Ways to Tune Your Guitar

tuning your guitar by ear illustration

tuning your guitar with a tuner illustration


Guitars ain’t pianos. They go out of tune quite often, for various reasons. And nothing sounds worse than a guitar out of tune.
There are only two ways to tune your guitar, each with its own advantages: 1) tuning by ear and 2) tuning with an electronic tuner.

Tuning by ear:

Naturally, this method depends entirely on the source you are tuning to, and the acuteness of your hearing.

Tuning with a tuner

An electronic tuner is a must-have. You can get one free by downloading any one of many excellent free apps. Or just buy one. These marvels eliminate all the aggravation of tuning by ear, and they do the job in seconds.


You simply pluck an open string. The tuner instantly displays exactly how sharp or flat the note is. As you tighten the string or loosen it, the tuner shows the note getting closer or further away from the target.


Aside from 100% accuracy, speed and effortless, electronic tuners (most) allow you to turn off the volume on electric guitars so nobody hears you tuning—a very important advantage when performing.

Various designs There are all kinds of designs: my friend Dave has a small one that clips on the head of his guitar, so it is accessible and visible all the time.

Most electric-acoustic guitars feature built-in tuners. Search on-line or visit a music store; but get one. You won’t be sorry.

Tuning up vs tuning down

When tuning a string higher (in pitch) you simply turn the tuning key for that string to tighten it. Piece of cake. However, lowering a string creates a certain amount of slack, which allows the string to readily slip out of tune. To fix this problem, tug the string slowly but firmly with your thumb (in the area where you strum) making sure it is taught and has no play left in it.


This tug technique serves another purpose; it lowers the string’s pitch—often by enough to bring the string back into tune. Never, never, lower a string’s pitch without pulling it tight! And don’t worry…you’re not going to break it. If you do, send me the bill!

A note about tuning

Both tuning methods discussed here—tuning by ear and tuning electronically—represent “standard tuning”. This is the default tuning for guitars. However, other types of tuning have been devised for different styles of playing, like slide guitar. But for the vast majority of guitars, E A D G B E is the norm.

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