How to tune a guitar | the complete guide

One of the main skills that a guitarist must master is the ability to tune its instrument. After all, it doesn’t matter how well you are able to play the guitar: if it is out of tune, nobody will want to listen.

Developing the tuning experience is hard for a beginner, but it is mandatory. There are several methods, and they are not always used. Let’s explore some of the best known.

How to tune by ear

The key to learning to tune an ear guitar is daily practice. If your guitar is very challenging it will give the wrong notes, and that is not a good sign. Therefore, it is convenient to train the ear again and again, until mastering the technique perfectly. We can also rely on electronic tuners, but its better just to use them as support in the early stages of learning.

The secret to tuning by ear is to turn the pegs that correspond to each string until the sound became the same as a reference one. The basic problem lies in discovering if our instrument sounds keen or deeptoned than the referential sound itself. Once detected, it only remains to turn the plug again until it approaches the expected sound.

The references can be many: a keyboard, another guitar or any instrument that produces a E note equivalent to that of the first string. With the reference note we fine-tune the fifth string, and then we compare it with methods such as open strings or tuning by natural harmonics.

How to fine tune with tuners

For a beginner who does not have a sufficiently developed musical ear, the simplest and most reliable resource for tuning a guitar is to use an electronic tuner. Luckily, those are easy to acquire and their prices are quite accessible. Or you can use an application for mobile devices, which are on the Internet at cheap prices, or even for free.

However, one of the main obstacles that hit guitarists is that they don’t understand the symbols that tuners bring in. It is important to understand this system to master all the possibilities they offer and take advantage of our study time.

Tuners use the Anglo-Saxon or American notes system. In this, the well-known Spanish musical notes DO RE MI FA SOL LA SI are not used, but letters, which are C D E F G A B. Understanding that correspondence is vital, since the Internet offers a lot of content based on it. For example, if D is played on the tuner when playing a string, this means that the Spanish note being played is a RE.

Another significant point to use the tuner is to master the original layout of the notes. If we forget this detail, there will be no way to know how to raise or lower the tuning of the string to achieve the necessary note. In addition, we avoid the error of tuning a string with an extreme tension that is not your pitch, and even prevent the string from breaking!

There are several kinds of digital tuners, and each of them occupies a place and works in a specific way. Next, we will see the three most recommended.

Top 3 tuners

Nowadays, electronic or digital tuners are, as we saw before, one of the best options. These are nothing more than devices that show the visual contrast between the sounds played and the reference note. The traditional digital tuner is a box with a screen, microphone and, in some models, audio input to plug the guitar cable. Few guitar players use it.

1- Applications for mobile devices

By using an app we turn our Smartphone into a portable tuner that we can take everywhere. Its disadvantage is that apps are affected by ambient sound, so you will need to go to a quiet room if you want to tune with an app. It is recommended that if we are going to tune the guitar in a very noisy place, you use another type of electronic tuner.

Regardless of the operating system of your Smartphone or Tablet, a large number of applications can be found in any app store. One of the best is DaTuner Lite. This has the advantage of being free and performs very well. You can also go for GuitarTuna, which is quite intuitive and very popular among guitar students.

2- Clamp tuner

As the name says, this tuner brings a built-in plier to place the tuner on the head of the instrument. It is common to also have a vibration meter in the clamp, to capture the sound emitted by the guitar. It is almost always portable, so it can be stored in the case without any problems. Unlike apps, it is perfect for tuning in noisy environments, since its vibration sensor captures the sound, not a microphone.

One of the most recommended clamp tuners is the Snark SN5X, very simple to use and quite cheap too. Another one you can try is the D’Addario NS Micro Clip-On Tuner: being small, it can be fixed on the guitar and goes almost unnoticed.

3- Pedal tuner

If you are lucky enough to have a pedalboard, you can take the opportunity to add a pedal tuner. Although they are more expensive than a clamp tuner, they offer the advantage of being able to fast retune during pauses between songs in a gig, without having to be looking for another tuner to attach it to the guitar.

There are lots, but two of the most recommended are the Korg Pitchblack, which is very easy to use, and the Boss TU-3. It is a classic that has been on the market for many years and that lots of professional guitarists use it with excellent results.

Do you already know what tuner you intend to use? If so, congratulations, although these are not magic wands that guarantee a perfect tuning with a single pass. Once you know all the strings and the order of the notes, tuning your guitar will become a simpler process.

 Remember: practice will make you a master.