or an electronic tuner.
The easiest and most flexible way to consistently tune a guitar is using the aforementioned reference pitch – a note played by a perfectly tuned instrument or available from a digital audio file. For instance, if you’re using the standard six-string tuning of E-A-D-G-B-E, you would start by tuning the sixth string (low E).
To do this, play a low E reference pitch and adjust the tuning pegs on your sixth string until the sound produced by the sixth string matches the sound produced by the reference pitch. Once your sixth string is properly tuned, you can use it to tune the other five strings on your guitar starting with the fifth string.
To do so, you’ll want to fret the fifth fret on the sixth string in order to produce an A note. This A played on your sixth string will serve to tune your open fifth string which itself is an A. In this way, the sixth string now serves as a reference pitch for the fifth.
Simply adjust the tuning pegs until the open fifth sounds the same as the A played by the sixth string. With sixth and fifth strings tuned properly, simply proceed in the same manner to tune the remaining four strings. The steps are as follows:
1. Play the fifth fret on the fifth string to tune the open fourth string.
- 2. Use the fifth fret on the fourth string to tune the open third.
- 3. Play the fourth fret on the third string to tune the open second.
- 4. Play the fifth fret on the second string to tune the open first.
If you follow these steps and the strings still sound dull or they go out of tune frequently and dramatically, you’ll need to replace the strings. The strings of a guitar wear out more quickly than the components of many other popular instruments so you have to be especially watchful when playing a guitar.
I favor the above method especially for beginners because it teaches them more about handling their guitar, but a guitar can also be tuned using an electronic tuner. Electronic tuners cost about $20 or less and can sense which string you are playing using a built-in microphone.
Simply place the electronic tuner within a few feet of where you are playing and then proceed to play each string, adjusting the tuning pegs based on the electronic tuner’s display. As you can see, using an electronic tuner is a simple way to quickly tune your guitar without the use of a reference pitch. As I said, I prefer to use the reference pitch method but either method can be effectively used for tuning a guitar.