By Reim Ossailly
Let’s face it: Playing with a guitar that is not properly tuned will sound like a wailing donkey (no offense to your guitar). We don’t have to keep the truth hidden any longer. If your guitar does not sound right, have you checked if it’s properly tuned? Let us guess, are you scratching your head over what the heck that even means? Well, now that you’re here, don’t worry. We will thoroughly explain to you what tuning a guitar means, and how to tune a guitar.
What is tuning?
If you happen to be a beginner in the guitar field, you may have wondered what the keys on the guitar’s head are. Those keys are called “tuning pegs” that you use to (duh!) tune your guitar. Basically, what tuning does is keep the guitar sound right, and good. Sometimes, the strings may loosen from continually playing the guitar.
But hey, do not go and blindly try to tighten those strings. Believe us, you do not want to do that. The last thing you want is a string or two (or maybe all) snapping in your face.
There are a couple of different ways to properly tune a guitar. But first, there are some fundamentals that you need to be familiar with before you go into the process any further.
Make sure that you are comfortable with the names of the strings. Here is a quick overview of them:
E: The top and thickest string; the 6th string.
A: The second thickest; the 5th string.
D: The 4th string.
G: The 3rd string.
B: The second string.
e: The thinnest string; the first string.
Too hard to memorize? We suggest that you make a sentence with each word beginning of the letters. “Eat All Day Get Big Early” is one example.
Another thing you might want to have is the ability to distinguish between sharp and flat notes.
A flat sound means that the string is loosened more than necessary. Similarly, a sharp sound means that the string is tighter than necessary.
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s dive into the tuning process.
As we have previously mentioned, there are different ways to tune a guitar, some of which include:
#1: Tuning with electronic tuners
Tuning using electronic tuners is the most common method of tuning guitar players use, and probably the easiest. Electronic tuners usually range anywhere from $5 to $20.
Basically, the way to use those tuners is by simply picking a string. The tuner will then screen the string name along with indications on whether the string is too high, too low, or correctly tuned. For instance, if the tuner indicates that the string is either too low or high, slowly turn the tuning key corresponding to the particular string accordingly. Keep picking the string so that you can keep track of whether you got the string tuned.
If you don’t have an electronic tuner but are interested in getting one, here are some suggestions (the last one comes with a metronome):
#2: Tuning with apps
If you are short on budget, you can opt for the free version: Tuning apps. There are plenty of them, and they can be as good as electronic tuners. Also, they are used the same way electronic tuners are used.
Note: Make sure that the calibration is set to 440 Hz — the standard frequency.
#3: Tuning by ear
Don’t run away. Although it sounds daunting, tuning by ear is not as difficult as it sounds to be. Once you get the concept behind it, you will probably adopt it as the only method to tune your guitar rather than using any technology.
Tuning by ear does not require anything other than a guitar and your ears. However, you will also need to have a tuned e ( 1st string ) string. This is the only requirement for getting a guitar tuned by ear. Get your 1st string tuned and you can carry on with the instructions.
After you make sure that the low e string is tuned, press the 5th fret on the string and pick it.
Now pick the A string, or 5th string, and tune it to match the note on the 1st string ( 5th fret ).
When you have the A string tuned, press the 5th fret of this A string, pick it and tune the D string ( 4th string ) to match the note on the A.
As for the G string, instead of pressing the 5th fret of the D string, you press the 4th fret of the D string and tune the G string to match them. Don’t ask why. The G string prefers to be different than its neighbors.
Once you have the G string tuned, go back to pressing the 5th fret of the G string and tune the high E string ( 6th string ) to match the sound.
At first, applying all of this may be difficult or confusing, but as you frequently tune by your ears, things will get comparably easier.
Note: Be vigilant of the tuning keys you are adjusting. Make sure they are the right key for the string you intend on tuning.
Which method is the best?
It’s all up to you to choose which method to use. In the end, you will get a tuned guitar. As you get better at distinguishing notes by ear, you will start to be able to tune by intuition without having to rely on any external sources.
As for which method is more accurate, no doubt about it, the first and second methods. Tuning by ear does not guarantee accuracy. You may end up with a string tuned a bit higher or lower than needed. And unless you have extremely well-trained ears, you won’t be able to pick up the difference.
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