Learning how to master electric guitar tuning is a crucial skill that every guitarist should acquire early on. Proper tuning not only improves the quality of your playing but also elevates the music you produce.
In this article, we will walk you through the process of electric guitar tuning, step by step. You’ll also discover the various types of tuners available and how to use them effectively. Plus, we’ll share valuable insights on keeping your guitar in tune for longer periods.
Essential Electric Guitar Tuning Techniques
Understanding multiple electric guitar tuning methods is vital, as it ensures you won’t be solely dependent on electronic tuners.
We recommend to familiarize yourself with the strings and tuning pegs before delving into standard tuning.
Get to know the strings of your guitar
- Typically, an electric guitar features six strings. In case you are playing a 7 string guitar, check this guide on how to tune 7 string guitar.
- When tuning, strings start from the thickest to the thinnest.
- The sixth string, or low E, is the thickest
- The fifth string is the A string.
- The fourth string is the D string.
- The third string is the G string.
- The second string is the B string.
- The first string is the thinnest and is called the high E string.
- The strings must be tuned one at a time.
Understanding Your Electric Guitar Tuning Pegs
- The tuning pegs are located on the headstock of your guitar.
- Each of the six strings has a corresponding tuning peg
- Tuning pegs serve to tighten or loosen the strings
- When tuning, pluck the string connected to the tuning peg being adjusted
- Loosen the strings if your guitar’s sound is sharp
- Tighten the strings if the sound is flat
Standard Electric Guitar Tuning
A standard electric guitar tuning involves six strings, each representing a unique note. Following the standard tuning method, the strings are tuned from lowest to highest: low E, A, D, G, B, and high E.
Developing an Accurate Tuning Ear
A well-trained ear directly impacts the precision of your electric guitar tuning and, ultimately, the quality of your music. By honing your listening skills, you’ll be able to understand music better, learn melodies more quickly, and compose music with greater ease.
How does electric guitar tuning differ from acoustic guitar tuning?
Tuning an electric guitar is not very different from tuning an acoustic guitar. The methods are the same for both, but here’s what makes electric guitar tuning different:
- Be cautious not to over-tighten the strings when tuning an electric guitar, as it can cause damage
- Electric guitar notes are less audible when not connected to an amplifier, complicating the tuning process
- Electric guitars can be connected directly to an electronic tuner using a jack cable
Additionally, tuning a bass guitar requires a slightly different approach. Read more about bass guitar tuning here.
How to tune an electric guitar using an electronic tuner?
Using an electronic tuner is a straightforward and accurate way to tune your electric guitar. These devices determine the frequency of the sound produced by your guitar, typically via a built-in microphone and display.
The tuner’s microphone:
- Captures the sound of each string through a microphone
- Indicates on the display how the string should be tuned
- Works best in quiet environments to avoid interference from background noise
- Some models also feature a jack input, allowing you to connect the guitar directly to the tuner with a cable
The tuner’s display:
- Displays your progress toward the desired note as you adjust
- Indicates if the note is flat or sharp using a dial
Types of electronic tuners
Various electronic tuners can help you fine-tune your guitar:
Tuning your electric guitar with a Pedal tuner
- it turns on and works like regular guitar pedals
- Can be connected to the pedal chain, ideally in the first position
- Powered by an electrical network
- Allows hands-free operation, making it easy to work with strings and pegs
- Suitable for onstage use during performances
Tuning your electric guitar with a Handheld tuner
- Compatible with multiple instruments
- Offers adjustable pitch detection
- Portable and battery-operated for convenience
- Best used while seated with the tuner on your lap to keep your hands free
Tuning your electric guitar with a Clip-on tuner
- Attaches to the guitar’s headstock and reads the pitch through vibrations
- Automatically displays the tuned note of each string
- Popular for its compact design, ease of use, and affordability
- Suitable for small and medium-sized stages
Tuning your electric guitar with a Strobe tuner
- Ideal for professional or experienced guitarists
- Utilizes an LED to show if a note is too high or too low
- Reveals the difference between the guitar’s produced frequency and the desired frequency
- Compatible with both built-in microphones and jack cables
- Known for its high accuracy
Tuning your electric guitar with a Rackmount tuner
- Requires an effects rack for use
- Accepts an audio signal from the guitar or a mixing desk
- Suitable for live performances or recording studios
- Tends to be more expensive than other tuners
Check more info on the different types of guitar tuners.
How to tune your electric guitar by ear
As mentioned before, tuning your electric guitar by ear is a vital skill that trains your listening abilities and boosts your confidence in tuning your guitar without a tuner. Let’s explore the most popular methods for tuning by ear.
The “Fifth Fret” Method for Electric Guitar Tuning
This widely-used technique involves tuning your electric guitar to itself by playing one tuned string alongside an out-of-tune string while holding the fifth fret. Compare the two sounds and adjust the tuning pegs until the strings produce the same note.
Holding the fifth fret is crucial because, for example, a low E will play the note A, which is the same as the following string. The G-B strings are an exception, where you should hold the fourth fret.
Step-by-Step Guide to the “Fifth Fret” Electric Guitar Tuning Method:
Tune the Low E string (sixth string)
- Use a reference E-note (from a recording or a tuned instrument) to help you recognize whether your string is too high or too low
- Play the sixth string on your guitar and adjust the tuning pegs until it matches the reference note
Tune the A string (fifth string)
- Place your finger on the fifth fret and play the sixth and fifth strings
- Listen for any discrepancies and adjust the tuning pegs until the notes sound the same
Tune the D string (fourth string)
- Follow the same process as before: hold the fifth fret and play the fifth and fourth strings
- Adjust the tuning pegs until the notes are even
Tune the G string (third string)
- The string type changes at this point, affecting the tone
- Hold down the fifth fret and play the fourth and third strings
- Adjust the tuning pegs until the notes sound the same
Tune the B string (second string)
- Be cautious – place your finger on the fourth fret and play the third and second strings
- Adjust the tuning peg until the notes sound the same
Tune the High E string (first string)
- Place your finger on the fifth fret and play the second and first strings
- Listen for any discrepancies and adjust the tuning peg as needed
Tuning Your Electric Guitar with Other Instruments
A popular method for tuning an electric guitar without a tuner is using another tuned instrument, such as a piano. Pianos are fixed-pitch instruments that produce a consistent pitch across all pianos, making them ideal for ensuring your guitar strings are in tune.
Step-by-Step Guide to Tuning Your Electric Guitar with a Piano:
Find the middle C on the piano
- Middle C is located below the two black keys in the center of the keyboard.
- Middle C is the fourth C from left to right on the piano – C4.
Identify the corresponding piano key for each guitar string
- The 1st string (high E-string) is one key to the right of middle C.
- The 2nd string (B-string) is on the left, just next to middle C.
- The 3rd string (G-string) is on the left, one key away from B.
- The 4th string (D-string) is on the left, two keys away from G.
- The 5th string (A-string) is on the left, two keys away from D.
- The 6th string (low E-string) is on the left, two keys away from A.
Start tuning the guitar
- Play the piano key for the string you want to tune
- Play the string
- Listen if the two sounds
- Press the piano key that corresponds to the string you are tuning.
- Immediately after, play the string.
- Listen to the sounds and turn the tuning peg until the two sound identical.
- Repeat for all strings.
For more information, check our complete guide on How to tune your guitar with a piano.
Tips for improving your ear for tuning
Ear training and tuning your electric guitar by ear offer numerous benefits. Developing your aural ability, or the capacity to listen and remember what you hear, is essential for guitarists. Here are some easy tricks to enhance this skill:
Practice active listening
This simple exercise requires you to close your eyes and focus on the sounds surrounding you. Ask yourself questions like:
- What do you hear?
- What is the sound – quiet or loud?
- What is the rhythm – fast or slow?
- Where does the sound come from – from above, below, from the side?
Pitch ear training
- Pick up your guitar and play a note.
- After it dies down, hear the sound in your head. This is called auralization.
- Sing or hum the note, trying to replicate the guitar’s pitch.
Learning songs by ear
- Play your favorite song and start playing along with it.
- If you make a mistake, keep going and see how many notes you can pick up
- Repeat it a few times, and when you get confident, try playing it without the background song.
- Don’t worry if you still make mistakes. The goal is to have fun while training your hearing.
Tuning Your Electric Guitar Using a Smartphone App
In today’s technological era, numerous smartphone apps can help you tune your guitar. This method is especially popular among beginners and younger individuals.
How smartphone guitar tuning apps work
The app uses your smartphone’s microphone to detect your guitar’s pitch, determining if it’s too high or low. Adjust the tuning pegs until the display indicates that the string is in tune.
Pros and Cons of Tuning Your Electric Guitar with Smartphone Apps:
- Smartphone tuning apps are always with you.
- They are easy to use.
- They are not expensive, and you can find some tuning apps available for free
- They are suitable for beginners.
- It should be used in a completely quiet environment because the microphone will pick up all the background noise, and the reading may be false.
- Tuning with a smartphone is unreliable because the microphone is not designed for professional sound reading but for conversations.
- Don’t forget that this is a phone, after all, and someone can call you at any time, including while tuning your guitar.
- Free apps have annoying ads that pop up every now and then.
Recommended guitar tuning apps
If you’ve decided to try this tuning method, you might want to check out the following apps:
- GuitarTuna (Android and iOS)
- Fender Tune (Android and iOS)
- PitchLab Guitar Tuner (Android)
- GuitarTapp PRO (iOS)
Alternate electric guitar tunings
Altered tunings enable you to experiment with your guitar’s sound, unlocking its full potential and adding variety to your playing style. Before exploring alternate tunings, ensure you have a good grasp of standard tuning.
Common alternate tunings
Tuning your electric guitar to Drop D
The difference between Standart tuning and this is that low E is tuned down to D. From EADGBE for Standart tuning, it becomes DADGBE for Drop D.
This method is used more often in heavy metal and grunge music.
Tuning your electric guitar to Open D
In the Open D method, you should:
- drop low E to D
- drop G to #F
- drop B to A
- drop high E to D
Simply put – DADF♯AD.
Open-D tuning is common for blues and slide guitar players.
Tuning your electric guitar to Drop C
Drop C tuning is a popular alternate guitar tuning where the low E string is tuned down two steps to a C. The rest of the strings are tuned down one step each (from lowest to highest): C-G-C-F-A-D.
It is often used in heavy metal, hard rock, and other styles of music that require a heavier and darker sound.
Tuning your electric guitar to Open G
In the Open G method, you should:
- drop low E to D
- drop A to G
- drop high E to D
Simply put – DGDGBD
Open G is an excellent choice for folk and blues musicians. Find out more about Open guitar tunings.
Tuning your electric guitar to GABDEG
In the GABDEG method, you should:
- tune up low E to G
- tune up D to B
- tune up G to D
- tune up B to E
- tune up high E to G
Simply put – DGDGBD
GABDEG is great for exploring rock, dream pop, and metal music.
How to keep your guitar in tune for longer
To ensure your guitar remains well-tuned and in good condition, follow these useful tips:
- Ensure the strings are correctly placed before tuning.
- Stretch new strings while tuning them for the first time.
- Change strings on time. If they’re difficult to keep in tune, stiff, too loose, dirty, or have spots, it’s time to replace them.
- Check for minor guitar damage, such as a raised bridge, uneven frets, or neck issues, and fix them before they worsen.
- Lubricate contact points between the strings and the guitar body.
- Lubricate the guitar nut.
- Be mindful of your playing technique. Striking strings too hard or pressing them too firmly on the fretboard can result in sharp sounds.
- Start tuning from a string below the desired pitch and slowly wind up until you reach it. Over-tightening a string and then tuning down to the correct pitch can cause slack.
- Pay attention to the tremolo system and ensure it is properly tuned. Lubricate all pivot points.
- Store your guitar indoors with consistent temperature and humidity.
- Use high-quality strings suitable for your guitar.
Armed with this information, you can now tune your guitar effectively. Enjoy the process, and remember that each attempt helps you improve as a musician.
I don’t know why, but I just remembered a fun fact – John Lennon purposely detuned his 4th string so that he could recognize his parts in Beatles songs. Genius!
How to properly wind strings when changing them?
When winding strings, ensure you wind them down from the tuning hole, with each wind neatly stacked. Smaller diameter strings require fewer wraps, with 2-4 wraps generally being best.
Is half step down a popular guitar tuning?
Yes, Half-step down guitar tuning, also known as E Flat is a common alternate tuning. Read more on the topic here.
Check out this video for more clarity about how to tune your electric guitar: