If you want to play your electric guitar well consistently, learning how to tune it correctly is crucial. The sooner you learn how to tune your guitar, the faster you’ll be able to enjoy playing it regularly.
I, too, delayed learning to tune my guitar properly for far too long, which hampered my early development as a guitarist.
There are multiple methods for tuning an electric guitar, but I’ll mainly concentrate on standard tuning. This will provide a solid foundation in understanding pitch and harmony.
While some of these techniques are specific to electric guitars, most can also be applied to tuning an acoustic guitar!
It’s essential to know how to tune a guitar in various ways, as you should never be entirely dependent on an electronic tuner. Therefore, I’ll cover how to tune a guitar without a tuner and how to tune a guitar using an app.
How To Tune
Tune By Ear:
Before resorting to an electronic tuner, every guitarist should learn to tune by ear. This valuable skill will benefit you throughout your guitar playing career.
These electronic tuners detect the sound of each string through a microphone. They feature a basic interface and a display that clearly indicates how close your string is to being in tune.
Ideal for tuning an electric guitar in noisy or busy environments, vibration-based tuners are popular among guitarists and come in various shapes and sizes.
Often found on stage alongside other exciting pedals, plug-in/pedal tuners are perfect for gigs and studio settings.
The following is a beginner’s guide on tuning an electric guitar, covering the most common methods as well as some more modern techniques.
Mastering tuning now will help you as you start playing beginner guitar songs. Playing an out-of-tune guitar is not a pleasant experience. Once you have a reliable method of tuning, you can start playing and having fun.
I will also discuss the concepts behind standard tuning and the value of experimenting with alternative tunings.
Let’s get started!
Properly Tuning a Guitar
The standard tuning for a guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E.
Several useful mnemonics can help you remember which note corresponds to each string. Once you know which note you’re tuning your strings to, it’s time to begin tuning!
Standard tuning enables you to learn all the fundamental guitar chords and notes in their proper positions.
As you advance, you will experiment with alternative tunings. However, standard tuning will always serve as a foundation and guide for navigating the fretboard.
Most electric guitarists use plug-in/pedal tuners, but it’s also essential to learn how to tune an electric guitar without an amp.
Tuning A Guitar Without A Tuner
Tuning by ear is a standard method for tuning the guitar and an invaluable lesson for beginners. This skill will improve your ability to recognize pitch and help you understand harmony.
With this technique, you’re tuning the guitar relative to itself. It’s crucial to learn this method, as it helps your ear hear pitch variations and the relationships between notes.
Follow these steps to tune a guitar without a tuner:
- Familiarize yourself with the pegs on the side of the guitar’s headstock, which you’ll use to tune your guitar. This should be similar for both electric and acoustic guitars.
- Low E string: This method requires the low E string to already be in tune. Tune your E string to a piano’s E as a reference. If a piano isn’t available, you could use another guitar as your reference pitch.
- A String: Play the fifth fret on the Low E string (an A) and tune your A string to match. This is the method used to tune the remaining strings.
- D String: Play the fifth fret on the A string, which is a D note. Tune your D string to match this note.
- G String: Use the same method to tune the G string.
- B String: To tune the B string, the method changes slightly. Instead of using the fifth fret of the G string, play the fourth fret to find the pitch for the open B string.
- High E String: Return to the original fifth fret method to tune the high E string.
Remembering the frets for this method is known as the ‘55545’ technique.
If you have a six-string guitar, you should use this method to keep it in tune. Some people may find it more intuitive than others. Even if it’s challenging at first, it’s worth persevering.
Now that you’ve learned how to tune an electric guitar by ear and relative to itself, let’s look at electronic tuners. In the future, you’ll likely use an electronic tuner more often than tuning by ear.
However, it’s essential not to forget this skill, as it significantly improves your ear training for pitch recognition.
Tuning an Electric Guitar with an Electronic Tuner
For a more straightforward way of tuning your guitar, you can choose from various electronic guitar tuners. Over the years, the industry has developed many innovative electronic tuners to make your tuning experience easier and more accurate.
There are three types of tuners:
- Microphone-based tuners
- Vibration-based tuners
- Plug-in/pedal tuners
Each type has its pros and cons, and all are widely available and relatively easy to use. You can decide which one to use based on your preferences and needs.
Microphone-based tuners are an excellent addition to your guitar accessory collection and are particularly useful for tuning electric guitars.
As the name suggests, these tuners pick up the sound of each string through a microphone. Most have a straightforward interface and a display that clearly shows how close your string is to being in tune.
They are widely available and generally affordable. For beginners, the simple display and intuitive usage make them an ideal entry point for tuning electric guitars.
The main downside of a microphone-based electronic guitar tuner is that the microphone will pick up other noise. If you’re tuning your guitar this way, you’ll need to find a relatively quiet place to do so.
I recommend the Korg CA-50. This tuner has a wide detection range and marks for pure major and minor third intervals. You can purchase these tuners online and in reputable music stores.
If you’re concerned about tuning your guitar in a noisy environment, consider using a vibration-based tuner for your electric guitar. These tuners clip onto the headstock of the guitar and detect the pitch of each note through vibrations.
Many of these clip-on tuners are small and convenient, with a needle and interface that usually light up when the string is in tune. Tuning an electric guitar with a vibration-based tuner is quick and easy.
The only downside is that they may seem like an unattractive addition to your electric guitar’s headstock. For many electric guitarists, style is important. Fortunately, there are plenty of other tuners to choose from.
Plug-in or pedal tuners might be the option you use most if you plan to play electric guitar on stage.
While vibration and microphone-based tuners can be used on any guitar, plug-in/pedal tuners are designed specifically for electric guitarists.
You connect your electric guitar via a jack lead. The interface will give you an indication via a light or needle as to how close each string is to being in tune. The downside to these electronic guitar tuners is that they are usually more expensive than vibration or microphone-based tuners.
I recommend the Behringer TU300 or the Boss TU3. Both of these models are popular among electric guitarists for various reasons. They are reasonably priced, reliable, and make tuning an electric guitar exceptionally easy.
Best Guitar Tuning Apps
You might also want to know how to tune a guitar with an app. If you have an electric guitar and a smartphone, finding the right tuning app will be essential.
Finding a good app can make a huge difference when you’re trying to set up your electric guitar before a gig or when you have limited time for preparation.
Many tuning apps are available for free on Apple and Android app stores. However, sometimes it’s worth investing a bit of money to ensure you get a tuning app that is reliable, fast, and easy to use.
How to Tune a Guitar With An App
I always tune my electric guitar before starting a practice or a lesson with my Guitar Tricks app. Their tuner includes real guitar tones, so you know how every string should sound.
The software is reliable, and the interface is intuitive. It is a no-fuss app that will get the job done for your electric guitar.
Below, I’ve listed a few other tuning apps for both iOS and Android that have proved to be useful to many guitarists over the years:
- Cleartune is a widely popular tuning app for electric guitars, available for both Android and iOS.
- VITALtuner is another excellent option.
- Ultimate Guitar: Chords and Tabs also has a handy tuner within their app.
Now that you know how to tune a guitar with an app, you can explore some alternative tunings to experiment with.