Tuning the guitar – a beginners guide

Tuning your guitar might be the least enjoying but for sure is one of the most important parts when making music. It should be learned and practiced properly from the very beginning and should never be neglected.

When developing the musical hearing you should always practice with a guitar in tune. Only this way it is possible for the ear to get used to clean and good tuning and learn to distinguish even small aberrations.


The standard tuning of the guitar is e b g d A E from first to sixth string. Very common also is a dropped D for the 6th strig, but for the tuning stay with the standard first.


Ways of tuning the guitar

  1. With the use of an electronic tuner

This is probably the easiest way most beginners use, but of little use to train the ear. With this method you simple play the open strings individually and the electronic tuner (a clip on, or an app on a smartphone or tablet) will pick up the sound and tell you if and how much you are out of tune. just adjust the tuning following the tuners directions. On older tuners it might be that you have to set the string that you are currently tuning.

2. Tuning one string with a reference tone (tuning fork, tuning pipe, electronic tuner)

This is the method I strongly recommend you to learn and practice. Further down this article you will read more reasons why this is so.

The first step would now be to tune one of the strings with a reference, most likely and the oldest way a tuning fork, but you could also use the sound of another instrument, for example the piano, or maybe even an electronic tuner. If you use the tuning fork you would tune the 5th or A- string. With the other methods you could also start tuning the 1st or e-String first.

Now you have many different ways to tune the other strings from this reference string. Lets begin with the easiest one: Tuning with unisons, so with two notes of the same pitch.

Therefore you have to press the 6th string (E) in the 5th fret (A) to sound like the open string 5 (A).

The 5th (A) string in the 5th fret (d) to sound like the open string 4 (d).

The 4th (d) string in the 5th fret (g) to sound like the open string 3 (g).

The 3rd (g) string in the 4th fret (b) to sound like the open string 2 (b).

The 2nd (b) string in the 5th fret (e) to sound like the open string 1 (e).

and finally you can compare the 1st string and the 6th string sounding two octaves apart.

Why there is a different interval between the 3rd  and 2nd string will be explained in a different article talking about the basic features of the guitar.


Another way to tune the guitar is by using natural harmonics (if you don’t know what harmonics are, please check out the linked article on harmonics).

You again start from the 5th string tuned with the tuning fork (A).

With the finger you just sightly touch the 6th (E) string directly above the 5th fret wire (not as usually pushing down between the two wires) and then pluck the string and take away the finger, you will hear an almost bell like tone. Repeat this with the 5th string above the 7th fret and compare the two notes and tune the 6th string accordingly.

Now you continue tuning the 4th string by first plucking the 5th string touching it above the 5th fret wire (producing the harmonic again) and then the 4th string above the 7th fret wire.

Next you play the harmonic on the 4th string above the 5th fret and the harmonic on the 3rd string above the 7th fret wire to tune the 3rd (g) string.

Because of the difference of 2nd and 3rd string now you need to change the pattern a bit. To tune the 2nd string you play the harmonic on the 6th string above the 7th fret (sounding b) and play the 2nd string (b) as an open string.

The first string you play the harmonic on the 5th string above the 7th fret (sounding e) and play the 1st string (e) as an open string. You could also then compare the 2nd string above the 5th fret (harmonic) to the 1st string above the 7th fret.


Finally a more advanced way is to tune the guitar just by the open strings. So you would compare 6th and 5th string (sounding a fourth), the 5th and the 4th (the interval again is a fourth), 4th and 3rd (fourth), 6th and 2nd (octave plus fifth) and 5th and 1st (octave plus fifth) or 2nd and 1st.

Then you could also check if the tuning is right by playing some notes on one string and comparing it with other strings. And finally you would play full chords to see if they are all in tune.

And here lies the difficulty of tuning the guitar. If you use a tuning machine it is like tuning the guitar by using the according piano sound for each string. It is the well-tempered tuning. But this tuning does not work out well everytime. Sometimes guitar pieces are in certain keys or contain certain chords that need special adjustments. So it is advisable to get to know all the different ways you can tune the guitar and use them all to get satisfying results.