May 4 2009

Basics: A few tuning tips from Paul…

by Josh

This is the reason I started this site!  After reading yesterday’s post, my buddy Paul provided these additional tuning tips:

  • Always tune low (fatter strings) to high (thinner strings).  The lower strings put higher tension on the guitar’s neck, which can affect the tuning of the higher strings.  If you do this the other way around, you might find that the high strings have gone out of tune after you adjust the lower strings!
  • Always tune the tuning pegs from flat (looser) to sharp (tigher), for largely the same reason as above.  The tigher you make the strings, the more they affect the tension of the guitar’s neck!

Thanks for the tips, Paul!  If anyone else has guitar tuning tips, feel free to provide them in the comments!

May 3 2009

Basics: Tuning the guitar

by Josh

One of the most basic skills you need to begin learning the guitar is how to tune the darned thing!  Nothing sucks worse than finally getting your finger placement correct and having that chord you were working on sound terrible.  There are several ways to go about this process, I’m going to cover the ones that are easiest for me.

First, an anatomy lesson

Depending upon which type of guitar you have, this lesson might vary slightly.  I’m going to focus on a six string guitar since that’s what I’ve got.  It is important to understand the anatomy of the important parts of the guitar for the tuning process.  As you can see, I have found that Wikipedia is a treasure trove of clearly-explained quality guitar information.

  • Headstock – The “top” of your guitar, it usually has the name of the manufacturer of your axe on it.  It also has the tuning pegs on it.
  • Tuning Pegs – The little parts that actually hold the string into your instrument, located in the headstock.  They may be plastic, metal, or ornamental depending on how cool your guitar is.
  • Strings – I really hope this is self-explanatory, but the strings are the little plastic or metal wires that vibrate in order to make the notes that your guitar can play.  You press on them to make different chord formations and notes.

Basic Tuning

Guitars can be tuned so that each string begins at a particular note.  If you have a standard six string guitar like me, you will likely want standard tuning.  The standard tuning is: (low) E – A – d – g – b – (high) e’.  You can see that there are two E-notes (E and e’) listed in the tuning.  Low E is the thickest string (closest to you if you’re holding the guitar like you’re playing) and for each note in the tuning you just progress one string further along the guitar until you reach high E (noted as e’) which will be the thinnest string (furthest away from you).

You physically tune the guitar by plucking an individual string and turning the tuning peg that it is attached to.  The tighter you make the string the higher (or sharper, indicated by the # symbol) the note goes, the looser the the lower (or flatter) it goes.  It only takes small adjustments to tune in most cases, so you shouldn’t need to spin the tuning peg over and over.

Tuning by ear

This method involves having a known source of proper notes for your tuning.  There are several free online guitar tuners that will play each note in turn so you can pluck the appropriate string, adjusting the tuning peg until the note matches the note being played for you.  This tuner at also provides a nice illustration of which strings should be each note.  This one at plays the note over and over again so you don’t have to click, which is very handy.

There’s also a method of tuning using the fretboard, but you have to memorize which frets to hit on which strings.  This is a pretty neat way to get your guitar in tune, but it is too much for me to remember in a pinch.  There is a good Instructable that outlines this process if you’re interested.

These processes can be a bit hard and error-prone if you’re new to this process, so I prefer to have a little more concrete of a check to ensure I’m in tune.

Tuning with a guitar tuning device

My preferred method of tuning a guitar involves a small device called a guitar tuner which is usually battery operated and contains a microphone to pick up the notes you play.  There are many different kinds, some provide an analog dial that shows how close you are to the appropriate note.  Others have a series of LED lights that light up to show how close you are to a note.  Usually these are inexpensive ($20-$30) and are very useful, so I recommend picking one of these up.  Usually different models have different features, so it pays to read the instruction manual to fully understand how to find the tuning you desire.

The one I currently use is an Esteban BC-650 guitar tuner, which also has a line-in for electric guitars and an option to do bass tunings as well.  I was having some trouble locating it online to provide a link, but has the tuner and a guitar stand for around $35, which is a decent deal.  It has a pretty clear readout, which has the notes listed with lights underneath them and an indicator to show if you are above or below a certain note.  For this tuner, you turn the tuning peg until the light turns green for the appropriate note.  It’s pretty easy and you can be sure that you’re in tune this way!

So that about covers it!  If you have any questions, leave a comment or email me!