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How to Tune Your Guitar

One of the most common challenges when first learning to play is how to tune your guitar. All you need is an electronic guitar tuner of your choosing. That’s it! The easiest to use is the type which clips on the head of your guitar.

Start with your sixth string, the thickest one, closest to the ceiling while in playing-position. This string should be tuned to an E note. Tune that string to the lowest E possible, without the string becoming completely loose and flappy. Make sure to keep striking the string, as the tuner will ‘hear’ the ‘attack’ of the string most prominently. Turn the machine head to increase tension on the string and the pitch will rise. Turn the other way to decrease tension and the pitch will fall.

How to tune your guitar Tip#1

While your tuner will be able to tell you how close you are to an E, it likely won’t tell you which E you’re closest to. You’ll know the string is tuned too high if it begins to sound thin and tinny, and the machine head becomes more difficult to turn. It should NOT be difficult to turn. To get a good idea what that single E note on a guitar sounds like, throw on AC/DC’s Back in Black. The first chord is an E, with that low string ringing out nice and loud.

How to tune your guitar with the Fifth Fret Trick

Once you’ve got your string tuned to a low E, it’s time to move on to your next string. The next string is the fifth string, which should be tuned to “A”. Before you go to that string, simply press down on your 6th string, the one you just tuned to E, on the fifth fret (see diagram below). Play that one note. That note is the A your fifth string should be tuned to. Turn the machine head of the 5th string until it matches that pitch. Once the pitch sounds close, use the tuner to finely adjust the pitch until it shows that your string is right at the pitch it needs to be (“A”).

You can continue this pattern for the next two strings. The fifth fret on your fifth string is a D, which is the desired pitch of your fourth string, and the fifth fret on your D string is tuned to a G, which is the desired pitch of the third string.

The only place on the guitar where the “fifth fret trick” does not work is between the third and second strings. Here, it is actually the fourth fret on the third string that will sound just like the tuning of the second string played open, a “B”.

Finally, the fifth fret on the second string is yet another E, tuned two octaves above the lowest string.

To help you understand how to tune your guitar

Once you have that string tuned, go back and make sure each string is still at its designated pitch. Your tuner will tell you if you are correct and will help you make the finer adjustments that may be required. Once you feel you’re ready to test and see if the guitar is in tune, play your favorite open-chords. The E and G chords are great to test tuning, as they use all six strings at once.

Tune your guitar each day when you pick it up! Remember that it is totally normal for most guitars to go out of tune while playing once in a while. With a little practice, you should be able to have this whole process down in no-time.

Now that you know how to tune your guitar, here are some extra tips for you

1: You may want to de-tune each string before tuning UP. This will help ensure you won’t break a string by starting out higher, and accidentally attempting to tune to the next highest octave.

2: Be aware of ‘accidentals’. It is possible that you may tune your note to a FLAT version of itself, usually indicated on the tuner with a little (b) symbol. You’ll have to tune up just a bit from there to reach the NATURAL pitch, which will have no symbols next to it.

You may also tune your note to a SHARP version of itself, usually indicated on the tuner with a hashtag symbol (#).You’ll have to tune down just a bit from there to reach the NATURAL pitch, which will have no symbols next to it.

3: On most guitars, your fifth fret will have a small dot on it.

4: The overall tuning stability of your guitar  is dependent upon each individual string being perfectly in tune. Electric guitars have much skinnier strings and  some have “floating bridges” that require precise tuning of all strings at once to remain stable. If you have a whammy bar on your guitar, you may want to go over each string in succession three or four times total, just to be sure.

With that, good luck and happy tuning!

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