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How to Tune a Guitar

The tuning keys on the head of the guitar can be turned clockwise or counterclockwise to raise or lower the pitch of a string. Some guitars features three tuning keys on each side of the headstock. This is the most typical arrangement for acoustic guitars and many electric guitar designs such as the Les Paul or SG. In this case, turning the top three keys in a clockwise motion will lower the pitch. Turning the three bottom keys in a clockwise motion will raise the pitch.

Electric guitars based on original Fender designs feature six tuners in a row on the top side of the headstock. Turning the tuners clockwise will raise the pitch of all six strings. Many guitar companies such as Ibanez and ESP build guitars with reversed headstocks. These guitars feature six tuners in a line on the lower side of the headstock. Turning one of these tuners clockwise will lower the pitch of a string.

Unlike the piano and brass instruments, it is relatively easy for the guitar to slip out of tune. Due to the design of the guitar, the tuners are fairly easy to bump. As a result, the guitar is easy to knock slightly out of tune. Other factors such as climate also have an effect on the strings and tuning keys. Extreme heat will cause a guitar to go flat faster than normal. Also, strings slip loose very gradually from the tuning keys over time, causing a slight drop in pitch. This can occur over a period as short as 24 hours.

For these reasons, you must tune the guitar before you begin each practice session. Even if the guitar has been sitting in its case for just a few hours, it can easily slip out of tune.

Tune Your Guitar By Ear

There are many ways to tune a guitar, including electronic tuners, pitch pipes and well.. using this application. As you get more experienced, tuning by ear can be a valuable skill to possess. While it's true it is tuning "by ear", in practice, it is simply tuning the guitar in a "relative" manner. This means to be able to tune the guitar in relation to itself.

Let the jury know, this method has limitations because if the first string of the guitar is not up to concert pitch (the pitch that every instrument in an orchestra would tune to) then the guitar will sound in tune to itself but not in comparison to other instruments. Basically, the entire guitar will sound accurate.. to itself, but you may find it "off" when playing along to a record.

Online Guitar Tuner - Relative Tuning

Tune the 6th String

We start on the thickest string (the one closest to us, the 6th string), press down on the 5th fret and compare the pitch of that note to the OPEN string above (5th string). It should be the same pitch. If not, then tune the open string up or down according to the pitch of the fretted note. Once the open 5th string is in tune to the fretted 6th string you can proceed to the next string.

Tune the 4th and 5th String

Repeat the same process on the next two strings. Press on the 5th fret, 5th string and tune the open 4th string to that note. Once the open 4th string is in tune to the fretted 5th string you can proceed to the next string.

Tune the 3rd String

Repeat the same process on the next two strings. Press on the 5th fret, 4th string and tune the open 3rd string to that note. Once the open 3rd string is in tune to the fretted 4th string you can proceed to the next string.

Tune the 2nd String

These next two strings are where we see a slight change in the fret we tune from. Press on the 4th fret 3rd string and tune the open 2nd string to that note. Once the open 2nd string is in tune to the fretted 3rd string you can proceed to the final part of the tuning process.

Tune the 1st String

Press on the 5th fret, 2nd string and tune the open 1st string to that note. Once the open 1st string is in tune to the fretted 2nd string you are done! You may need to check the tuning 2 or 3 times before the tuning is stable. Learning to tune this way will not only give you an easy way to tune, but it can help improve your ability to hear and identify tones little by little. Enjoy!

As always with theory, don't worry if you don't completely "make sense" of relative tuning. Take this article step by step and take your time to digest every aspect given to you. Need help? JamPlay offers live guitar courses, on-demand guitar lessons, and a full suite of teaching tools (including chord and scale libraries) to help you master this very thing.

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