How To Tune Your Guitar The Right Way

By Paul Kleff

The most common advice I hear and see about guitar tuning is to “use a tuner.” This is true. However, it is only part of the story. Learning to use an electronic guitar tuner is fairly simple, but you also need to learn the best way to tune your strings so that they will stay in tune. Trying to play your guitar when it won’t stay in tune is frustrating. And an out of tune guitar sounds terrible!

There are a couple good choices to look at when choosing a tuner. The two most common types are the “clip on” tuner that clips on to your headstock and the second type is a pedal that you plug your guitar cable into. The clip type tuner is the least expensive choice and works for both acoustic and electric guitars. Pedal type tuners work well for an electric guitar setup—you simply plug your guitar into the input jack on the tuner and the output of the tuner into your amplifier.

Once you have your tuner, these are the steps to follow to get your guitar in tune and keep it in tune.

1. Go through all six strings one at a time and get them as close as possible to being in tune. Play the low E string and watch the tuner to see if the string is “flat” (below the correct pitch) or “sharp” (above the correct pitch.) Make sure you are listening to the pitch of the string changing so that you are sure you are tuning it in the correct direction. Repeat for all six strings.

2. Repeat the process and go through all six strings again. The reason for this is that the guitar neck may shift slightly as you go through the initial tuning of the guitar. By the time you tune your high E string, your low E string (and possibly some of the other strings) may be slightly out of tune.

3. Now go through your strings one more time to fine tune them. As you fine tune each string, adjust each string just slightly below the correct pitch for that string and bring it back up to the correct pitch. The reason you will want to do this is it wraps the string more tightly around the tuning post and this will help the string stay in tune and hold its pitch better. This is the step that most beginning guitar players skip and it is the key to keeping your guitar in tune.

You to make sure that you are muting the other five strings you are not tuning as you tune each string. Any sounds from the other strings will make it difficult for the tuner to hear the pitch of the string. Make it easy for your tuner to “hear” the string you are tuning by muting the other strings when necessary.

Here is a quick four step summary of the steps to take to tune yur guitar and keep it in tune:

1. Mute the strings that are not being tuned so that the tuner can accurately “hear” the string that is being tuned.
2. Go through all six strings once and tune them as accurately as possible.
3. After tuning all six strings, go through them again to get them fine tuned.
4. Make sure you go slightly below the correct pitch and tune up into the correct pitch to help the string stay in tune better.

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