How to Tune an Electric Guitar (For Beginners)

Tuning an electric guitar can be done using a variety of methods. This is a topic that many beginners have difficulty with, but it’s really simple once you get the hang of it. It can be done with clip-on tuners, tuner pedals, tuner apps, or you can tune by ear.

One of the worst offenses a guitarist can commit is to play an instrument that is out of tune. While one can be forgiven for bad playing, there is simply no excuse for not being able to tell if your guitar is out of tune.

But do not worry, it takes a little bit of practice and ear training to ensure you are in tune. Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about tuning your electric guitar:

Standard Tuning

All electric guitars follow a standard tuning in E. From the thickest to the thinnest strings (6th string to 1st), the notes are E, A, D, G, B, E.

Here, we notice that there are 2 Es instead of a C or an F, where the E on the 6th string is on a lower octave than the 1st string. 

The reason for this standard tuning is to ensure easier playability. This tuning makes it easier to hold chords and minimizes fret-hand movement. 

Ways to Tune An Electric Guitar

There are many different ways to tune your guitar. Some of the most commonly used devices are:

1. Using a Clip-On Tuner

These are compact devices with displays that are attached to the headstock of a guitar. The way they work is that they pick up the vibrations of the strings from the headstock and transmit them to the tuning sensors located in their circuits.

The display flashes the proximity of the tuning to the note and one can turn their tuning peg up or down to tune the string.

Clip-On tuners are budget-friendly and great for beginner guitarists. They run on batteries and one can keep them attached to the headstock throughout a gig.

2. Using a Tuner Pedal

Tuner pedals hold the circuitry in a metal or plastic casing and need to be activated using a footswitch. This is the first pedal the guitar player connects in their signal chain with the help of an instrument cable.

They can be digital or analog by nature. They can also be chromatic or non-chromatic. While the former displays the note of the semitone the string is closest to, the latter only displays the predetermined notes of the strings.

While these are more expensive than clip-on tuners, they are more durable and there are different options available at varying price points. 

3. Using a Tuner App

Thanks to advancements in technology, you can now use your phone to tune your guitar. These rely on the microphone and convey it to the app. There are many free apps available for both iPhone and Android users today.

Check out our list of some of the best tuner apps available here.

The only drawback of using these apps is that the microphone often picks up other noise around the guitar, thus making them unsuitable for environments such as gigs or other noisy places.

4. Tuning By The Ear

Although this can be difficult at first. Over time, you will be able to tune your guitar if you are given an accurate E. This can come from a piano, a bass, or even a tuning fork. Many guitar players use the above gadgets to tune the 6th string and then use their ears to tune the rest. 

But tuning by the ear is not the most reliable because it generally results in inaccurate tuning. 

Methods Of Tuning

  1. Connect to your device such as a clip-on or pedal tuner.
  2. Start from the 6th string (thickest) and proceed downwards.
  3. Pluck your string with the pressure you would use while playing.
  4. Adjust the tuning peg up or down, based on the display of the tuner.
  5. Once you have finished tuning all the strings, check all the strings to make sure they are in tune.
  6. One of the ways to check is by playing the 12th fret of the string. The tuning of the note should be the same as the note of the open string.
  7. Play an arpeggio or a scale to ensure all notes are in tune.
  8. Adjust if necessary.

The method of tuning your guitar is the same regardless of what device you use to tune it. 

Things To Keep In Mind

  • You must make it a habit to check your tuning every time before you play. If you are performing live, the strings will tend to get detuned after a few songs. Make a quick check to ensure you are in tune.
  • Since wood reacts with temperature, it is important to store your guitar in a room-temperature environment when you put it away. For those in humid conditions, you can place a dehumidifier in your guitar case or bag to prevent moisture.
  • Change your strings often. This will not only keep your instrument in tune but also prevent your strings from sounding dead. The optimal time is once in 3 months but you can adjust this according to the weather and how often you play your guitar.
  • Clean your fretboard with a specialized oil to remove sweat and debris from the strings. This will prevent them from rusting and also make the strings easy to slide your fingers on. 
  • If you are storing your guitar, it is advisable to loosen the strings slightly to alleviate string tension. This will help them last longer and the tuning won’t change as rapidly when you play.
  • While guitar bags are convenient to carry around, storing your guitar in a case not only keeps your strings in place but also adds an extra layer of protection to your guitar.
  • Choose a string gauge that you feel comfortable playing and can control easily.

Summary

While this is a basic introduction to tuning your guitar to a standard tuning, many guitar players prefer to use alternative tunings such as a drop D or an open E-flat tuning. But the principle behind all of them remains the same.

Tuning an electric guitar can be done with clip-on tuners, tuner pedals, tuner apps, or you can tune by ear.

It takes some getting used to when you start your guitar journey, but just like practicing finger exercises, tuning your guitar too becomes a part of your muscle memory.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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