Guitar Lessons for Beginners

Tuning a Guitar

By Greg Cisko

This web page will help the beginner tune their guitar quickly and give insite on the different methods available.

When I learned in 1979, there was no such thing as an electronic tuner. When they were available in the 1980's, they were "analog" and unreliable. Your best option was to somehow tune the bottom E (6th & fattest string). I used to use a ptich pipe which was surprisingly accurate. Then you would manually tune the rest of your guitar. I should also point out, that in all the years I have been jamming in bands or otherwise, I rarely tune more than once per night. So I am confident that if you follow the instructions here, you will be on your way to tuning your guitar. I also believe strongly that properly stringing your guitar goes a long way to staying in tune.

This page will only explain "standard tuning". Standard tuning, tunes the 5th A string to 440hz. Everything else is based off of that frequency on that string. There are 3 methods to tune your guitar. One method is using an electronic tuner. The other two methods use manual tuning, the most exact using harmonics.

In many ways the electronic tuner is the way to go for the beginner. Otherwise the beginner may struggle with manual tuning and loose interest. Still, it is very important that every guitarist know how to tune manually.

NOTE: In all cases you must always tune up to pitch. NEVER EVER tune down to proper pitch. This is true regardless of the method you use to tune your guitar. If you tune down to pitch, your string may catch on the nut and the first time you bend the string you are out of tune.

Electronic Tuning:
By far the easiest way to tune your guitar is with one of the $15 electronic tuners now on the market. I use the Korg GA-30. It will tune the guitar or bass, electric or acoustic. It has a microphone for acoustic guitars. These tuners are digital and do not suffer from the inaccuracies of the analog electronic tuners of old.

Manual Tuning: This one is straight forward. Each string tunes the next lower string. The 6th string 5th fret tunes the 5th string, and 5th string 5th fret tunes the 4th string and so on. The fretboard note map shows the notes of each string, and it is easy to then see the fret you need to use to tune the next string. The problem is getting to the A-440hz standard. As I said above, I used to use a pitch pipe to tune my 6th E string, then manually tune the rest of the strings. If you are jamming with others, you may be able to tune to their E string and go from there.

Below is a graphic illustration showing each string and fret/note needed to tune the next string. Tune from the E 6th string to the E 1st string.

Manual Tuning using Harmonics: The attraction of harmonic tuning, is the possibility of more exact perfect tuning. Everyone who has seen a band in a bar, or basement jam has probably seen a guitar player tune harmonicly. When jamming in a band, this is preferred to manual tuning if you do not have an electronic tuner. The harmonics ring out louder than plucking notes for normal manual tuning. At least for me they do.

The immediate problem with this method for the beginner, is you need to learn how to play harmonics. Harmonics are produced by lightly touching a string and plucking a string. The harmonic will ring out like a bell. To me it seems easier to play harmonics on frets which have a fretmarker. This would be the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th and so on. Others guitarists will probably argue this point along with the entire permise of using harmonics to tune your guitar. One such arguement is that because of physical limitations in every guitar, perfect tuning using harmonics is not possible. I expect every guitarist will do their own research and draw their own conclusions. I will not do that for you. I will only show how the harmonic tuning is done.

Below is a graphic illustration showing each string and the harmonics needed to tune the next string. Tune in the same order as manual tuning from the E 6th to the E 1st.

Please email with any comments or suggestions.

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