Guitar Tuning

Can Anyone Tune A Guitar?

"Finally! A guitar tuning page with so many tips that are useable..."

The happy answer to that question is a resounding...YES! To qualify that answer, it's like anything else you'll learn in life. You'll need a little "sweat, perseverance and a little background knowledge!" I'll provide the knowledge if you provide the sweat. :)) Honestly though guitar tuning is nothing more than practice. It's like guitar note learning and, like anything you practice, you get good at it. I've taught students in the past that told me that they were tone-deaf so couldn't tune a guitar to save their life.

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I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said that to me because I probably wouldn't have to work again! In reality though the incidence of tone-deafness in society is not really that high. You can read about it on, Wikipedia.

Christopher Frazier of Austin State University, writing on tone deafness in February 2002 said...

"Few people know the range of the different types of tone deafness. However, many people think they have it. Tone deafness does not refer to a problem with the ears, but to a lack of training. Tone deafness is easy to fix by training the ears and the vocal muscles... tone deafness is a term that tends to be applied indiscriminately to a constellation of music processing, perceptual, and production deficits".

But on with guitar tuning...

There are many and varied ways to achieve sound guitar tuning but let's start with the standard way. That is the open strings of the guitar are in their normal pitch of:

  • First string....E 
  • Second string...B 
  • Third String....G 
  • Fourth string...D
  • Fifth string....A 
  • Sixth string....E (2 octaves below 1st string E)


I'll start with the guitar tuning method you'll most likely use at some time in your guitar career. First of all you're going to need to get your guitar into what is known as "concert pitch". Although you can tune a guitar to itself and actually be in tune, it may not be in tune with other instruments or indeed, other guitars. Concert pitch is standardized around the world. It means that the note "A" above middle "C" on a piano (which is the same as "A" on the 5th fret of the first string of a guitar) shall have a frequency of 440 hertz (Hz).

This is just a way of measuring the vibrations per second of that particular note. I won't get technical here as I want to keep this guitar tuning lesson focussed about  achieving successful guitar tuning rather than any technical discussion of arcane physics! With that understood, you'll need a method for obtaining that standard note, unless you have perfect pitch! That's another story. The most common methods of finding that standardized "A" note when guitar tuning is the use of a tuning fork or pitch pipes.

You can also use an electronic tuner... 

I'll discuss this further as we proceed. You can buy tuning forks and pitch pipes at any good local music store and they are cheap and readily available. When tuning a guitar by a tuning fork I usually have the guitar sitting on my lap in the normal classical position.

Then, with my right hand I strike the tuning fork on a solid object (usually my knee! Ouch!). As it sets up a vibration, I place the pointed or "ball-end" of the tuning fork on the bridge of my guitar. This amplifies the sound of the "A 440 Hz" very clearly indeed.

Whilst the vibration is continuing I then place the first finger of my left hand (opposite for left-handed) on the "A" note on the first string, and use my 3rd finger of the left hand to "snap down" or "pull-off" the note two frets up, namely "B". This allows the "A" note to ring and you then match it up with the vibrating sound on the tuning fork. This might take several attempts but shouldn't be an exhaustive process.

Guitar Tuning Sidebar

If you're going to attempt to tune a guitar from a piano it is interesting to note that music for the guitar is actually played an octave lower than it is written.,  This means, for instance that a "middle C" played on a guitar at the 3rd fret of the 5th string is actually an octave lower in sound than the "middle C" on the piano.

After you have achieved the standardized pitch of your first string you then tune the other, lower "E" string to the same note. You must remember that although it is the same note, the lower 6th string "E" is 2 octaves below that of the 1st string "E". You should be able, however,  to tell with practice whether these two strings are in tune with one another.

The next step is to tune the strings in a downward fashion, nearly all from the same fret. That is, the "A" string, followed by the "D" string, followed by the "G" string and finally the "B" string. You do this by starting at the "A" note on the 6th string, 5th fret. This note is the same pitch as the open 5th string "A".

Once that is done you play the "D" note on the 5th string at the 5th fret and match it up with the open "D" 4th string. Then you play the "G" note on the 4th string, then the 5th fret to match the open 3rd "G" string. The next step in this method of guitar tuning has a slight variation due to the nature of guitar construction.

On a six string guitar,  the strings next to each other are tuned an interval of a 4th apart except the 3rd and 2nd strings. They are tuned a 3rd apart. (This accounts for why it is so often very hard to tune the open "G" string and a little more care should be taken when tuning this string). To tune the open "B" or second string go to the "B" note on the 4th fret of the 3rd string and match them up.

After you have completed this process you can quickly go through the same steps starting from the 6th string "E" again just to "fine tune" the process.,  Here's what these notes and the guitar box positions look like to help you with your guitar tuning...

The next method of guitar tuning I'll show you is the one I use personally (when there's no electronic device available). You start in the same manner as the previous method to get the 1st "E" string in tune using a tuning fork or pitch pipes. Then by playing the "B" note on the 7th fret of the first string, you can match it with the open 2nd string or open "B"...

The next step is to play the "A" on the 1st string 5th fret and match it with the "A" on the 3rd string 2nd fret. After that,  you play "G" on the 1st string 3rd fret and match it with the "G" open 3rd string. Then play open "E' first string and match it with the "E" on the fourth string second fret. Next play "A" on the 3rd string second fret and match it with the "A" open 5th string. Lastly play the "E" on the fourth string 2nd fret and match it with the 6th open "E" string.

There you have it; you're a guitar tuning master now! You may have noticed that I tune in octaves. That is because when guitar tuning, I find it easier and more accurate than the previously mentioned guitar tuning technique of 4th's and 3rd's. Of course, if you know your notes throughout the fingerboard you should crosscheck the notes to see if your guitar is in tune, in the upper reaches of the fingerboard.

A good crosscheck is also to play the open string note and its octave at the 12th fret. Talking about open string notes, you can always tune your open guitar strings to the piano - if the piano is in tune of course

Look at the little graphic below and it will show you which notes on the piano correspond to the open strings of the guitar using Middle C as your "bearings" (the guitar notes are in orange)...

Having said all that, on most occasions these days I take the headache out of my guitar tuning with an online tuner...

I have installed it on my computer. If I have to play away from the computer I use my battery-operated tuner.,

I tune the guitar using the above-mentioned technique every now and again to keep my ears "tuned" as well as it were. Here's a way to tune your guitar with a tuning fork...

Good luck with your tuning!

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