Successfully Tuning Your Guitar Without A Tuner

A step-by-step guide on how to tune your guitar. Suitable for beginners and anyone who's forgotten how to do it.

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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 :)

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Partyboy2k05
    Now comes the complicated part.
    Haha, that was my favorite part. Although every once in a great while it's like you go tone deaf and just can't get it right, but I tune by ear for the most part. The worst that happens is I might be half a step off either way, but it's in tune all the way through as far as all the strings. Then I just play a song and adjust accordingly.
    Allan_Zochowski
    krisschmidt wrote: If you are in North America you can tune your A string to the dial tone of you landline. It is made of two tone - 350Hz and 440Hz. 440Hz is concert A. Then just tune the other strings from there.
    AlanHB
    I guess you should note that this is not tuning the guitar to E, but tuning the guitar to itself. It's also possible to tune the guitar by harmonics. As noted by someone else, there are many, many situations where you won't have access to youtube (or whatever) to have a reference point for the guitar. I don't think this is entirely useless advice, maybe it is worded a little complexly for a simple action. For absolute beginners (or anyone really) I would recommend investing in a tuner regardless.
    bygkok
    '. 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',
    Are you a beginner? cuz you tune the 'B' string to the 4th fret on the 'G' string not the 'G' the the forth fret of the 'D' string...I can't believe nobody else caught this...geez!
    syke5
    krisschmidt wrote: If you are in North America you can tune your A string to the dial tone of you landline. It is made of two tone - 350Hz and 440Hz. 440Hz is concert A. Then just tune the other strings from there.
    dude that is beastly!
    siksofus
    Step 5 - Check for mistakes
    Mistake of reading this article. Just TOO many bad points to pick out. Totally usless for a beginner.
    burndttoast
    rickyj wrote: "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." first of all this is false and second anyone who has never touched a guitar before thats tuning it for the first time is now scared to death that they will be blinded from razor sharp shrapnel if they tune it slightly sharp, way to go.
    The ends may not be "razor-sharp", but they're still sharp enough to give you a scar if you're not careful. I got grazed by my string on my face once the first time I retstrung my guitar.
    Wing00
    Ear tuning takes years and years to hone well enough to tune a guitar (properly not just "hitting the note").
    rickyj
    "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." first of all this is false and second anyone who has never touched a guitar before thats tuning it for the first time is now scared to death that they will be blinded from razor sharp shrapnel if they tune it slightly sharp, way to go. this is basically a pointless lesson, considering you tell them to get on youtube so that they can hear the notes. if they have access to youtube they can just find one of the thousands of videos explaining how to tune it, plus its way less complicated if they can see what theyr doing.
    krisschmidt
    If you are in North America you can tune your A string to the dial tone of you landline. It is made of two tone - 350Hz and 440Hz. 440Hz is concert A. Then just tune the other strings from there.
    mrddrm
    seemeel : You should specify that this is a lesson for absolute beginners who have never tuned a guitar before... And by "Good Ear" you mean perfect pitch, and that's not something that you get just by wanting it...
    Not true, for one can learn pitches like learning to ride a bike. You just have to practice it a lot, with the intent to learn the pitch. It's called pitch retention. It's like how you can (hopefully, some people can't sing) sing back a note that was just played for you. You do that over and over again and then you can call that pitch by memory, hear it in your head, then sing it.
    Hibberdijibbit
    krisschmidt wrote: If you are in North America you can tune your A string to the dial tone of you landline. It is made of two tone - 350Hz and 440Hz. 440Hz is concert A. Then just tune the other strings from there.
    Thats actually useful information. unlike the rest of the guide. Both E's should match, yes, the strings can snap, but whoop de freaking do, it happens
    seemeel
    You should specify that this is a lesson for absolute beginners who have never tuned a guitar before... And by "Good Ear" you mean perfect pitch, and that's not something that you get just by wanting it...