Unfortunately, guitars don’t always stay in tune, which means that at some point you’re going to have to learn how to tune it yourself.
In fact, if you purchase a guitar online, it almost always arrives out of tune, so the earlier you learn how to tune a guitar, the sooner you can begin to play.
It’s important that you keep your guitar in tune, as playing one out of tune isn’t good for developing your skills. Luckily, there are few different ways that you can tune an electric guitar, and in this guide we’re going to focus on standard tuning (EADGBe).
Learning how to tune your guitar to standard tuning will give you a good foundation knowledge that will help you understand pitch and harmony.
A few of the tuning methods mentioned in this guide are specific to electric guitars, however, most of them can also be used to tune an acoustic guitar.
It can be very beneficial to learn how to tune a guitar using a variety of different methods, as it’s not always best to be reliant on only an electric tuner.
In this guide we’re going to take you through some of the quickest and simplest ways that you can tune an electric guitar.
Basics Of Tuning A Guitar
Before we dive into the different methods, we’re going to start off with the basics of guitar tuning. You need to use the tuning pegs on the headstock (top) of your guitar to change the pitch of a string.
Each string is connected to a peg, and the pitch can either become higher or lower. If you tighten the string, the pitch will go up, and if you loosen the string the pitch will go down.
Take extra care when tightening a string, if you tighten it too much, the string can snap and will need to be replaced.
Different Methods Of Guitar Tuning
When it comes to tuning an electric guitar, there are few various methods that you can use. These include:
- Tuning by Ear: Although this can be a little difficult, learning to tune a guitar by ear is an invaluable skill that any guitar player can have.
- Vibration-based Tuner: This is a very common tool used by guitarists which comes in a range of different shapes and sizes. This style of tuner is best used if you are tuning an electric guitar somewhere that is busy or noisy.
- Microphone-based Tuner: This is an electric tuner which picks up the sounds of each string via a microphone. Most of these tuners have a basic interface which will show how close a string is to being in tune.
- Plug-in / Pedal-based: You will often find a plug-in / pedal-based tuner on stage next to a wide variety of much more exciting pedals. These types of tuners are more commonly used for gig or studio environments.
- Guitar Tuner Apps: There are a lot of apps – which are often free – that you can download on your phone or tablet that work similarly to a microphone-based tuner.
Standard timing for a guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E (listed from low to high). It’s easy to remember as the notes correspond to the string names.
To help memorize the string names, there are couple of different sayings that you can use:
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
Standard tuning allows you to learn all basic chords and notes in their proper position. Once you become more advanced, you will be able to play around with alternative tuning variations, or you can use a capo with standard tuning to get different effects.
How To Tune An Electric Guitar Without A Tuner
Tuning by ear is a common method of tuning a guitar. Although it can be a little difficult, it is one of the most valuable things that you can learn. It will help develop your ability to recognize pitch and understand harmony.
This method involves listening to a reference pitch, which is playing the same note over and over again on the guitar to compare the pitches. You then adjust to match the reference pitch.
Once you have one string in tune, it’s then much easier to tune the rest of your guitar strings.
Before you begin, start by familiarizing yourself with the pegs on the side of the headstock, and look at how they turn. This should be similar whether you are tuning an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar.
- Low E String: The low E string is the lowest and thickest string on your guitar, which is located at the top of the fretboard. To be able to tune by ear, the low E string needs to be in tune already. You can use the E notes on a piano for reference. If you don’t have a piano you can use another guitar as your reference pitch.
- A String: To find the A note, play the low E string on the 5th fret. Use that note as a reference, and keep tuning your A string until it matches the reference. They should sound the same. You will need to use this method to tune the rest of the strings, which is why it’s important that the low E string is already in tune.
- D String: Play the 5th fret on the A string. Tune the D string to this note until the sound is the same.
- G String: Play the 5th fret on the D string. Tune the G string until it matches that note.
- B String: At the B string you don’t want to tune to the 5th fret this time. For the B string you need to play 4th fret on the G string. Keep adjusting until the pitch matches.
- High E String: For the high E string, you need to go back to the 5th fret. So, play the 5th fret of the B string and adjust the pitch until they sound the same.
When it comes to figuring out what fret to use, use ‘55545’ to help you remember.
Some people find this method more intuitive than others, but if you do find that you’re struggling, it’s worth persevering until you get it right. As aforementioned, this is an invaluable skill, and can help with your pitch ear training.
Now that you’ve learnt one of the harder methods, let’s move on to looking at electric tuners.
How To Tune An Electric Guitar With A Tuner
Using electric guitar tuners is a much easier way to tune your guitar. Over the years, there have been more and more tuners that have been developed to make your tuning experience a lot easier and far more precise.
The three different types of electric turners are:
- Vibration-based Tuners
- Microphone-based Tuners
- Plug-in / Pedal-based Tuners
Each of these are widely available and are relatively easy to use, but all come with their own pros and cons.
As we go into more detail on what these tuners do and how to use them, you can make your decision on which you would prefer to use based on what you want from your tuner.
If one of your concerns is being able to tune your guitar in a busy, noisy place, then you might want to consider using a vibration-based tuner. These can be attached to your guitar by clipping them onto the headstock.
From there, they will be able to detect the pitch of each string/note through the vibrations.
Most vibration-based tuners are small, compact clip-on tuners that are pretty simple to use. Simply clip one to the headstock of your guitar and tune each string accordingly.
Vibration-based tuners are pretty convenient, and each has a little needle and interface which will light up once a string is in tune.
This is a quick method that you can use. However, vibration-based tuners are often quite ugly, so if you’re all about style, there are few other tuners that you can opt for instead.
One of our favorite (and most popular) vibration-based tuners is one from Fender, which can be used for both electric and acoustic guitars, as well as ukuleles, banjos, bass guitars, mandolins, violins and more.
A microphone-based tuner is a great addition to your guitar accessories, and are especially useful when it comes to tuning an electric guitar. As suggested in the name, these types of tuners use a microphone to pick up the sound of each string.
Most microphone-based tuners have a small interface and display which will show you how close a string is to being in tune – you just need to keep adjusting a peg until your string is in tune.
These are generally inexpensive, and very easily accessible. Also, they’re great for beginners as the simple display and functions makes it pretty easy for you to tune an electric guitar.
One of the only downsides of a microphone-based guitar tuner is that the microphone is quite sensitive, and is prone to picking up external noises. So, if you are using this kind of tuner, make sure that you are doing so in a relatively quiet place.
It’s also important to remember that you need to set your pickup selector switch to the left. This will make sure that there won’t be any rogue frequencies messing up the tuning process – tuning is all about the small adjustments.
A few microphone-based turners also come with a jack input for you to plug your electric guitar into.
We recommend the Korg CA-50 tuner, as it has a wide detection range.
Plug-In / Pedal-Based Tuners
If you play or are planning to play electric guitar on stage, then a plug in or pedal-based tuner may be the best option for you.
Whereas vibration-based and microphone-based tuners can be used with any kind of guitar, plug-in and pedal-based tuners are specifically designed for electric guitars.
Simply start by connecting your electric guitar to the pedal via a jack lead. There will be a small interface that will give you an indication – either via needle or light – as to how close a string is to being in tune.
It’s a pretty simple process, and is great if you play guitar in a performance capacity.
One of the downsides of these methods, however, is that these kinds of electric guitar tuners tend to be far more expensive than vibration or microphone-based tuners.
We recommend using the Boss TU3 if you want to opt for a pedal-based tuner. This is a very popular tuner amongst electric guitarists for a number of reasons. It is extremely reliable and makes tuning a very easy process.
How To Tune An Electric Guitar With An App
You can also tune an electric guitar using an app on your smartphone, but it’s important that you find the right tuning app.
Making sure that you’re using a good app can make all the difference when you’re setting up an electric guitar, especially when you have very little time to do so.
There are a lot of free guitar tuning apps on the Apple and Android stores. However, it’s sometimes worth investing a little bit of money into getting a good tuning app that you can count on to be fast, reliable, and easy to use.
One of the better apps to use is Guitar Tricks. The tuner on this app includes real guitar notes so that you can make sure each string sounds exactly like it should.
It is also a very reliable software, and the interface is intuitive. All in all, it’s a simple to use app that will help you tune your electric guitar.
Some other pretty useful apps include:
- Cleartune: This is a widely popular app which is available for both iOS and Android devices
- Ultimate Guitar: Chords and Tabs: Not only can you use this app to learn songs, but it also comes with a pretty handy tuner
Alternative Guitar Tunings
You can make guitar playing more exciting by experimenting with alternative tunings. Once you move away from standard tuning, you can really refresh your playing, and stumble across some interesting sounds.
When it comes to alternative tunings, one of the most popular is drop D, which is often used in heavy metal and grunge music.
All you have to do is drop the low E string down to a D. It’s a pretty simple trick that can open up a word of possibilities. Drop D tuning creates a much deeper, heavier sound, which is why it’s most used in heavy metal music.
Some other alternative tunings are:
- Double Drop D: For this, you need to tune both of the E strings down to a D. This leaves three of the strings tuned to a D which gives the guitar a more drone-style tone.
- Open G: This tuning style was pioneered by the Delta Blues players and was later adopted by icons of the blues-rock genre. Also, a lot of Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin songs were written in this tuning. A popular string tuning is D-G-D-G-B-D for open G. It effectively allows you to play a G major across all six strings without the need for fretting or a capo.
- D-A-D-G-A-D: This is pretty similar to double drop D, except that the B string is lowered to an A. This is used a lot for fingerstyle guitar, and has a pretty bluesy vibe.
- Open D, open A, and open E are also pretty similar types of tuning that allow you play a lot of the strings without any fretting. They’re also good for slide guitar methods.
By experimenting with alternative tunings, you are able to delve into different genres of music like blues, heavy metal, and slide guitar. Don’t be afraid to experiment, it can take you to some wonderful places!
How To Keep Your Guitar In Tune For Longer
Once you’ve gotten your guitar in tune, there are a few different things that you can do which will keep it in tune for longer. These include:
Changing Your Strings Often/When Needed
As soon as your strings start to sound dead, or you’re having trouble keeping them in tune, it’s time to replace them.
Stretch The Guitar Strings
Once you’ve replaced the strings, it’s worth stretching the new ones. This can be done by playing or by pulling gently on the strings. Be careful not to pull too hard, otherwise the strings will break.
Take Care Of Your Guitar
It’s important to not expose your guitar to big fluctuations in temperature or humidity, as this can cause damage.
Once you’ve finished playing guitar, give the strings a wipe down with a light cloth to remove the dirt and oils that have gathered because of your fingertips.
After, store your guitar in its case or bag to protect it from dirt or damage.
Loosen The Strings Before Storage Or Transport
Before taking your guitar anywhere, make sure you loosen the strings. This allows your guitar to relax, and makes it more prepared for changes in temperature or humidity.
Any kind of knock or bump will put your guitar out of tune, so make sure you store it properly. It’s also worth noting that playing your guitar in general will cause it to go out of tune.
This is because of the constant pressing of your fingers on and off the strings, however, this is perfectly normal.
It’s important that you keep your guitar somewhere that is both dry and cool. That means keep it far from radiators and air conditioners and away from damp conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should You Tune A Guitar?
Ideally, you should tune your guitar every single time you play it. You can’t expect your guitar to stay in tune in between each practice session.
This is because guitars often go out of tune from playing, especially if you are bending the strings or playing for long periods at a time.
When you are playing, it’s worth checking that your guitar is still in tune, especially if you are playing a chord that doesn’t quite sound right – that’s a sign that your guitar has gone out of tune.
What Does “Chromatic” Mean?
Most modern instruments use something known as the chromatic scale. This means using semi-tones (or half notes) as the measure on the scale. Chromatic tuners will tune a guitar to the nearest semitone on the scale.
It’s worth noting that chromatic tuners can be used to tune a variety of instruments other than the guitar. It can also be used to make use of alternate tunings (tuning your guitar in a tuning other than standard).
Why Do I Need To Tune My Electric Guitar Regularly?
It’s important to tune your electric guitar as the strings are constantly subjected to voltages, as well as physical and thermal shocks. This includes you smashing the strings against the fretboard every single time you play.
These shocks can vary the tensions of the strings, which can change how a note sounds.
So, when your guitar is out of tune, you need to tune it in order to get back the accuracy that music requires, otherwise you’re just playing noise.
In addition, tuning your guitar will optimize your playing, and you will be able to better notice when you play a note wrong.
For electric guitarists, keeping your guitar in tune will help you get to know and understand the sound of your instruments, which will help you improve every aspect of your playing.
As a beginner, it can be pretty frustrating to tune your guitar without any assistance. So, we hope that the tips and advice in this guide will help you begin to understand how to tune an electric guitar.
When it comes to tuning by ear, it often requires a lot of practice, so don’t be put off if you struggle at the beginning. After some time you should be able to tune your guitar in a matter of seconds – just like the pros.
It can also be pretty difficult to tune a cheap guitar, and they are more prone to going out of tune quickly, due to their poor build quality.
It’s worth investing some time and money into finding a guitar that is reliable, and that suits you and your preferences. Tuning isn’t too much of a hard task if you are tuning a guitar that you love to play.
As your guitar skills grow, it’s definitely worth experimenting with your own tunings, especially if you’re looking to write and compose your own music. Experimenting with tuning is a great way of finding new sounds.