Being able to play the electric guitar is a dream of many music lovers, but before you can start running your fingers over the strings you need to get the sound right! There aren’t many ways to do it; it just has to be done.
We’re talking about tuning those guitar strings of yours. Because you can have the best guitar technique in the world, but if you don’t know how to tune a guitar, then there is really no hope for you to become a decent guitar player. Because imagine going out on stage in front of a load of guitar players, shredding away, and not even realising that all your intonation is out and no one guitar string is in tune with the others.
This has never happened – and for good reason. Your band would look at your in horror, and the audience would know immediately that you don’t know how to tune your guitar. An out of tune guitar is not really a musical instrument at all. It’s just a bit of wood with strings.
You can then begin to play the guitar or follow your guitar lessons.
Tuning your electric guitar is important because the strings are constantly subjected to voltages, and thermal and physical shocks. This includes you smashing them against the fretboard every time you play – and the fact that the headstock (where the tuning pegs are) can often get bashed.
These small shocks can vary the tension of the strings which can change the notes you play. When your guitar is out of tune, you need to tune up to get the harmonic accuracy that music actually requires (otherwise, it’s just noise).
Moreover, tuning your guitar will optimize your playing and you will notice when you play a wrong note and be able to correct this during your practice. For electric guitarists, as much as any guitarists, knowing the sound of your instrument will help get you improving in every aspect.
Why do you have to tune an electric guitar?
I tune my guitar every time I sit down to play. But, how do you tune before you start playing? Do you need to visit a music store, buy a particular accessory or rely on your own ear?
Contrary to what you might think, tuning a guitar is not that difficult; any one can do it without professional help.
Anyone can learn to play the guitar, too!
Before you look into the different means available to tune your electric guitar, you must learn the notes that make up your instrument’s 6 strings (played open).
Starting from the highest string (closest to you if you are right-handed) towards the sharpest (the thinnest string) are the notes E A D G B E.
However, these are not the only guitar tunings there are. Lots of guitarists play with what we call ‘alternate tunings’. These see the players deliberately change the open tunings of the open strings. A common one is what we call ‘drop D’, which means that that lowest ‘E’ string is moved a step down, to ‘D’ – so we have DADGBE. This helps you play some guitar chords a little easier.
DADGAD is another of the popular open tunings. Here you see that the lowest string (E) is now D, whilst the first string and the second string are both down a step too (from B and E to A and D).
Don’t worry about this too much – however it is important to know. We call EADGBE ‘standard tuning’ for a reason.
As we said above, tuning a six string guitar is not really very difficult – particularly with the different technologies around these days. Guitar tuners come in many different shapes and sizes – from the old school pitch pipe and tuning fork to the more modern tuner app and clip on electric tuners.
This is probably the simplest and least expensive device you can find to tune your guitar.
When you hit the tuning fork on a hard surface and let it ring vertically it will make an A.
Tip: This is also the dialing tone of a landline phone.
Now, tune your guitar!
Simply tighten the string and adjust it to reproduce the same sound. Even some of the best guitarists on the planet use this old-school method!
This will help you keep tune if you want to sing while you play guitar. You should note that the sound will be approximate, and not 100% the sound you are aiming for.
Like the pitch pipe – which you blow and it plays a note – this is a difficult method for beginners who cannot always get the accuracy of the note (this comes with practice!).
This technique can be used alone or as a complement to the previous one.
First, you need something that can play an A, or any other open string note. You will then use this as a basis to tune the other strings.
This method, also known as the beat method, is based on an already tuned string and another adjacent string. Each pair of notes must play the same sound.
Start with a low E. And then fret that first guitar string at the fifth fret: this is the note of the second string.
Discover the “beat” method!
The A string corresponds to the fifth fret of the previous string, the low E. Play your A string and then gently turn the key corresponding to the low E string.
Usually, a half turn of a key is equivalent to a semitone.
Do this for the other strings.
Note: the B string is equivalent to the 4th fret of the G string, and not the 5th as with the other strings.
This method is more precise than the previous one, but unless you have a good ear for music, the whole thing will be tuned as much as a semitone or tone lower than the true notes.
Like practicing guitar itself, tuning must be done regularly. It will help you to develop and improve your ear. Soon you will have memorized the method for tuning your electric guitar and you will not need any marker to do it.
What do you think: does buying an inexpensive guitar mean it won’t stay in tune?
This is the accessory you must have with you in your guitar case before your guitar lesson.
What is an electric tuner?
Once you have tried it, you won’t go back, although knowing how to tune your electric guitar by ear is a great skill to have.
There are different models but you can find them easily at around 20 dollars.
How do you use it?
You plug in your tuner (or put in batteries, depending on the model), play an open string, and if it is the correct note the machine’s needle will be in the middle of the screen.
If not, simply tighten or loosen the desired string to find the correct sound.
To start tuning your guitar, place your tuner’s microphone in the direction of the guitar, or plug it into your guitar through the jack.
First play the 6th string, the low E string, and read what the tuner says to make the first adjustments.
If the needle is on the left, the string is too loose, and if it is too tilted to the right, it is too tight. Use the corresponding keys at the end of the neck.
Wait for the sound to die down almost completely before vibrating the string, so the electric tuner can perceive and analyze the correct sound.
Tip: To tune your guitar perfectly, if the needle is slightly to the right of the center of the dial, take the string you want to tune between two fingers and pull it about one centimeter, this will remove a bit of tension and you will avoid using the key keeping the strings stable for tuning.
Join the discussion: does a guitar need tuning more often if you play fast, aggressive riffs?
These tuners are also known as chromatic tuners or electronic tuners. They are usually highly accurate, and they now come in all sorts of different varieties – including some that include a metronome, some that attach to your guitar and pick up the vibrations.
If you do not have an electric or electronic tuner, you can use an online tuner.
This method is certainly less practical than a traditional electric tuner because you must have an excellent Internet connection.
There are, however, 2 categories of on-line tuners: the tuner with audio capture and the tuner without audio capture.
Online Tuner without Audio Capture
This type of tuner simply gives you the reference sound for each string of your guitar. It will help you to understand playing the guitar a little better.
There are three main competitors in the market:
• Simple guitar tuner: an on-line tuner that works by pressing buttons or playing the strings to hear how it should sound. You must then adjust the string to match the sound.
• The more advanced guitar tuner: this type of on-line tuner has options. You select the type of tuning you want and the tuner tells you the notes that you should play on an open string. Note: this type of tuner allows you to record your favorite tunings and to set other types of sounds like the sounds of a guitar with distortion, a guitar with nylon strings, etc.
• The Online Fender Tuner: This is one of the references for online tuners and guitar lessons. With its sleek design, this is one of the few models that show the guitar head and its mechanics. Ideal for beginners to locate and to tune a guitar simply. Simple and intuitive use.
The on-line tuner with audio capture analyzes the sound of your guitar using the microphone on your computer or webcam.
You have to allow access to the your computer’s microphone for it to work.
You then use it the same way as an electronic or electrical tuner except that it is on your computer.
2 tuners of this type stand out:
• Pro Guitar Turner Online Tuner: A complete tuning experience that requires access to your microphone and helps you to tune each string.Easy to use.
• The TICKON line tuner: a tuner that allows you to tune an electric guitar as well as any other stringed instrument like a violin, a ukulele or a bass guitar.It does not indicate the notes of the strings.You need to know how to tune and the use it as a check.
In the internet age, online guitar lessons and smartphones, the latter are more and more complex.
What are the best Iphone and Android applications to tune your guitar?
How can your phone help you to tune your electric guitar? Today, you can use technology to tune in using free or paid applications like EpicTune (on iOS) and Tuner Gstring (on Android). A guitar tuner app works in exactly the same way as an electronic tuner – it’s just one your phone.
Caution: When your guitar is tuned correctly and you start playing your instrument, the energy you put into playing will gently loosen the tuning. Do not start playing guitar fast. Pull the strings with your right hand while you tune it, this will help extend the duration of your tuning.
|Tuning Fork||An old school tuning method. You bang it on your knee and it makes an A note, which can give you a reference to tune your guitar.|
|Pitch pipe||Works as above, but you blow it and it makes a noise.|
|Electronic tuner||Play a string and the tuner will tell you if it is correct.|
|Beat Method||Tune each string in relation to a different string that is correct.|
|Online tuner||Same as an electronic tuner but online|
|App||Same as an electronic tuner but on your phone|
Once your guitar seems well-tuned, play a few key chords that use all strings like E, G, B and A chords and run them together.
Listen to the sound to make sure you have the tuning right.
Play an entire piece trying different techniques like sliding, bending, picking and if the tuning is always the same, your guitar is ready.
A well-known saying of musicians says that “guitar is 50% playing, 50% tuning.”
And yes, you will have to tune your guitar before playing with one hand.
Now calling all guitarist wannabes: How can you start learning the guitar?