There are not many instruments that are as versatile as the guitar. Along with its smaller size, it is one of the most portable instruments too. However, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to carry or play if it isn’t tuned properly.
As with all stringed instruments, a guitar requires proper tuning to sound, well, good. Before you play your guitar, you must ensure it is tuned properly. The good news is that tuners make this job a lot easier.
Whether it’s an online tuner, a phone tuner, a built-in tuner, or a clip-on physical tuner, you can find the right pitch immediately and precisely. Then, all you need to do is turn the tuning pegs to match the strings with the tuner’s pitch.
However, tuners are not always at hand. If you pick up an untuned guitar and want to show off at a party, you’ll want to tune it first. Chances are, however, that no tuner will be present. If your guitar is in need of a good tuning but you have no tuner nearby, you will need to learn the basics of tuning a guitar by ear.
In this article, we are going to show you how to tune your guitar without a tuner. We will go through some tips and tuning methods so you will never have to play an out-of-tune guitar ever again.
Things you need to tune a guitar
To tune your guitar by ear, all you need is your guitar and yourself. Once the instrument is in your hands, you will want to familiarise yourself with its features and facets.
Features of a guitar
- The strings – A regular, typical guitar has six strings. The thickest to the thinnest are E, A, D, G, B, E (standard tuning – we’ll explain this more below). These strings run from the neck of the guitar to the bridge.
- Tuning keys – The tuning keys are found on the head of the guitar. Each of the six strings are attached to their own tuning key. When they meet the key, the strings usually enter a small hole and wrap around the key as you tighten it.
As you turn these keys, the strings can become tighter or looser which, in turn, changes the pitch of the string. If the string is tighter, it will produce a higher-pitched note while a looser string will have a lower-pitched note.
- The frets – These are the metal ridges that run horizontally across the neck of the guitar. When you press down a string onto one of these frets, the string’s length changes which produces a different note when you strum or pick the strings.
Tuning your guitar by ear
There are actually numerous ways to tune a guitar. The first thing you need to decide is what kind of tuning you want to achieve from the instrument. Both electric and acoustic guitars sound great with different tunings such as open tunings where you can strum all of the strings together to make a very pleasing sound.
Each tuning lends itself to certain genres of music such as jazz, classical, or even flamenco. However, we are going to focus on the most used tuning today: standard tuning. When no tuner is available, this is the tuning most guitarists will go to, and what most popular songs you hear use.
When you tune your guitar to a standard tuning, the highest and lowest (thickest and thinnest) strings will both be an E note. Between these E strings, you will find two octaves. In other words, your notes from the highest to the lowest follow a structure of E-A-D-G-B-E. Quick tip – You can remember these strings by memorizing “Every-Animal-Does-Good-Before-Eating.”
Generally, you should start tuning your guitar from the low E string. A guitar’s strings are numbered from one to six. The highest note begins this sequence while the low E string is the sixth string. This is also the thickest string meaning it is much easier to tune than others. Once you tune this string, you can learn to tune the rest of the instrument to a perfect pitch.
Tuning your guitar
So, now it’s time to tune your guitar without that trusty tuner. Deep breath and let’s go!
- Begin with the sixth string (the low E string). This is the thickest of the six strings.
- Find the fifth fret, counting from the guitar’s head end. The fret refers to the space between the metal ridges along the neck of the guitar.
- Place your finger just before the metal ridge that meets the sixth fret and press the E string down. Now, gently pick or strum the string
- This note you hear is an A. Simply adjust the next string down by turning the tuning peg until the pitch equals the A note.
- Continue to do this until you reach the 4th string (G string). Here, you will need to press down on the 4th fret. This will play a B note.
- Again, strum the string and adjust the tuning peg on the 5th string to match the B note.
- Once this is tuned, press down on the fifth fret of the 5th string (B) and tune the 6th string (E) to this pitch.
You can also play an open low E string (not frets being pressed down) and match the high E string with this to tune.
Once you have done all of these steps, your guitar should be tuned! You may have to tweak a few strings over again but you should be close to pitch-perfect!
To check if your guitar is properly in tune, you can buy or find a tuner and test it with it. Electronic tuners work with both electric and acoustic and are the best ways to get a perfectly tuned guitar.
But, with a little practice and patience, you can enjoy a tuned guitar every time you play from then on. And don’t be afraid to play around with tunings as you become more experienced. The possibilities are almost endless!