To tune a standard 6 string guitar to standard tuning (E A D G B E), use the following procedure:

  1. Match the pitch of the A string (second from the top, second thickest one). Use another instrument, tuning fork or pitch pipe. You can also use an electronic device (called chromatic tuners or automatic tuners.)
  2. Next, tune the low E string (the thickest one, the one on top). Fret the string on the fifth fret, and pluck it and the A string open. They should produce the same tone. Alter the tuning of the E string until they do. When they are close, the sounds of the two strings will wabble. As the wabble decreases in speed, the pitches are getting closer together. When the wabble stops, then you've got it.
  3. Tune the D string open to the same pitch as the fifth fret on the A string using the above procedure.
  4. Tune the G string open to the same pitch as the fifth fret on the D string open.
  5. Tune the B string open to the same pitch as the FOURTH fret on the G string open.
  6. Tune the high E string open to the same pitch as the fifth fret on the B string open.

You are done! Use this procedure with different frets to achieve alternative tunings

Umm...okay, here's the thing, this is not how to properly tune a guitar.

I have given a few lessons to novice guitarists and one thing I have noticed is this: when I hear a beginner pull out his/her beautiful new guitar and play, (s)he is almost always out of tune. Ack! No matter how well you're playing, you just can't sound good if your guitar isn't tuned properly.

If you asked me yesterday why beginners are often out of tune, I would say it is because they have not been taught how to correctly tune a guitar. But after reading fricto's node, I might now say it is because they have been taught...

How to tune a guitar incorrectly.

What you shouldn't do is tune the guitar by comparing open strings with the adjacent and lower pitched string fretted at the 5th position through the strings. This is because all errors you make in the tuning process will be compounded, just ask an experimental physicist. You won't ever tune two strings to exactly the same frequency, so by the time you've gotten to the last string it probably won't be well in tune with the string you started at. Even when you use this method and have gotten each adjacent strings as in-tune as your ear can resolve, when you strum a full Emaj chord I bet you can tell it still doesn't sound just right.

The second popular method, which is actually what I hear most people doing, is another example of how not to tune your guitar. This is when one compares the 5th and 7th harmonics on adjacent strings, and tweaks the tuning pegs until the beat cancel disappears. I wonder how many guitarists are there in E2 reading this and asking "ay! What's wrong with this way, it's how I tune up!" The vast majority of people don't know that this will not really work. The reason for this is that your guitar is designed and built as a tempered instrument, i.e. it follows the tempered tuning, rather than the diatonic tuning. To tune perfectly to the 5th and 7th harmonics on your guitar will mean, strictly speaking, that your guitar will be out of tune. Note: I believe the second method is actually acceptable, and I sometimes use it, for tuning an electric guitar - the reason being that a lot of rock music with a distortion pedal really doesn't require your guitar to be well in tune. Plus, it's easy, and when you're playing with other people you really need to get them to SHUT UP if you want to tune your guitar perfectly - and this can be quite difficult. =)

How to tune a guitar correctly.

If you're just going to play RATM and stuff, you can probably get away with a combination of the above methods. But if you're getting into classical guitar, which I strongly recommend you give a try, then you will need to adopt a more formal approach to tuning. Actually, adopt a more formal approach to guitar playing in general. Flamenco, tango, and the various other forms of exotic guitar are, as a rule, a great deal harder than anything you'll hear Tom Morello play. My friends think I'm the local guitar guru because I'll play any RHCP song they can throw in front of me, but I still struggle with brazilian guitar - those guys are guitar virtuosos, incredible.

Right, the first step in tuning your guitar is to get a reference point. Ask your sister to play you an A on the piano. Or get one of those blowpipe tuning things, dunno what they're called. Or you could buy a tuning fork - The one you want for your guitar is A:440 Hz. Tune the 5th string to A at 110 Hz - use the beat cancel. Note that this step is not really necessary if you are just playing solo, all you really need is to have the guitar in tune relative to itself.

Now that you have tuned an A, you mustn't alter the pitch of that 5th string. You need to tune all the other strings relative to the A.

  • Tune the 6th string by fretting it at the 5th fret and comparing it with the open 5th string.
  • Tune the 4th string at the 7th fret to the 12th fret harmonic on the 5th string.
  • Tune the 3rd string at the 2nd fret in the same way (to the 12th harmonic).
  • Tune the 2nd string at the 10th fret in the same way.
  • Tune the 1st string at the 5th fret in the same way.

Congratulations, you should now be in tune. Hurl faeces at all those other idiots who haven't read this node, and pay them out for not knowing how to tune a guitar properly (hardly anybody does).

Now you just need to learn to play well.


srkorn: Ooh yeah, a floating whammy is a downright bitch. I hate those things. My electric (tigger) has one, which pisses me off since I love alternate tunings and can get whatever vibrato I might need with my left hand anyway (whoah, that sounds masturbatory).

Wim's homebaked solution for people who have got the shits with their floating bridge (I did this to tigger and the floater is no longer a problem): Unscrew the back panel, jam a fat chunk of wood (or something) behind the metal bit, as tight as possible. This will crudely force the bridge back, and you don't have the annoying floating bridge side-effects anymore. Of course this also means you can't play star spangled banner like Jimi anymore. =)

If you're tuning a guitar with a floating bridge, you will have to repeat one of the above processes many many times to get the tuning right. Why? If the guitar has a floating bridge, tightening (adding tension) to one string will pull the bridge closer to the head of the guitar, effectively loosening the other five strings (and vice versa). If you were to, for example, tune your A to 110Hz and then change the tightness of the other five strings, you'll more than likely end up with an A string that's tuned to 114 or 107Hz, and five other strings each tuned against a different pitch.

So, what's a body to do? To save time, I generally tune the low E, then the A, then the low E again, A again, D, low E (starting to see the pattern?), A, D, G, low E, A, D, G, B, then finally: low E, A, D, G, B, high E.

And now I hear you exclaiming, "Geez, what a pain in the ass! Do I have to do this every time?" Luckily, the answer is probably not. Most guitars with floating bridges are also equipped with locking nuts up at the head of the guitar, which allow you to fix the tension of the strings within a certain range... imagine a capo fastened on the 0th fret of the guitar, which keeps the string tension from altering if the tuning knobs move at all. Once you've tuned your guitar for the first time (after, say, adding new strings and stretching them out), fasten down the nuts, tune your A to concert pitch, and then proceed as described in the above write-up using the fine tuning pegs located next to the bridge.

A quick addition to the floating whammy bar tuning method - if you've just totally replaced the strings on your guitar, tuning up can take a while. Once you've gotten the strings on and have left them to stretch for a bit, start from the bottom E. Tune this quite a lot sharp - to F or G maybe. Next string, tune a bit less sharp. Next, even less sharp. The top E should be maybe a semitone, half a semitone out. Now go back to the bottom E and start again, trying to tune a lot closer to the note this time. After a few repetitions of this you should be in tune.

By the way, tuning by comparing a fretted note to an open note can be very bad, because when you push the string down onto the fret, you are stretching it. This especially goes if you've got an acoustic with high action or heavy strings. Usually I just tune my bottom string on the acoustic to some random approximation and say to hell with it. It's going to go out of tune any time I fret it anyway.

The all-time best way to tune would probably be to get a digital tuner. Look for one with both a jack socket to plug an electric into and a built-in mic (for tuning acoustics) and reference tone generator - good for putting a new set of strings on your guitar. I had one of these, but it went haywire. Incidentally, some models can also be used to tune other instruments such as a flute. My guitar FX unit also includes a tuner, albeit without a mic.

Contrary to wim's wu, if you're playing with distortion and you're planning to play any more than one note (and you're not using dissonance) it's quite important to be in tune. A power chord on a badly tuned guitar will sound pretty weird, and when you start adding thirds and so on into the equation, tuning is pretty important.

I am amazed that none of the above writeups have mentioned that electronic tuners exist for guitars. Given that these are dirt cheap (around fifteen pounds), allow for far greater accuracy than the human ear, and can be used even by people who do not have particularly good relative pitch (yes it is possible to play guitar without great pitch) that is the method used by every single musician I know.

Using a tuner also has the advantage of allowing one to tune up (or change into alternate tunings) between songs at a gig without any long drawn-out pauses - the only disadvantage being that the old joke about 'This is an old Chinese folk song - Tu Ning' is rapidly becoming obsolete.

Of course, it's always best to know how to do it 'by hand' for situations where you can't use a tuner for whatever reason, but it really does save a lot of time and effort...

Ehh, tune by whichever method that has even been mentioned on this page. It is really pretty likely that the inaccuarcies in the construction of your guitar, combined with the less than perfect manufacutring of the insturments of your cohorts, will make most of it even out. This is doubly so on most acoustic guitars and poorly made electrics, since they usually lack the adjustable bridges that better electrics have, and it is unlikely that you have exactly the same gauge strings that your guitar came with. Even if you do play classical, those cat guts have variances in the manufacturing processes as well.

When in doubt, play a chord. This is when exact tuning is really important. If it does not sound right, try to isolate what note sounds off by picking each note in the chord individually, letting the notes ring. Try different chord voicings and positions. Retune as neccessary.

The most important part:
Do this in the same environment that your insturment is going be played in, but before you start to play a song. The temperature of the room, the lights shining on you and your guitar, and the angle you are holding it at, will all affect the tuning. Again, moreso if it is an acoustic. If these conditions are significantly different when you tune and when you play, you are going to bore whoever is watching you. Right after you have played your opening song, out of tune.
I'm no expert on tuning guitars, nor am I a great guitar player. However I've been playing flamenco for a number of years now, and as you probably already know, close to perfect tuning is essential when playing something as fast or as complicated as flamenco.

The way I tune my guitar is very unconventional, and I have never seen it written down before. I guess this fact alone should make it an illegitimate way of tuning your guitar, but it works for an ignorant fool like myself, who couldn't tell a C from a G if his life depended on it.
So here it is:

1. First of all, tune the thinnest string first (the bottom string, which, of course should be an E), but if you don't know what a E sounds like, tune it to whatever sounds right to you. After all, as long as the strings are tuned relative to each other, the guitar is going to sound perfect.
2. Fret the second string (the second thinnest string) on the fifth fret, and pluck both the first and the second string at the same time. Tune the second string to whatever sounds alright to you.
3. Now here's the unconventional part of it. Pluck both of the strings at the same time, and *feel* the vibrations. What you will most probably notice is that the frequencies of the two sounds will not be the same, which will feel like waves of vibration (resonance), going from intense to almost cancelling each other out. Keep tuning, while making sure that the wavelenths are increasing (slowing down), until you feel a constant vibration.
4. Do the same with the third string fretted on the 4th fret and the open second string.
5. Keep going up, fretting the remaining strings on the 5th fret, with the open lower string.
6. Enjoy the noise.

This method is quite hard to learn, I instinctively picked it up after tuning my guitar for about three months straight (I was a keen camper at the time, so my guitar needed a tuning every week or so). I believe even a deaf person, after getting enough practice, could do a half decent job of tuning a guitar, using this method.


Results may very from person to person

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