So, you've just decided to pick up your guitar. You've gotten all comfortable in your seat, guitar tucked neatly into your arm. You start playing the chords to your favourite song (or at least attempt to)- when wait, what's this? This doesn't sound right. The guitar is out of tune. But you've either forgotten how to tune it, or never found out how to in the first place. Have no fear, however, for this guide shall help you in bringing your melodic friend back to good health.
Step 1 - Find a method of listening to the different string sounds.
Unless you've developed a good ear and know what each string should should like, you're going to need some sort of assistance to give you the right tune. If you have a friend nearby who happens to have a guitar that's actually in tune, ask them to play the top string, or the 6th string, or the E string, or whatever it is you want to call it. In the highly likely event that this guitar-bearing buddy of yours either is not present at the time or does not exist, search YouTube.com for a video named along the lines of 'Standard E Tuning'. If you have an iPod touch or an iPhone, there's a free app called 'Guitar Tuner' available from the App Store. If you intend to tune your guitar away from a computer, you'll have no other choice but to either get the application, or invest in some sort of tuner.
Step 2 - Pay attention to the first, lowest note.
This is the note that's going to allow you to tune the rest of the guitar without the need for any other means of assistance other than the guitar itself. Pay attention to the sound of the note. You now need to mimic this note exactly as it sounds on the top string of your guitar, the E string. Listen to the note, then pick the top string of your guitar. Compare the two sounds- does your guitar sound higher or lower than the reference note? If you can't tell whether it's higher or lower, sing both notes out loud to yourself with a short 'Ahh'. This should allow you to distinguish between the sounds of both notes. Now, hold your guitar horizontally in front of you and look at the tuning pegs. Follow the top string up the neck, all the way to the pegs. The peg that the string is connected to is the important one.
Step 3 - Now, did your guitar sound higher or lower than the E note? If it sounded higher, turn the peg clockwise, or to the right, to make the string looser and longer. This will make the string sound lower. If it was lower than the note, turn the peg anti-clockwise, or left. This will make the string tigher and shorter, giving it a higher sound. Remember this whole clockwise thing. It could save your life, you never know.
WARNING: DO NOT TIGHTEN THE STRING MORE THAN NECESSARY. If the string is tightened too much, it may snap, sending the razor-sharp ends of the string into the air and towards your face, which could lead to serious injuries.
Once you have turned the tuning pegs in the direction they need to go in, compare the string and the E note once again. Can you still hear a difference in the sounds? If there is still a difference in the sound, whether it be very tiny or very big, repeat this step again from the beginning. If it sounds exactly the same, give your self a pat on the back, because you've just tuned the first string. If you thought that was hard, there's still 5 to go.
Step 4 - Tune the rest of the strings.
Now comes the complicated part. Take your index finger (thats the one next to your thumb) on your fretting hand and place it on the top string (the one you just tuned) on the fifth fret. If you're not sure what a fret is yet, check out some other beginner tutorials anywhere on this site or somewhere else on the internet. Play the string. It should sound different to what it did before. This is what your next string will sound like once you've finished with it. Repeat Step 3, replacing the 'E note' with the new note you have just created- This is an 'A'- and changing the 'top string' to the 'next string down'. Repeat this step again on the next string down, creating a 'D' note, until you reach the fourth string down, or the third from the bottom. Tuning this string is almost the same as the others, but instead of placing your finger on the 5th fret, place it on the 4th. Continue from here as you normally would. This string will make a note called 'G'. Go back to the fifth fret and tune the next string down, a 'B', and then finally the final, highest string- an 'e'. That lower case 'e' is not a spelling error. This 'e' is different to the 'E' you created when you tuned the top string- this string is known as 'e minor', shortened to 'e' in text.
Step 5 - Check for mistakes
Now quickly run back down the strings from the top, using the '5th fret, 5th fret, 5th, 4th, 5th, 5th' method to check for any errors. If you find any, correct the mistake and run through it again until your strings sound like they should. If you can, play a couple of scales through and through to see if it sounds right. If you don't know what scales are, look them up as well and try to learn them. They'll come in handy.
Congratulations! You've tuned your guitar!
Step 6 - Remember that it won't always be this difficult to tune your guitar if you've struggled with this.
Once you've been playing a while and you've been tuning it more and more often, you'll develop a 'Good Ear' as mentioned earlier in the article, and be able to accurately tune your guitar in about a minute without the need for any devices or assistants of any kind. But this won't just happen overnight. Remember to tune your guitar every time you're about to play. If you've just put new strings on your guitar, you'll need to tune it several times over and over again for possibly several hours depending on how long it takes the new strings to break in. Don't give up on your guitar, no matter what!
Thanks for reading, and I hope I helped you in some way, shape or form :)