How Do I Tune My Electric Guitar?
You can have the best, most expensive guitar and the most perfect effects, but without proper tuning, your guitar will get you nowhere. It is a well known saying among guitarist that guitar is 50% playing and 50% tuning.
Tuning your guitar must be done regularly, just like practicing it. In time you will get the feel of tuning and you will be able to do it just by hearing the sounds and making the appropriate adjustments.
Before you begin, however, you need to learn the notes that make up your guitar’s six strings. Starting from the highest, the one closest to you (assuming you are a right-hand player), towards the sharpest (the thinnest) are E A D G B E. With this knowledge, you are ready to tune your guitar. So, here is how you do it!
There are several methods that you can employ to tune your guitar.
With a Tuning Fork
A tuning fork is the oldest, the simplest and the least expensive tool you can use to tune your guitar. Hit the tuning fork on a hard surface and let it ring vertically. The sound it makes will be an A. (As an extra bonus, this is the dialing tone of a landline telephone.)
All you have to do is tighten the string and adjust it to reproduce the same sound. Yes, it is old-school, but some of the best guitarists today still use this method. It helps you stay in rhythm, especially if you want to sing and play at the same time. The sound will not be 100%, but it will be close.
By Ear/by Note
With the A sound established, use the adjacent string technique (also called the “beat method”). It is based on a string that is in tune and another string next to it. Each pair of notes must play the same sound. For example, The A string corresponds to the 5th fret of the previous string, the low E. Play the A string and then gently turn the corresponding to the low E string. It is interesting to note, however, that the B string equals the 4th fret of the G string and not the 5th as with the other strings.
Turn the key gently as a half turn of a key equals a semitone. Do this for the other strings. This is more precise than just tuning the A, but it requires that you have a good ear for music. It is difficult to get 100% accuracy with this method.
With a Tuner
You will need to have an electronic tuner with you when you go for your first guitar lesson. It is the best way to tune your guitar as it is totally accurate. However, it is still great to know how to tune it by ear.
There are various models of tuners and they are readily available for approximately $20. Just turn it on, play an open string and if it is the correct note, the needle of the machine will be in the middle of the screen. All you have to do is tighten or loosen the desired string to find the correct sound. To begin:
- Place the tuner’s microphone in the direction of your guitar or plug the tuner into your guitar through the jack.
- Play the 6th string, the low E.
- Read what the tuner says. (If the needle is on the left, the string is too loose and if it is to the right it is too tight.)
- Make the proper adjustment to the low E.
- Wait for the sound to die down completely before vibrating the string so that the tuner will give an accurate reading.
Here is a tip: To tune your guitar perfectly, if the needle on the tuner is slightly to the right of center, take the string between two fingers and pull it approximately one centimeter. This removes a bit of the tension and you will not have to use the key. This way, the strings remain stable for tuning.
There are also tuners available online on your computer or smartphone.
Online without audio capture
These give you the reference sound for each string. They work by pressing buttons or pressing strings to hear the correct sound. Then you adjust the string to match the sound. There are more advanced ones, of course, but this is the first one to try if you opt to go for an online tuner. Additionally, several companies have introduced them, so do shop around to see what’s out there.
Online with Audio Capture
There are also online tuners with audio capture available. These analyze the sound of your guitar using the microphone on your computer or webcam.
And, naturally, you can tune your guitar with a smartphone. There are both free and paid applications available and they are basically the same as the online applications.
Tuning With Harmonics
The harmonic method of tuning your guitar is by far the most difficult. It takes a light touch. It is difficult to explain with words, so I found a video that will help you learn how to tune your guitar this way.
Just playing your guitar will loosen the strings. When you first start to tune it, start playing slowly. Pull the strings with your right hand while you tune it and your tuning will last longer. Once you think it is well tuned, try playing a few cords using all strings, like E G B and A cords and run them together. Listen to hear if they are right. Then play your favorite tune, trying different techniques such as sliding, bending, picking and if the tuning is always the same, your guitar is indeed tuned and ready.
Remember it has been said among musicians that guitars are 50% playing and 50% tuning. You must tune your guitar regularly, just as you must practice it regularly.
Of the various tuning methods discussed here, do start with a tuner whether electronic or online on your computer or smartphone. You should also learn to tune your guitar by ear. That is a wonderful skill to have. So, go forth, tune and play to your heart’s content!