In this article you will learn how to tune a guitar.

Learning how to tune a guitar is extremely important. In fact, it’s the first thing you need to do every time you play and then at several varying intervals while you are performing. 

I’m going to speak about standard guitar tuning. It should be noted that there are endless ways to alternatively tune your guitar, but I would recommend first learning standard tuning and then experiment with alternate tuning later. 

Before we can learn about tuning, we have to know what notes each string should be tuned to. Each string, when plucked by itself, with no frets pushed down, will sound a note. In standard tuning, from lowest string [6] (which is the thickest string) to highest [1] (thinest) is: E, A, D, G, B, e. We use the big “E” for the lowest string and then the little “e” for the highest. You may not always see it written like that. Some teachers or websites reverse it but you will see it this way in most cases, including in this book. 

We use numbers for our strings to help quickly identify each one. The lowest string is also the lowest sounding string. The low “E” string is considered the sixth [6] string. You count up from there. The fifth [5] string is the “A”, the fourth [4] the “D”, the third [3] the “G”, the second [2] the “B” and the first [1] (or highest) is the “e”. Again, you may see other manuals that count the highest string “e” as the sixth string and work backwards.

Now back to tuning. There are three main ways you can learn to tune: by referencing an electronic tuner, by comparing note-for-note with another instrument like a piano, or tuning by ear. 

Using a digital tuning device is by far the easiest. You may want to buy an outboard tuner that you can set on your lap or the table in front of you. There are smartphone apps available that do this as well. As you play your open guitar string the pitch is analyzed by the device in front of you and you tune up or down based on the information fed back to you. If you are slightly flat then you tune upwards until you hit the exact middle of the note you are trying to tune to. If sharp, tune downwards.  Be careful when tuning for the first few times not to accidentally over tune your strings beyond the note you are attempting to find. Doing so may cause the string to snap. If that happens you may be frightened to tune at all for a while. I understand that fear firsthand. 

There are also tuners that clip on to the headstock of your guitar. They work via the vibrations of the guitar, which is great when onstage or in loud environments. They work the same as the tabletop tuner, however they collect their tuning data via vibration, not by hearing an audible sound. This means that if the drummer beside you is tuning his floor tom you can still be tuning your guitar. Priceless!

You may want to tune by comparing each pitch to another instrument, and if you have the ear for it, you should give it a try. This skill is worthwhile for tuning and also for learning how to hear when a pitch is flat or sharp. To tune like this you’ll need to hit a reference note on the other instrument, like on a piano, that you know is in tune and then tune your string up or down until you feel like the two notes are the same. You repeat this for each note of the opened string guitar until you have completed all six strings.