How to Tune a Guitar With a Tuner – Step By Step Tutorial

Whether you are a novice musician or have a great deal of experience behind you, knowing how to tune a guitar with a tuner will always be crucial to making music. Even if your tuning is flawless when you start jamming, playing a wide variety of songs will guarantee the need to change or modify your guitar tuning. 

Whether you are switching to drop D or simply maintaining basic tuning, a tuner should be an essential element, ever-present at any band practice, formal set or just simple jam sessions.

Not all musicians are gifted with perfect pitch, therefore, a tuner is necessary to ensure your acoustic or electric guitar maintains its intended sound. There are many free tuning apps available for download, most of which simply play the pitches that your desired tuning requires.

GuitarTuna, for example, is designed to help tune your guitar, bass or ukulele. But this still means tuning by ear. Fender Tune, however, is able to hear the notes of strings plucked and can indicate whether your acoustic guitar or bass is in tune.

For a more advanced, free tuner, Gismart makes a chromatic tuner app that works for most stringed instruments including all types of acoustic guitars (six and 12 string), electric guitar, electric and acoustic bass, ukulele, banjo, violin, and cello.

Though there is an abundance of free tuner apps available, musicians will typically use pocket tuners or clip-on tuners that can determine any pitch that an instrument is playing.

Pocket tuners must be held up to your guitar during the tuning process while clip-on tuners can simply remain on your guitar’s head stock while you tune. There are also pedal tuners, which most lead guitarists use onstage.

How Does a Guitar Tuner Work

How Does a Guitar Tuner Work

A guitar tuner works by detecting specific frequencies; if the frequencies increase, so does the pitch. This is how a tuner is able to indicate whether your E string is sharp or flat.

Basic pocket tuners can typically only identify a small number of pitches, not solidly accounting for accidentals. For the most part, these tuners are only helpful for basic tuning: EADGBE.

However, more advanced, chromatic tuners will detect all sharps and flats. This is especially beneficial for songs that require more complex tuning. For example, a particular favorite tuning of Bob Dylan was Open D, which requires a F#.

Specifically, the tuning is D-A-D-F#-A-D. If you are especially a fan of Delta Blues, a chromatic tuner will certainly be necessary. If you aspire to more of a Zeppelinesque sound, Open A would likely work best: E-A-E-A-C#-E.

More into The Rolling Stones? Keith Richards used Open E: E-B-E-G#-B-E in most Stones hit songs including “Salt of the Earth”, “Prodigal Son”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Jigsaw Puzzle”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

Regardless of your tastes, chromatic tuners are always handy, even if it’s simply for the sake of experimenting with tuning and finding your sound.

How To Tune a Guitar With Different Guitar Tuner

The following steps will ensure that your guitar configured perfectly according to your desired tuning preference:

For a Basic Tuner:

  • Turn on the tuner and hold up close to your guitar, slightly below the sound hole.
  • Play your top string, ensuring that your tuner is against your guitar.
  • If your string is off, turn your pegs until your tuner indicates you are on the pitch. This is typically indicated by a green light.
  • Repeat steps 1-3 for all strings.
  • Play all strings. If your sound is dissonant, you may need to repeat the process.

For a Built-In Tuner:

Some guitars such as the Alvarez will include their own built-in tuner. These tuners are pretty straight forward.

  • Make sure your guitar has a battery!
  • Turn on the tuner button. Wait for the LCD to display a pitch.
  • Follow the steps you would for a basic tuner: play one string, ensure that the LCD display is giving you the pitch that you desire. If not, adjust pegs accordingly.

For a Clip-On Chromatic Tuner:

Fender Clip-On Tuner
  • Clip tuner on the top of your head stock and ensure that you can see the display.
  • Play your top string and ensure that your desired pitch is displayed on your tuner; it should indicate whether your desired note is sharp, flat or an entirely different pitch on the scale.
  • If you are slightly flat or tremendously under your desired pitch, turn your tuning peg counterclockwise to raise the pitch. If your pitch is too high, turn your tuning peg clockwise to lower the pitch.
  • Once you are certain that your sixth string is in tune, repeat steps 1-3 for your remaining five strings.
  • Double check each string to ensure your tuning is what you intended. This is especially important if you are switching to an entirely different tuning than what your guitar was set to previously.
  • Rock out!

For a Pedal Tuner:

  • To switch on the power, connect your guitar to the INPUT jack.
  • Press the pedal switch
  • Play your top string and ensure that your desired pitch is played on the pedal. You will read a meter that will indicate whether you are sharp or flat.
  • Repeat steps 1-3 for remaining strings.
  • Be sure to double check! Typically, tuning on a pedal means that you are performing. You will want to be positive that your guitar is flawlessly tuned!

Be especially meticulous with classical guitars as they may take longer to stretch and tune due to the nylon strings. It is a good idea to stretch your classical guitar strings upon initially restringing them as opposed to waiting a few days once the strings have already dropped in pitch.

You can stretch your new nylon strings by grabbing the middle of each string and forcefully pulling them straight up and away from your guitar.

The more mindful you are about tuning, the more consistent and accurate your sound will be! As you practice your guitar, be sure to play with different tuning in order to find your voice.

You can experiment with tuning as you go, or perhaps you have specific influences whose tuning you've already researched! Don't be afraid to abandon basic tuning for a while and explore new sounds!

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