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How to Tune a Guitar

Looking for quick and effective info on how to tune a guitar? You’re in the right place. Let’s get right to it.

Materials

Before getting started, you’ll need an electronic guitar tuner. If you’re restringing your guitar, you’ll also need a pair of wire cutters or pliers.

Also helpful, but optional, is a string winder, which makes the job of tuning much easier on your wrist, especially when restringing. You can find all of these reasonably priced items either online or at your local music store.

Order of Strings

When restringing your guitar, following a strict skipping pattern is crucial to ensure your intonation isn’t altered by an unequal amount of tension across the neck.

The basic rule is to never change two adjacent strings successively — or at least don’t remove more than one string at a time.

For example, if you begin with the 6th string, you’ll need to remove it, secure the new string and tune it up to pitch before skipping to the 4th string. Then you’ll move to the 2nd, 5th, 3rd and 1st, respectively.

Using an Electronic Tuner

Guitar tuning doesn’t have to be difficult, and that’s exactly where your electronic tuner comes in. All you need to do is turn it on, clip it onto the headstock of your guitar and pluck the string you want to tune.

When the string is in tune, the arrow on the screen of the tuner will be centered, showing the proper pitch above in green light. When it’s out of tune, the arrow will appear left or right of center, according to how flat or sharp the note is.

Slowly bring each string up to pitch using the center arrow and light as a reference, and you’re all set!

Tuning by Ear

What if you need to know how to tune a guitar without a tuner? Fortunately, there’s an easy way to do that as well.

You need to have some kind of reference pitch to begin the tuning process. You may be able to hear this in your mind if you have accurate relative pitch — but if not, don’t worry. Find a song that begins in the key of the string you want to tune, or use a piano or other instrument to provide a starting pitch.

Once you have your starting pitch (let’s assume it’s “E,” 6th string), fret that string at the 5th fret. Your open 5th string “A” should match that pitch. Repeat the process at the 5th string, 5th fret, matching the open 4th string.

The same goes for the all of the strings with the exception of one pair — the 2nd and 3rd strings. Play the 3rd string, 4th fret, matching the open 2nd string to that pitch. Now you’re good to go!

Securing Strings and Tuning

Now that you know how to tune by ear and with a tuner, let’s talk briefly about restringing your guitar.

Once you’ve removed the 6th string, carefully unwind the new string and secure the ball end at the bridge of the guitar. The other end goes through the hole in the tuning peg, with the string resting in the bridge saddle.

Give a few counterclockwise turns to remove the slack in the string, leaving just enough to pull the string over the top of the tuning peg in the opposite direction of the turn. This will secure the string properly to eliminate slippage. Repeat for all six strings, following the recommendations above.

Stretching Your Strings

The final part of the tuning process is stretching your strings. You should do this when restringing your guitar so you won’t have to worry about it later during daily tune-ups.

Slip your index finger beneath the string and pull gently upward. Retune the string and repeat the process. Once you’ve gone through all six strings, be sure to play a few songs or scales to work out any additional slack.

Typically, after a few rounds of stretching, the strings will settle and your guitar will stay in tune. It should only require occasional minor tune-ups, depending on how often you play.

Now you’re ready to minimize time spent tuning so you can maximize your time playing. Have fun, and when you’re ready for some more cool lessons with master guitarists, find them on artistworks.com/guitar.

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