Standard Guitar Tuning Methods

Not only are there different tunings, there are many different techniques you can use to tune a guitar.

The number one thing you really need is a reference tone, and there a lot of different sources you can get a reference tone from. In fact it’s possible to get a reference tone from any other instrument or sound recording.

I suggest you experiment and learn different ways to tune, that way you can learn which one you prefer. Here are 5 different methods:

Using an Online Guitar Tuner

Check out this online guitar tuner. This guitar tuner can also do alternate guitar tunings; such as Drop D, Open C, Open G, Open D, Open G, Half Step Down, Full Step Down, Open E or Admiral and many more (including a custom mode).

Tuning With an Electronic Tuner

Tuner

There are a variety of electronic tuners on the market today. An electronic tuner monitors the frequency of each of the six strings. The guitar tuning is adjusted until the correct reading on the tuner is given. These are especially good if you are a visual type of person and want to get an exact frequency.

An electric guitar or acoustic guitar with a pick-up can be plugged straight into the tuner. Sound can be picked up by a tiny built in microphone which allows acoustics without pick-ups to be tuned. There is a visual frequency display that will show you with a needle to see how close you are to the proper frequency of any given note. Because of the visual display these tuners are especially helpful in noisy environments, i.e., tuning your guitar in a loud concert hall.

Some electronic tuners also come with adjustable or alternate tunings. Electronic Tuners definitely make guitar tuning easier as they are small and therefore portable. But keep in mind it is helpful to you as a musician to learn to tune by ear as it helps develop your ear, making you a more skillful musician.

Pros of Electronic Tuners:

  • fairly mobile
  • wide variety to choose from
  • some of the better ones are great for alternate tunings
  • a decent one will give very good accuracy

Cons of Electronic Tuners:

  • a decent one can be expensive
  • they are only as good as what you pay
  • you may have to replace batteries from time to time
  • it doesn’t help you develop your ear (a very important skill for any musician)

Guitar Tuning With A Keyboard or Piano

The piano can be an excellent place to find a reference tone. Pianos generally stay in tune for years so they are always a good source to use. Using a Piano or Keyboard the strings on the guitar can be tuned to six keys on the keyboard. The diagram below shows the relationship between the open notes of standard tuning on guitar and a piano.

piano
Pros of Tuning to a Piano:

  • lots of reference tones to choose from
  • as far as instruments go, pianos stay in tune for a long time

Cons of Tuning to a Piano:

  • pianos aren’t that mobile
  • the piano may be slightly out of tune, it may be so slight that you do not notice

Tuning with Harmonics

On certain frets, when a string is played while a finger gently touches it directly over the fret, a harmonic is produced. Keep in mind you are not fretting the note directly against the fretboard you are simply touching the string. Placing a finger over one of these points changes the usual pitch of a vibrating open string.

Instead, a related higher-frequency note will be heard. This harmonic is referred to as an upper partial. The technique shown below uses a series of harmonics to tune the guitar. Over the 5th fret, the harmonic occurs two octaves above the pitch of the open string. Over the 7th fret, the harmonic is an octave and a fifth above open-string pitch.

  1. Tune the 6th string (E) to a tone reference such as an electronic tuner or other instrument
  2. Play the 5th harmonic on the 6th string, let this note ring and play the 7th fret harmonic on the 5th string, adjust the tuning head until they sound the same.
  3. Play the 5th harmonic on the 5th string, let this note ring and play the 7th fret harmonic on the 4th string, adjust the tuning head until they sound the same.
  4. Play the 5th harmonic on the 4th string, let this note ring and play the 7th fret harmonic on the 3rd string, adjust the tuning head until they sound the same.
  5. Play the 7th harmonic on the 6th string, let this note ring and play the open 2nd string, adjust the tuning head until they sound the same.
  6. Play the 5th harmonic on the 6th string, let this note ring and play the open 1st string, adjust the tuning head until they sound the same.

Tuning In Octaves

Another not so common approach to tuning the guitar makes use of octave intervals. To begin with, the open 6th string should be tuned to the note E (you can use an electronic tuner, a piano, a pitchfork, or just wing it by ear to get the correct pitch).

When it is in tune, the open 2nd string (B) can be tuned an octave below the B played on the 7th fret of the 1st string.

With the 2nd string in tune, the open 3rd string (G) can be tuned to the G an octave above on the 8th fret of the 2nd string. The open 4th string (D) can then be tuned to the D an octave above on the 7th fret of the 3rd string.

Similarly, the 5th and 6th strings may also be tuned using the 7th fret octaves.

All the strings except the 3rd should have an interval of an octave between the open string and the 7th fret of the string below. From the 3rd string though, the octave is heard by playing the 8th fret of the 2nd string.

guitar-octave-tuning-positions