Learn how to tune your guitar so it sounds as good as it can!

Using A Guitar Tuner

The first thing you need to know about tuning a guitar with a tuner is that you should use a chromatic tuner, not a guitar bass tuner.  The chromatic tuner will recognize all the notes the instrument is capable of producing (or any instrument for that matter), whereas a guitar tuner will only recognize the six notes the guitar is supposed to be tuned to.  That won’t help if your guitar is really, REALLY out of tune.  I recommend using something like the Korg CA-30, which has a built in mic, and some other options.  I’m not a fan of the clip on tuners that are mounted on the headstock of the guitar.

If you’re using an electric guitar, plug the guitar into the tuner; if you’re using an acoustic guitar, place it on your right leg as close to the guitar as you can get it so the mic gets a good reading.  Use a pick to play each string so you get a nice clear sound from the instrument, and strike the string closer to the bridge.  If you’re using an electric guitar, put it on the bridge pickup setting. The sixth string should be tuned to E, or E2, 82.4hz if you use a smartphone tuner app that tells you these specifics.  The rest of the strings should be tuned as follows:

Fifth String – A, A2, 110hz

Fourth String – D, D3, 146.9hz

Third String – G, G3 196hz

Second String – B, B3, 247.3hz

First String – E, E4, 329.8hz

Interpreting the movement of the needle on the readout can be a little tricky, and I see students puzzling over this often.  Ideally, the needle should rest in the center and stay there after you strike the string for a second, and start to move to the left as the string slows down.  If it goes a little sharp for a half second and then settles down to center and stays there a bit, then it’s probably in tune.  If it goes to the center position but then immediately goes a little below, it’s probably a little flat and should be adjusted up.

Common Guitar Tuning Problems

“Everytime I try to get the string into tune, it makes a ping sound and then jumps up in pitch above where it’s supposed to be!”

There’s two ways to approach this.  The first is yank on the string a little bit after this happens; that is, after it goes sharp, pull down on the string a little to make it go a tiny bit flat, and therefore in tune.  If it goes down too much, or not at all, then the problem could be with the nut.  Sometimes the string is catching on something in the nut slot, and you can fix this by putting a little bit of graphite powder in the nut slot.  You can buy little tubes of this powder at a hardware store, and they’re good for lubricating saddles on electric Stratocaster style guitars.  De-tune the string enough so you can lift it out of the nut slot, and blow a little bit of the powder in the guitar’s nut slot.  Use a needle or some other thin metal piece to make sure the graphite goes in there, then put the string back in the slot and retune it.  It should have better fine tuning response now.

“The needle is going haywire and I can’t tell if it’s in tune!”

Try moving the tuner closer to the guitar, or even have it touch the body of the guitar.  If you buy a really cheap tuner, you may have issues with this.  Also, make sure the other strings aren’t still ringing when you play the string you’re trying to tune.

“I got the strings in tune with the tuner, but some of my chords sound out of tune!”

This is a common problem with cheap guitars, and we’ll talk about how to deal with this in the next post on guitar tuning – “How To Tune A Guitar By Ear.”