Pianos are tuned once or twice a year. Guitars are different – they need tuning every day. They can even go out of tune while you’re playing – so one of the first lessons you need to learn is how to tune a guitar.
Armed with a reliable guitar tuner, you’ll find a lot of the guesswork in tuning a guitar is taken care of – you simply adjust the machineheads based on what the tuner tells you. Here’s what you need to know.
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1. String names
You’ll need to know these inside out. From thickest to thinnest, the strings are E, A, D, G, B and E. Think of a mnemonic like “Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie” to help you remember it, or make up your own one.
2. Using a tuner
Your tuner will automatically detect what note you’re on. In this picture, the red lights are right of centre, telling us the string is a bit too tight (aka sharp) to be an E note. If the red lights were left of centre, obviously that’d be because the string was too loose (aka flat).
Watch out for a ‘#’ symbol or a spot next to the note name. That indicates a sharp note, which means you need to loosen the string a fair bit.
If your guitar is really out of tune, it might say a different letter entirely (e.g., you pluck the G string and the tuner says ‘F’). In that case, you just need to know the alphabet.
If the tuner is saying a letter that comes earlier in the alphabet than you’re expecting, the string is a long way flat/loose; keep tuning up until you see the right letter.
If the letter comes later in the alphabet, you’re a long way sharp. The exception is if you’re tuning the ‘G’ string and the tuner reads ‘A’: then you’re very sharp.
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Now tune up
We’ve covered the basics, now here are the specifics on how to tune a guitar. Remember, there are only three possibilities for whether your guitar is in tune: each string is either flat (too loose), sharp (too tight) or ‘in tune’ (just right). The gauge on your tuner tells you which it is – you just have to adjust your guitar’s machineheads.
3. Six-in-line machineheads, string flat
To raise the pitch (correcting a string that sounds flat), turn the machine head anti-clockwise and tighten the string.
4. Six-in-line machineheads, string sharp
To lower the pitch (correcting a string that’s sharp), turn the machinehead clockwise, lowering the tension in the process.
5. Three-a-side or reverse headstock
If your machine heads point to the floor, the directions are reversed: clockwise to raise the pitch and anticlockwise to lower it.