Tuning a guitar can be tough at first. We’ve all been there at some point. I remember rushing home from the store with my first guitar, keen to get playing, but then realising that I had no idea how to go about tuning it. It can be incredibly frustrating and there is a strong temptation for the beginner guitarist to gloss over the importance of good guitar tuning.
Tuning a guitar is a fundamentally important skill for anyone to get to grips with when starting to learn guitar. It is very often the first challenge that most people face as they begin their musical journey, but if you fail at this first hurdle there is every chance that you could give up on learning guitar altogether. It doesn’t matter how good your playing is, if your guitar is out of tune, it’s bound to sound terrible.
One option is to get your guitar teacher or a friend to tune your guitar for you. This is fine as a quick fix to get you started but is not a satisfactory solution to the problem because, and this will come as no surprise to you, guitars go out of tune! They can go out of tune as you play them or as environmental factors change. If you’re relying on someone else to tune your guitar for you, what do you do when they are not there to help?
Guitars can go out of tune for any number of reasons. Tuning pegs can be accidentally knocked, temperature changes can cause expansion and contraction of the different component parts of your guitar, which has an impact on the tension of the strings and therefore on the tuning.
Unless you learn how to tune your guitar correctly, your playing will never sound good. So what can you do about it?
Well, I’m about to give you foolproof instructions on how to tune your guitar the right way.
To begin with, you need to ensure that your 6th string is properly in tune. The 6th string is the thickest string on your guitar and must be tuned to E. You can do this in any number of ways. If you are playing with other musicians, the best way is to get one of them, for example the pianist, to play the note E so that you can tune your 6th string to it.
Being in tune with the other musicians in your band is vitally important. If you are all slightly out of tune relative to each other, even if each individual guitar is correctly tuned relative to its own 6th string, the result will be a discordant cacophony. This is never a good result.
Another way would be to use an electronic tuner, pitch pipe or tuning fork to ensure your 6th string is in tune. However, this relies on the other members of your band also being in tune with the pitch pipe etc. As I said, make sure you and your fellow musicians are all in tune relative to each other.
Once you’ve got your 6th string correctly in tune, you can tune the other strings relative to it. You do this by playing the 5th fret of the 6th string and using that as the reference note for tuning the open 5th string. You do the same for the 4th string (5th fret of the 5th string should be the same as the open 4th string) and so on all the way across the guitar fretboard. There is one exception to this, and that is the 2nd string, which must be tuned to the 4th fret of the 3rd string.
Once you’ve carried out this process carefully, it is wise to go back to the beginning and double-check each string is still in tune. This is because sometimes, as you adjust the tension of the strings further across the guitar fretboard, you can alter the tension of the previous strings due to small movements of the neck resulting from the changing forces exerted by the strings.