How To Tune A Guitar: A Guide For Beginners

Need to know how to tune a guitar? We’ve got you covered. Let’s dive straight into this essential beginner guide.

How To Tune A Guitar

You’re at the start of a wonderful journey and we’re so pleased you’re here. 🙂

It’s vital that you learn how to tune a guitar; it’s essential knowledge for a beginner guitarist.

FACT: You can be the best guitarist in the world, but if your guitar is out of tune you will sound bad.

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • The notes of a guitar in standard tuning.
  • How to tune a guitar using an electronic guitar tuner.
  • How to tune a guitar using a smartphone app.
  • How to tune a guitar using other instruments.
  • How to tune a guitar using its own strings (and your ears!)
  • 6 tips to keep your guitar in tune & sounding great

Sound good? Let’s do it.

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how to tune a guitar for beginners

How to tune a guitar in standard tuning

There are several different guitar tuning profiles, but the most popular one by far is ‘standard tuning’.

In standard tuning, the notes of the guitar, from thickest to thinnest are:

E, A, D, G, B, E

how to tune a guitar

How to remember the notes of the guitar strings

Here’s two useful mnemonics to help you remember the order “E, A, D, G, B, E”.

  • Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
  • Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie

Pick whichever one you like best, or make up your own. (The sillier the better.)

Now we know the notes we’re aiming for we can tune the guitar

You’ve already learned the first half of how to tune a guitar, well done!

Now we need to look at how to tune a guitar to E, A, D, G, B, E.

how to tune an acoustic guitar

How to tune a guitar to E, A, D, G, B, E

Look at your guitar’s headstock (the thin end of the guitar).

You will see small ‘keys’ that you can turn. We call these ‘machine heads’.

Each string is attached to a machine head of its own. When we turn a machine head we change the pitch that the string is tuned to.

how to tune a acoustic guitar

How do we know what note the string is tuned to when we’re turning the machine heads?

Easy. We use a tuner to tell us! 🙂

If you’re wondering how to tune a guitar with what you have at hand there’s 4 methods (we’ll cover each one in turn):

  1. How to tune a guitar using an electronic guitar tuner.
  2. How to tune a guitar using a smartphone app.
  3. How to tune a guitar using other instruments.
  4. How to tune a guitar using its own strings (and your ears!)

Download a free beginner chord guide and learn easy versions of every chord

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  This is one of our most popular guides and will improve your chord ability quickly. Click here to download the guide.

How to tune a guitar using an electronic guitar tuner.

When people ask me how to tune a guitar I always say the same thing: All things considered, electronic guitar tuners are the best option.

They are fast and accurate. (When you have a decent electronic guitar tuner you simply won’t need to worry about how to tune a guitar again.)

how to tune a guitar

The interface of ALL tuners is broadly the same.

You pluck a note and the tuner shows you the note you played.

The tuner shows you this in three ways:

  • It will tell you the string it thinks you’re trying to tune.
  • It will show you with an oscillating ‘needle’ how far away from the note you are.
  • It will show you with a light whether the note is too low or too high.

You need to get the needle in the middle.

how to tune a guitar for beginners

On the picture above the ‘needle’ is perfectly in the middle. (Can you see the thin, black vertical line?)

Because the needle is perfectly in the middle, the green light above it is lit. This note is perfectly in tune!

We can see it’s tuning the A string (the 5th string) because in the top left corner it says “5A”.

  • If the needle was over to the left, the green light would not be lit. The red light to the left of it would be lit and this would tell us the note was too ‘flat’ (too low).
  • If the needle was over to the right, again the green light would not be lit. The red light to the right would be lit and this would tell us the note was too ‘sharp’ (too high).

Got that? Ok, let’s tune up!

1 – Turn the tuner on.

2 – If necessary, tell the tuner the string you want to tune. (Most tuners default to ‘auto-detect’ the strings, but some tuners need to be manually told what string you want to tune.)

Important! If your tuner is manual, then make sure your tuner is ‘listening’ for the correct string that you want to tune. If the tuner is set to  ‘listen’ to a different string to the one you are tuning you may overtune the string and it will snap!

3 – Pluck a string.

4 – Look at the tuner. Is the needle in the middle? If not turn the machine head one way or the other.

5 – Pluck again. Which way did the needle go? If it went towards the middle, keep going! If it went away from the middle, turn the machine head in the opposite direction.

6 – Repeat the cycle of A) pluck string B) look at tuner and C) turn machine head until the needle is in the middle.

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how to tune a guitar

While tuning, pluck the string a LOT.

Most beginners are quite timid and pluck once and then wait for ages while the tuner ‘listens’ for a note that’s stopped ringing.

Don’t do this. You should pluck, pluck, pluck away!

The more your guitar is ringing out a note the easier it is for the tuner to hear, so pluck lots. (About once a second is ideal.)

If you want to learn more about the notes of the guitar fretboard read our article:

Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

There are 3 different types of electronic tuner.

  1. Vibration-based
  2. Microphone-based
  3. Plug-in / pedal-based

Ideally, we want you to know how to tune a guitar with all three.

It’s pretty easy: ‘get the needle in the middle’ remains our aim.

Vibration-based electronic tuners

Vibration-based tuners clip on to your guitar’s headstock. I love these!

They are brilliant if you’re in a noisy place as they detect the note’s pitch through vibration, so if there’s lots of noise around, it doesn’t affect the tuner (because it isn’t reliant on a microphone).

clip-on-tuner

Once in position and switched on they will usually automatically show you what note your string is tuned to when you pluck it. (You don’t need to worry about ‘manual’ or ‘auto’ detection.)

They are very accurate and have colour LCD displays that are easy to read, even in bright sunlight. (The ‘needle’ is indicated by different colours.)

This is my favourite vibration-based tuner. The Snark.

Microphone-based electronic tuners

Microphone tuners are great and they don’t add any clutter to your guitar headstock like the clip-on vibration-based tuners do.

The only downside is that the microphone must be able to hear the guitar clearly. If there’s other music in the room (or sound from the TV, or whatever) that will throw the tuner off course.

qwik tune

You can use these for all acoustic guitars and if it has a jack input you can use it for electric guitars too.

how to tune an electric guitar

As with the clip-on vibration-based tuners these sometimes automatically detect strings, but depending on your model you may have to preselect the note manually.

If you want a recommendation, you can’t go wrong with a trusty Korg GA1.

how to tune a guitar for beginners

Plug-in and pedal tuners

Plug in tuners are VERY accurate and connect directly to your electric, bass or electro-acoustic guitar via a jack lead.

They are expensive, but awesome. My favourite is the Boss TU3. It’s built like a tank.

boss-tu-3

Pedals operate like any tuner (the lights represent the ‘needle’), but of course you have to stomp the pedal to activate or deactivate them.

How to tune a guitar using a smartphone app.

For most modern guitar learners smartphone apps are a good cheap starting point when learning how to tune a guitar.

There are hundreds of free and paid smartphone apps that are decent. They operate exactly the same as the microphone-based electronic tuners that we covered above.

guitar tuna

‘Guitar Tuna’ was good, but it’s getting bloated now. ‘OmniTuner’ is good too.

Search around, the app landscape changes fast and there’s always a new top dog.

How to tune a guitar using other instruments.

If you already play a musical instrument, it’s possible to tune your guitar to it (especially if it has a fixed tuning such as an electronic keyboard).

To learn how to tune a guitar in this way you will need to find E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4 on your instrument. (On a keyboard or piano, E2 is two octaves below middle C4.)

You or a friend may need to play each note on your instrument, holding it down as a ‘drone’ so that as you tune your guitar you can listen carefully for the moment the notes start to resonate and sound the same.

(Once you have your low E string, you can tune the others using the below method.)

“Open strings” are strings that are not being pressed (fretted) onto the guitar neck. When you pluck a string without pressing down on any frets, we say you are playing an ‘open string’.

zA 26

Spock likes guitar.

How to tune a guitar using its own strings (and your ears)

Here is a good 6-step method for ’emergencies’, like if your electronic tuner isn’t to hand and your smartphone’s battery is flat. It’s the ‘anytime, anywhere’ method of how to tune a guitar.

Step 1 – Tune the 6th string

Tune the thickest open string as accurately as you can to a low E. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just ‘guesstimate’ what the thickest string usually sounds like.

(All the other strings will be tuned relative to this, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a little sharp or flat.)

Step 2 – Tune the 5th string

Place your first finger on the fifth fret of the thickest string. This will give you an ‘A’ note that will sound exactly like how you want the open 5th string to sound.

You can now tune the 5th string to match the note you are holding on the 6th string.

6 how to tune a guitar

Keeping your finger on the fifth fret, gently pick both the 6th string and the open 5th string in turn, gradually turning the 5th string’s machine head until the two notes are in harmony.

You need to listen carefully here. The two notes will ‘resonate’ when they match.

Step 3 – Tune the 4th string

We’re going to do the same thing again here, except a string higher.

Place your first finger on the fifth fret of the 5th string. This is a D note.

5 how to tune a guitar

Keeping your finger on the fifth fret, pluck the 5th string and then the open 4th string one after the other, at the same time turning the 4th string’s machine head until the note of the 4th open string chimes like the note of the fifth fret of the 5th string.

Step 4 – Tune the 3rd string

Same again. Place your first finger on the fifth fret of the 4th string. This gives a G note.

4 how to tune a guitar

Keeping your finger on the fifth fret, pluck the 4th string and open 3rd string alternately, turning the 3rd string’s machine head until the 3rd string is in harmony with the fifth fret of the 4th string.

Step 5 – Tune the 2nd string

It’s different here. Place your first finger on the fourth fret of the 3rd string. This gives a B note.

3 how to tune a guitar

Keeping your finger on the fourth fret, pluck the 3rd string and open 2nd string alternately, turning the 2nd string’s machine head until the 2nd string rings brightly with the fourth fret of the 3rd string.

Step 6 – Tune the 1st string

Place your first finger on the fifth fret on the 2nd string. This is an E note.

2 how to tune a guitar

Tune the thinnest and last string to that, again by turning the 1st string’s machine head until the tone of the 1st string dings with the fifth fret of the 2nd string.

  • So you can see we tuned each string to the prior string. To remember this pattern, think “5 5 5 4 5”.
  • Don’t forget the 2nd string is the only one that uses the fourth fret to tune from. All the others use the fifth fret.

how to tune acoustic guitar

6 Top Tuning Tips

Guitars are more sensitive than most people realise, so bear these things in mind.

1) Tune up EVERY time you play.

This is non-negotiable. As a beginner, your ears won’t be able to tell if your guitar has gone slightly out of tune.

Guitars drift out of tune every day and there is nothing more demotivating for a guitar learner than sounding bad when playing. (I often speak with guitar learners who are feeling down because they think they’re not playing ‘well’, but their guitar is out of tune!)

This isn’t an optional thing. As musicians, we should tune our instrument as part of our routine EVERY time we play.

2) Keep your guitar out of hot places

Your guitar is like any other piece of wood. Temperature affects it. Keep it out of the sun, out of your car on a hot day etc.

Don’t ever rest it against a radiator or any other heat source.

3) Keep your guitar out of cold places

It doesn’t have to be Arctic, even a gentle draft from under a door will nudge your guitar out of tune.

Don’t leave it in your car overnight!

6 guitar tuning tips

4) Loosen the strings before storage or transport

Loosening your guitar’s strings slightly beforehand allows your guitar to relax and cope with changes in humidity and temperature.

Store your guitar somewhere dry and cool. Away from radiators, air conditioners and any damp conditions.

5) Avoid impacts, big and small

Any kind of bump will knock your guitar out of tune. Of course, if it falls over it will go out of tune, but even little bumps (like a door opening against it) will knock it out.

Also, remember that general play causes your guitar to go out of tune from the constant pressing of your fingers on and off the strings. It happens. It’s normal.

(String-bending solos will always cause a re-tune, too.)

6) Replace your guitar’s strings regularly.

Dirty, corroded and over-stretched strings become brittle and harder to tune. They also sound terrible!

Change your strings every 6-8 weeks.

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

I made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. I hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

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