Tuning Your Guitar

Many guitarists neglect to tune their guitars properly or rely too heavily on the aid of devices like electronic tuners. Beginners or people who need perfect tuning for recording or performance are the only ones with a valid excuse to use electronic tuners. As a beginner you may find that tuning is very difficult and very frustrating. Below is a list of tuning aids and methods to help you:

Tuning aids Methods of relative tuning
Electronic tuners The fifth fret trick
Audio tuning guides Using harmonics
Pitch pipes  
Tuning forks  

If you are a beginner and tuning your guitar is just too difiicult then I suggest you use an electronic tuner. Just make sure that when you are more confident you try to move on to relative tuning methods, otherwise you will not develop a musical ear.

As soon as possible you want to move on to relative tuning methods such as the fifth fret trick. Relative tuning is when we tune the guitar strings to each other, instead of tuning them to set pitches. Relative tuning is good because it is easy to get the guitar in tune. However, it is unlikely that the guitar will be tuned exactly to the correct pitch. Once you are familiar with the fifth fret trick you will want to move on to using harmonics to tune your guitar.

Audio Tuning Guide

Below is an audio tuning guide for standard tuning. Simply press play and an audio file will play the six strings from lowest to highest. All you have to do is match the pitch of the string to the sound. Alternatively, you could use the Tune-O-Matic. Just click on the six buttons to hear the correct pitch of each string.

Fifth fret trick

The fifth fret trick is the most common method of relative tuning and is outlined below:

  1. Estimate the pitch of the 6th string (the thickest string). There are lots of ways you can do this, the easiest way being just use you ear alone and guess. Alternatively, your ear can be guided by a pitch pipe, tuning fork, audio tuning guide, or the E on another instrument, such as a keyboard.
  2. Place and hold a finger on the 5th fret of the 6th string then pluck the 6th string followed by the 5th string. These two notes should be the same (A). Once you've tuned the open A (5th string) you can continue with the rest of the strings.
  3. Play the 5th fret of the 5th string (the note should be D) and tune the 4th string to the same pitch.
  4. Play the 5th fret of the 4th string (G) and tune the 3rd string accordingly.
  5. Play the 4th fret of the 3rd string (B) and tune the 2nd string accordingly.
  6. Play the 5th of the 2nd string (E) and tune the 1st string accordingly.

Tip - When using an amplifier you can make tuning easier by turning the volume up. Listen out for a wobbling sound; notice how this sound slows down as you get closer to the right tuning. This wobbling sound should stop when you are in tune and is easier to hear on the higher sounding strings.

7-string guitars

7-string guitars have an extra low string that is tuned to B. Use the fifth fret trick (explained above) and tune the E string to the fifth fret of the low B string.

12-string guitars

The strings on a 12-string are labelled 1-12 (from high E to low E). The even numbered strings (2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12) correspond to the strings of a normal guitar and are highlighted in the table below:

E E 12
  E octave 11
A A 10
  A octave 9
D D 8
  D octave 7
G G 6
  G octave 5
B B 4
  B 3
E E 2
  E 1
  1. Tune the lowest string to E (as on a normal guitar) and tune every other string using the fifth fret trick (explained above).
  2. Now tune the open 11th string to match the pitch of the 12th fret of the 12th string.
  3. Match the open 9th string to the 12th fret of the 10th string.
  4. Match the open 7th string to the 12th fret of the 8th string.
  5. Match the open 5th string to the 12th fret of the 6th string.
  6. Match the pitch of the open 4th string to the open 3rd string.
  7. Match the pitch of the open 2nd string to the open 1st string.