Guitar Tuning Techniques | How To Tune A Guitar
Page Update 4/5/2015
Using a guitar tuner or auto guitar tuner is the most popular way to tune an electric guitar or acoustic guitar. Most are battery operated and perform a variety of tuning functions. The most simple guitar tuners will tune your guitar to a basic E tuning (E,A,D,G,B,E). Most guitar tuners will say 440hz on them as well. This is just a hz frequency meter reading and it's fine that it says this for E Tuning. Many guitar tuners have an input to plug your electric guitar into or a built in microphone to pickup you acoustic guitar sound.
Plug your guitar into the input and your display should show you a meter that picks up your guitar string sound when you pluck a string. Your low E string is string number 6, the A string is number 5 and so on until you reach string 1 which is your high E string. Now, pluck the first string (Low E) and you should see your meter moving. You should turn your guitar tuning peg until the meter reaches the middle of the meter or 0 mark. It may take some trial and error to figure it out, but it's overall pretty simple. Now pluck your A String (Number 5 on the tuner). Tune this string until it also reached the 0 reading or middle of the meter. The closer you are to the middle or zero, the more perfect your guitar will be in tune. Pluck your D String and tune to the middle meter reading. Now continue with each string until you have tuned all six strings of your guitar. Browse some Brands of Guitar Tuners below, or Visit our Guitar Tuner Store. Many guitar tuners are now using a clip on technology allowing you to tune through the vibration or pitch of the string or note.
Clip on Guitar Tuners are becoming increasingly popular since the are handy, easy to use, and you don't need to have chords plugged into them. Most are now priced reasonably as well. Modern clip on tuners use the vibration of the string to attain the note played and tune the guitar that way. They clip on to the guitar to catch the vibrations while you move the tuner to the desired note. Many of them have the ability to tune to different keys as well. If you haven't checked one out, they are worth the money and are less cumbersome that plug in tuners.
There are different keys or modes to tune your guitar as well. Some guitar players may tune to Eb (E flat). For example, some early Van Halen songs are tuned to Eb (E Flat). There are also open tuning modes as well. Some guitar tuners have functions to let you tune to these different keys as well. Just pick the mode you would like on the auto guitar tuner and tune each string to the middle 0 meter reading and you should be fine.
Many hard rock songs now a days are tuned to Drop D Tuning. Drop D Tuning is actually not that hard to accomplish. Basically, you should tune your guitar normally, for example to a standard E Tuning as described in the first paragraph. Feel free to use your guitar tuner and tune to E. Once you are in Standard Tuning drop your Low E String to a D tuning. In order to do this place your index finger on the second string on the 5th fret and play this note. This is the note D. Now, play your Low E Sting while holding the D note on the second string. Tune the Low E String down one step to match the D Note your playing on the 5th fret second string. Once the notes match you are now in drop D tuning. Make sure to tune down to Lower octave D and not up to match the exact D note on the A string.
Some songs that utilize Drop D Tuning are the Foo Fighters song Everlong and Unchained by Van Halen. Also, if your guitar has a Floyd Rose Tremelo system you may be able to add a device called the D Tuna. This was invented by Eddie Van Halen himself. Basically, it is attached to your trem (whammy bar) fairly easily. Once it is attached, you can easily tune to Drop D Tuning by pulling the mechanism. It's a nice device to be able to drop D tune on the fly. There is also a fine tuning part of the Drop D Tuna that uses a tiny hex wrench to fine tune to drop D. A very nice feature. Most EVH Peavey Wolfgang guitars came equipped with the Drop D Tuna. The Peavey Wolfgang guitar has been discontinued, but click here to find Used Peavey Wolfgang Guitars.
Most Floyd Rose Tremelos (Whammy Bars) have fine tuning knobs so that you can tune while your guitar strings are locked at the neck. The stings are locked at the neck so that your guitar doesn't go out of tune when you use the Floyd Rose Trem or Whammy Bar. Tune your guitar normally and lock the nut at the neck, then fine tune using your Floyd Rose fine tuning knobs. The tuning knobs should be near the mid position when you manually tune. That way once your locked at the neck you have some room to turn the knobs and fine tune your guitar. Once the guitar is locked at the neck position try fine tuning with these knobs to get in tune. Manual tuning in this section above refers to tuning using your peg heads on the headstock while the nut is unlocked.
Some more experienced guitarist can tune there guitar by ear. For example, they can listen to a song and figure out that a song is in E or Eb tuning and play the song. For example, Back in Black by AC/DC is tuned in E. Try tuning your low E string to a specific song you know and want to learn on guitar. Once you have the E string in tune, try tuning the rest of your strings by pressing and playing the note on the seventh fret (Note E in Standard E tuning). The Low E note should match the E note on the second string (A String, seventh fret). Match the notes and tune the second string while playing the low E string and the note E depressed on the seventh fret. Just be careful that you don't go to far and tune to a higher note. Keep doing this for each string until finished. Note, the B string can be a little tricky in this method so you may have to play a D Chord to get this one. This tuning method is more for experienced guitarists and may not work for you right away. This is just a way that I used to tune my guitar, please don't feel that this method is the schooled musician way to tune a guitar. It's usually best to use a guitar tuner.
There is also a way to tune using harmonics. Once you know where you want your Low E string to be tuned, try playing the harmonics on the 5th fret of the low E string and the 7th fret of the A string. Harmonics are played by barely touching the string at the fret. The harmonics on the 5th fret of the low E string and the 7th fret of the A strings should match notes. So you can try to tune your A string by matching the harmonic that your playing on the Low E. Again, this is just and idea for you to try out and not a typical schooled way to tune your guitar. This is just another way to find out if your in tune. Also, the harmonic on the B string doesn't always match up exactly. So please keep this in mind. This tuning method is for more advanced players as well.
Many of you may have heard of the Gibson Robot guitars. A few years back Gibson had self tuning technology built into some of their guitar models. While I don't claim to know all the facts here, I believe the robot guitars worked pretty well but the guitar had to be specially designed with an extra knob and wiring to work properly. Gibson incorporated the tuning technology in these robot guitars a few years back. It's difficult to find may of these guitars new now a days as many models were discontinued. Although, you can find Gibson Robot Guitars still on eBay.
Newer guitar tuning system technology has recently emerged from Tronical. While Gibson is using a technology on some of their newer models (calling it Min-Etune), you can buy similar Tronical Min-Etune systems after market as well. On the Tronical website they state that their technology is the same that Gibson is using for their Min-ETune guitars. Tronical has several different models that work with some Fender, Gibson, and Taylor guitars at the time of writing. Please review the Tronical website for the appropriate tuning systems that may work with your particular guitar. Some features include multistring tuning, single string tuning, several tuning modes including E, Drop D, Open G and more. Overall there are 18 presets and you can make up to 6 programmable tuning presets on your own. Important Note: You can't use this tuning system if you have a locking Floyd Rose type guitar tremelo system due to the locking nut at the headstock. Another nice feature is the ability to still tune on your own with the tuning pegs in the event that the battery runs out at a gig etc. Basically, the company says that installation does not involve any screws etc., you just may have to ream out the tuning holes depending on model. Listed below are several helpful links to help you on your guitar self tuning system search.
Above we have listed several ways to tune your guitar. Tuning a guitar can be frustrating at first, but with the help of modern auto guitar tuners and clip on tuners it can make tuning your guitar a simple process.