How to Tune a Guitar Without a Tuner for Beginners

The guitar is a beautifully versatile instrument that is easy to play and can produce some of the best music in today’s modern world. However, this stringed instrument can also be the most difficult to learn. Before you even start playing your guitar, it’s important to tune it. With a tuner, it’s very easy to find the right pitch quickly and precisely. But if you don’t have a tuner, you will need to learn the basics of tuning a guitar by ear.

What You Need For Guitar Tuning

The only thing you need to begin learning how to tune a guitar without the help of a tuner is the instrument itself. Once you have got your instrument in hand, you will want to familiarise yourself with the following facets of it:

  • Strings – A typical guitar will have six strings that run from the neck to the bridge.
  • Tuning keys – These are located at the head of the guitar, with each string being attached to its own tuning key. By turning one of these keys, you can either tighten or loosen that string, which then changes the pitch. A tighter string will produce a higher-pitched note, whereas a loose string sounds out a lower-pitched note.
  • Frets – The metal ridges that run across the neck of the guitar are known as fret. Pressing down a string onto a fret changes that string length, which in turn produces a different note when you play.

Getting Started

Guitarist tune guitar using pegs on the headstock

To begin to tune a guitar, you need to decide which kind of tuning you want to get from the instrument. There’s a lot of different tunings for both electric and acoustic guitar that you can choose from. Each of these tunings will lend itself to different genres of music, such as classical, jazz, and even flamenco. For this purpose of this guide, we’re going to look at the standard way to tune a guitar, which most guitarists will lean one when they are without a tuner.

Standard Tuning Explained

When you set your guitar to standard tuning, both the highest and lowest strings will be an E note. Between these E strings are two octaves. So your notes from the highest to the lowest follow a configuration of E-A-D-G-B-E. As a rule of thumb, you should start tuning your guitar from the low E string. Strings are numbered from one to six, beginning with the highest note so that the low E String will be the sixth one. It’s also the thickest string, meaning it’s easier to tune and can give you a perfect pitch when tuning the rest of the instrument.

Starting to Tune

Now it’s time to begin tuning without a guitar tuner.

  1. Start on the sixth string, otherwise known as the low E string.
  2. Find the fifth fret. The fret refers to the space between the fourth and fifth metal ridges along the guitar’s neck.
  3. Press your E string down onto the fifth fret and gently strum it.
  4. You’re now playing an A note using your E string. Congratulations!

Tuning the Other Strings

So now you can play an A note using your E string, what about the rest of the strings. The reason why you have learned to play an A note using the E string and fifth fret is that the next string over is the A string. So now, all you need to do is match the pitch of your fifth string with the A note you have played using your low E string on the fifth fret.

Once you have held down your low E string on the fifth fret to create an A, hum that note so that you know exactly what it sounds like. Then strum the fifth string, making sure you have it open. Having an open string means that the string is not touching any other fret or part of the guitar when you play it. The tuning knobs at the top of the guitar’s neck can be used to adjust your A string until it sounds the same as the low E string played with the fifth fret.

Next Steps

Once you have managed to tune your A string using the low E string, you can keep repeating the process for the rest of the string to tune your guitar. To tune your D string:

  1. Hold down your A string and the 5th fret at the same time to give you a D note.
  2. Match your D string, which is the fourth one to the sound of the note from your fretted A string.

This method can be used for your G string and all other notes too apart from the B string. There’s a different technique to tuning the B string, which you have to know about when using this method. If you tune the B string incorrectly, then the high E string will also be tuned improperly when it comes time to play.

Tuning Your B String

To tune your B string, you need to hold down its neighbor, which is the G string using the fourth fret. This is different from using the 5th fret for all the other notes. Make sure you note this down as it’s super important. Playing your G string using the 5th fret will produce the wrong note for tuning your B string. Subsequently, when you go to tune your high E string, this will be wrong as well.

Does This Tuning Method Work?

What happens if your low E string was incorrectly tuned in the first place? Won’t this mean that the rest of the tuning of the strings will be messed up entirely? Technically, yes, it does. However, as long as all the strings on your guitar have been tuned at the right interval from the next one, the sound it produces will be just fine. If you have an excellent ear for pitch, then it may even be perfect. If it’s not perfect, you won’t usually notice the difference until you play the guitar along with other instruments, but this is easily solved by re-tuning.

How to Check Your Guitar Is In Tune

If you’re just starting out as a beginner using the 5th fret E string method of tuning, you will want to check that the method you have used has been done right. You can do this in several ways.

The first way to check that the guitar is in tune is to use a tuner. There are three different tuners available; the standard, pedal, and headstock tuners. These electronic devices work with both electric and acoustic guitars, and some attach to the guitar itself to check it’s in tune.

Another method of checking your instrument is in tune is to use a piano. Using a piano is a reliable way of not only checking the tuning but to exercising your skills for pitch recognition. All you need to do is match the pitch of each string on the guitar with the correct key on the piano.

How to Keep Your Guitar in Tune for Longer

Now that you’ve learned how to tune your guitar by ear, you will want to keep it in tune for as long as possible. There are several different things you can do to ensure the instrument stays in tune for longer.

  • Regularly change your strings – Whenever your strings start to lose their pitch or sound dead, it’s time to replace them with new ones. Old strings will have trouble staying in tune, even with regular tuning.
  • Stretch the strings – When you change your strings over, make sure you stretch the new set out first. This can be done by either playing them or gently pulling on them.
  • Take care of your guitar – Temperature and humidity fluctuation can both affect how your guitar plays, so try not to expose the instrument to these elements. Once you have finished playing for the day, wipe your strings down with a cloth too. Guitars should also be stored in a bag or case when not in use.

Why You Should Learn to Tune By Ear

Using an app or electronic device to tune your guitar is easy. There are phone apps and software out there that is cheap to pick up. These devices pick up the sound of your guitar and then instruct you on how you should turn your tuning pegs accordingly. So why should it be encouraged to learn to guitar tuning by ear?

Tuning your instrument by ear will lay a solid foundation for pitch ear training. Understanding the relationships between the different pitches and notes allows you to become sensitive to the tone of your guitar. By consistently tuning your instrument every day by ear, you will have a solid set of pitch skills without the need for any lessons or instructional videos.

After practicing the standard tuning method for a month, you should then be able to play a string only once and instantly recognize if the guitar is out of tune. A little more practice, and you may even be able to tell straight away which strings specifically are sounding different to the note you want.

Tuning by ear lays down the basics for understanding the notes by merely listening to your instrument. A set of skills like this could even be used to develop perfect pitch if this is something you want to work towards.

FAQs

How do you manually tune a guitar by ear?

You can effectively tune a guitar by ear without having to use an electronic tuner or app to obtain the perfect pitch. To do this, you will need to ensure the 6th string is in tune to start out with. Then follow the guide above on tuning a guitar in just a few easy steps.

Do I need a guitar tuner?

Tuning guitar can be difficult without the help of a tuner. You may want to invest in an electronic one or even an app if you’re going to play the guitar and save time. However, learning to guitar tune by ear is also essential for your skill development.

How do I know if my guitar is tuned?

An out of tune guitar will not sound right as you play. If you choose not to tune your guitar, those songs that you love to play will sound unfamiliar and won’t have the same flair as they would if you tuned your guitar correctly.

How often do I need to tune my guitar?

You should be tuning your guitar every time you take it out to play. It won’t stay in tune between practice sessions, especially if these are for extended periods. Your guitar can also go out of tune from extensive playing. As you play your guitar, it’s a good idea to check on the tuning of it. Guitars that are out of tune won’t sound right when different chords are played.

Are there other ways to tune a guitar other than standard tuning?

Standard tuning is far from being your only choice when it comes to guitars. There are several different ways of tuning your strings that can open up new ways of playing. Chords that would otherwise be impossible using standard tuning can be achieved using alternative methods. You can use these other methods just using your ears the same as standard tuning. It’s crucial to nail standard tuning, though, because the alternatives start with the EADGBE format and then are tweaked accordingly.

How do you tune a guitar to drop d?

Drop D tuning is a trendy style for blues, folk, and country music players. To tune your guitar to drop D is relatively easy. It only changes in one way from your standard tuning technique. For drop D, you tune your sixth string down one tone, taking it from an E to a D. This results in a DADGBE format. You simply need to lower your sixth string by an entire tone and use the open fourth D string as a comparison to get the desired result.

Conclusion

Learning guitar may be a challenge for you, but knowing how to tune it without the aid of a tuner doesn’t have to be a chore. The only way to make sure your guitar is playing in perfect pitch is to use a tuner, but it’s still possible to make the instrument sound great without one too. Best of all, when you choose to tune your guitar using your listening skills, you’ll learn more about notes, chords, and strings along the way. Time to get tuning and happy playing!

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