How To Tune An Electric Guitar: A Complete Guide

Tuning is one of the most essential parts of learning to play guitar. And luckily, in the modern age, tuning can be as easy as scrolling to an app on your smartphone! That said, there are many different ways to tune a guitar and several elements to consider.

In this article, I’ll go through different techniques for tuning an electric guitar, such as tuning by ear or using tuning devices such as clip-on tuners, tuner pedals, and microphone tuners.

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How to tune an electric guitar

Here are the main methods for tuning an electric guitar.

Tune by ear

The old-fashioned way! Trust your musical ear and tune with your ears instead of having a device tell you how to tune. This method takes practice, of course. A beginner guitarist isn’t going to be able to tune by ear for the first time unless they have perfect pitch.

Clip-On Tuner (vibration-based)

A clip-on tuner is attached to the guitar’s headstock. The clip is intended to secure the tuner in place while it detects the vibrations of the guitar strings. When you pluck a guitar string, vibrations are detected by the clip-on tuner’s built-in piezo sensor or accelerometer.

The detected pitch is shown on the tuner’s screen. Most clip-on tuners have an LCD or LED display that displays the note name (e.g., A, E, D, G) and indicate whether the string is in tune or needs to be adjusted. Some tuners will have an arrow pointing to the direction to tune the string, and some will have a moving dial shifting from left to right, with the center point being in tune.

Microphone Tuner

Microphone tuners record the sound of the guitar strings using the built-in microphone on a device (such as a smartphone, tablet, or specialized tuner). 

When you pluck your guitar strings, the microphone tuner analyzes the pitch and determines the fundamental frequency of the string being played.

The tuner’s algorithm calculates string pitch by comparing the fundamental frequency to its known pitch values. It finds the nearest musical note that corresponds to the observed frequency and displays it on a screen. It also will show you some indication of which way to tune the string, such as a sharp (♯) or flat (♭) symbol.

Tuner pedal (plug in tuner)

Tuner pedals are often used on stage by professionals. They are more expensive than clip-on or microphone tuners, but they are more accurate and enable you to tune quietly.

Tuner pedals have an input jack to plug in your guitar and an output jack that goes straight to your amp (or other effects pedals). When the tuner pedal is engaged, the signal from your guitar is muted, preventing any noise from being sent to the amplifier. These tuners are the perfect way to tune your guitar during a live gig without forcing the audience to listen.

Different methods for tuning an electric guitar

Now you know the different tools you can use to tune a guitar, let’s dive into how to actually tune it!

What order to tune the strings

When tuning the strings on an electric guitar, you should start with the thickest string (low E) and proceed from thickest to thinnest.

  • Low E string: (6th string)
  • A string : (5th string)
  • D string : (4th string)
  • G string : (3rd string)
  • B string : (2nd string)
  • E string : (1st string)

Tune by ear: how to tune an electric guitar without a tuner

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The ability to tune an electric guitar without a tuner is a skill worth cultivating. If you can learn to tune your guitar by ear, you’ll be sure to impress your fellow musicians! The fifth fret technique and harmonic tuning are the most frequent approaches to tuning by ear. 

Both approaches need a well-developed ear for music and a sense of pitch. Tuning by ear might take time and effort. It’s important to pay close attention to what the strings sound like and make little tweaks until they’re in tune.

Let’s look at both methods.

Method 1: 5th fret tuning method

Step one: tune the low E string

First, make sure your low E string (6th string) is in tune. You should use a tuning fork or another instrument as a reference pitch.

Step two: place your finger on the 5th fret

With your index finger, press the 5th fret on the low E string (6th string). This gives you an A note when plucked, which should be the same pitch as the next open string (the A string).

Step three: tune the A string

Pluck the 5th fret of the low E string while simultaneously plucking the open A string. Adjust the A string’s tuning peg until the two pitches match and sound in unison.

Step four: tune the D and G strings

Continue with the D and G strings. Repeat the process by touching the fifth fret of the A string and plucking it at the same time as the next open string, tuning them until they sound in sync.

Step five: tune the B string

When you get to the B string (2nd string), place your index finger on the 4th fret of the G string (3rd string) and play the strings in unison.

Step six: tune the high E string

Like the other strings, simply place your index finger on the 5th fret of the B string and play it at the same time as the open high E string, adjusting the high E until the pitches match.

Method 2: Harmonic tuning method

Step one: tune the low E string

Begin by using a tuning fork, a tuner, or another instrument as a reference pitch to ensure that your low E string (6th string) is in tune.

Step two: play a 5th fret harmonic

Pluck the E string by lightly touching it above the 5th fret without pushing it down. This results in a harmonic.

Step three: tune the A string

Play the 5th fret harmonic on the E string (6th string) and then the 7th fret harmonic on the A string (5th string). These harmonics will create the exact same pitch when the strings are in tune. Adjust the tuning peg on the A string until the pitch of the two harmonics is the same.

Step four: tune the D and G strings

Repeat the procedure D string (4th string) and the G string (3rd string).

Step five: tune the B string

This tuning method changes a bit when you get to the B string (2nd string). The interval between the G string and the B string does not allow for the 5th/7th fret harmonic tuning method, so you have 2 options:

Option 1: 9th and 5th fret harmonics on the G string and B string

While you can’t use the 5th fret and 7th fret harmonics to tune the B string, you can use the 9th fret harmonic on the G string and the 5th fret harmonic on the B string. These 2 harmonics should match up when in tune.

Option 2: Tune with the 5th fret method

Another option is to simply use the 5th fret method by playing the 5th fret on the G string and the open B string.

Step six: tune the high E string

After tuning the B string, you can tune the high E string by playing the 5th fret harmonic of the B string and the 7th fret harmonic of the high E string.

How to tune an electric guitar with a clip-on tuner

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Using a clip-on tuner to fine-tune an electric guitar is a quick and straightforward process. Here is a step-by-step rundown.

Step one: attach the clip-on tuner to the headstock

Simply attach the tuner to the electric guitar’s headstock using the included clips. Make sure it’s fastened firmly and at a place where the tuner can pick up the sound of the strings vibrating.

Step two: power on the tuner

Press the power button on the tuner to turn the tuner on and start using the screen.

Step three: pluck the strings

Pluck the sixth string (the low E) to start and let the string ring clearly. 

Step four: follow the display

Observe what the clip-on tuner displays on its screen. The identified string’s pitch will be shown. A needle, LED lights, arrows, or color-changing backlight may be used in addition to the note name (e.g., A, E, G) and a sharp (♯) or flat (♭) symbol.

Step five: adjust the tuning peg

If the tuner shows that a string is out of tune, rotate the matching tuning peg to bring it up to pitch. If the string is flat, turn the peg clockwise to tighten the string and raise its pitch.

If the string is sharp, it should be lowered in pitch by loosening the tuning peg in an anticlockwise direction. Pluck the string again after making minor modifications to check the pitch.

Step six: repeat for each string

Pluck each string, check the tuner’s display, and make fine-tuned adjustments to the tuning peg as needed.

Lev’s pick: Snark SN-5X Clip-On Tuner

My preferred clip-on tuner is the Snark SN-5X Clip-On Tuner

It has a bright, easy-to-read readout, can rotate 360 degrees for flexible placement, and is very accurate. It has a strong clamp that attaches securely to the headstock. Many guitarists use and trust the Snark SN-5X cause of its stability and affordability.

How to tune an electric guitar with a tuner pedal

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Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to tune an electric guitar using a tuner pedal.

Step one: connect the guitar to your pedal

Using a regular ¼” guitar cable, connect your electric guitar to the tuner pedal’s input jack. If you are playing a live gig or practicing with an amp, use another guitar cable to connect the pedal to the amp.

Step two: engage the tuner pedal

To activate the tuner, most tuner pedals feature a central footswitch. Press the footswitch to turn the tuner on. When turned on, the tuner pedal mutes the signal from your guitar, allowing you to tune quietly without any guitar sound being emitted through the amplifier.

Step three: pluck the string

Start by plucking the low E string (6th string) and allowing it to ring out.

Step four: follow the display

Follow the screen on your tuner pedal as you pluck. The low E string’s pitch will be displayed. Depending on the model of your tuner pedal, the display may have a needle, LEDs, or a digital readout to show the note name and whether or not the string is in tune.

If a string is out of tune, the tuner will tell you, and you can fix it by adjusting the relevant tuning peg. If the string’s pitch is too low, you can raise it by tightening the tuning peg in a clockwise direction and vice versa.

Follow the same steps for all the strings.

Lev’s pick: Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner

If you are looking for a tuner pedal that can do it all, I recommend the Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner.

It has a large red display of the note, and the orange and red colors that signify the pitch are legible in low light and can be seen from a distance. Professional guitarists often prefer the Boss TU-3 due to its high quality and dependability.

How to tune an electric guitar with a microphone tuner

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Here’s a step-by-step rundown on how to tune your guitar using a microphone tuner.

Step one: position the microphone

The microphone may be your phone’s microphone if you use a smartphone tuner app or a separate tuning device with a microphone.

Nonetheless, position the microphone receiver of the tuner such that it can adequately catch the sound of your guitar strings. 

Step two: turn on the tuner

Once you’re ready, open your tuner app. If you’re using an external microphone, ensure it’s correctly connected to your device.

Step three: adjust sensitivity and settings

You may be able to alter sensitivity and settings depending on the tuner app or microphone tuner you’re using. Adjust the sensitivity so that the tuner can precisely catch the pitch of your electric guitar strings. 

Step four: pluck the strings

Start by plucking the low E string (6th string) and allowing it to ring out.

Step five: follow the tuner display

Check out the tuner’s screen on your phone’s display or on the tuner device. It will tell you whether a string is in tune or out of tune and display the corresponding pitch name.

Step six: adjust the tuning peg

If a string is out of tune, fix it by adjusting the relevant tuning peg.

Step seven: tune the remaining strings

Pluck each string, check the tuner’s display, and make fine-tuned adjustments to the tuning pegs of all the other strings as well.

Lev’s pick: Korg TM60

My favorite microphone tuner is the Korg TM60.

The Korg TM60 has a built-in microphone as well as a metronome, making it a useful tool for musicians. The TM 60 has a big LCD display with a needle-style meter for clear and easy-to-read tuning feedback. 

Another awesome feature of the Korg TM60 is that it comes with a clip-on tuner attached to the device by a cable, so it can either be used as a microphone tuner or a clip-on tuner.

Best apps for tuning your guitar

Many guitarists prefer to just use their smartphones to tune their guitars purely for the sake of convenience. Here are some of the best guitar tuner apps out there.

GuitarTuna (iOS/Android)

An excellent tuner app that includes exact tuning, chord learning, and a metronome. GuitartTuna is very accessible, with a rating of 4.7 out of nearly 2.5 million reviews!

Fender Tune (iOS/Android):

This is Fender’s dependable tuner app for guitars, basses, and ukuleles, with a user-friendly design and chord charts. Fender Tune has a rating of 4.6 out of over 150,000 reviews.

Pro Guitar Tuner (iOS/Android): 

This simple and effective tuner app for Android and iOS smartphones supports various instruments and tunings.

Things that affect the tuning of your guitar

Ever wonder why your guitar isn’t staying in tune? Here are some of the main factors that affect your guitar’s tuning.

Temperature and climate

Extreme temperature fluctuations and high humidity levels may cause the wood and metal pieces to expand and contract, impacting string tension and, ultimately, your tuning stability.

String age and quality

As new strings settle, they need regular re-tuning, but aged strings may lose their flexibility, decreasing tuning stability. Also, if you are not using good-quality coated guitar strings, your strings will likely wear out much faster.

Tremolo system

Using a tremolo system (whammy bar) can easily knock your guitar out of tune. If you want to use a whammy bar without knocking your guitar out of tune, I recommend using a Floyd Rose bridge.

Playing Style

Aggressive playing, bending, and powerful vibrato may lead strings to fall out of tune faster.

Nut not adjusted properly

Most of the time, if your guitar is having tuning issues, you need to adjust the nut. If the nut is not adjusted properly, your action may be too high. If your electric guitar’s action is too high, the fretted notes will be slightly out of tune.

Popular alternate tunings

The standard tuning for a guitar is  E | A | D | G | B | E, but there are plenty of alternate tuning options that guitarists use to experiment with different tones. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Drop D tuning (D | A | D | G | B | E)

Lowers the pitch of the low E string to D, producing a hefty and powerful sound suitable for rock and metal.

Open G tuning (D | G | D | G | B | D)

This open tuning sets the guitar to a G major chord, which allows for effortless slide guitar and a bluesy vibe.

Open D tuning (D | A | D | F# | A | D)

Tuning the guitar to a D major chord gives the guitar an open and ambient sound, which is often used in folk, blues, and slide guitar performance. 

Open E tuning (E | B | E | G# | B | E)

Tuning the guitar to an E major chord produces a bright tone and makes it easier to play complex, open-sounding chords.

Drop C tuning (C | G | C | F | A | D)

In drop C tuning, you turn all the notes down a full step and then tune the lowest string down another step. This tuning is essentially the same as drop D, but all six strings are a full step lower.

Half-step down tuning (Eb | Ab | Db | Gb | Bb | Eb)

Lower all strings by one half-step for a slightly lower and darker tone. Guitarists like Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix commonly used this tuning to fit their vocal ranges.

Double drop D tuning (D | A | D | G | B | D)

Lower both the low E and high E strings to D, allowing for more chord voicings and power chords.

How to tune other types of guitars

Tuning other types of guitars generally follows the same process.

How to tune a 7-string guitar

The low B string is added to the standard tuning of a 6-string guitar (B | E | A | D | G | B | E). Make sure the other strings are in tune with the seventh string once you’ve tuned the B string to the correct pitch.

How to tune an 8-string guitar

Eight-string guitars typically have two additional low strings that are normally tuned from low F# and B. The strings should be tuned in fourths, beginning with the low F# (F# | B | E | A | D | G | B | E).

How to tune a bass guitar

Most 4 string bass guitars are tuned to the standard E-A-D-G tuning. You can follow the same procedure for basses as for guitars. 

Have more questions about getting started playing guitar? Feel free to reach out, I am always happy to help.

Check out guitar-chord.org, for more info on tunings, guitar chords, and other guitar-related resources.

Last updated 2024-06-22 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API