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Tuning a guitar is a relatively simple process. It’s made even simpler if one has a keyboard, pitch pipe, or electronic guitar tuner. The latter can be purchased in virtually any music store for under $30 US Dollars (USD) and is an indispensable tool when you wish to tune a guitar. For an even lower cost option, guitar tuners found online work surprisingly well.
Standard tuning of a six string guitar translates to the strings themselves being tuned to the notes of E, A, D, G, B, and E. In truth, one can tune a guitar in an infinite variety of patterns, but for the beginning guitarist, a standard tuning will allow for playing the greatest number of songs. It will also cause the least frustration for those who are just beginning to learn chords and notes.
If you have an electronic tuner, all that is required is to pick the individual string, view the display on the tuner, and adjust the tuning pegs that increase or decrease the string’s tension. However, you can utilize another method to tune a guitar, and it is also quick and simple.
Using either a pitch pipe or tuner, pluck the thickest string - the sixth string - until you find the note of E. Next, press down on the fifth fret of the sixth string and gently pluck it. This is the note of A. Tune the fifth string until it matches that pitch.
The process continues. Press down on the fifth fret of the fifth string, and you will hear the note of D. Tune the fourth string to that pitch. Again, press the fifth fret of the fourth string, and you will hear the note of G. Tune the third string to this pitch.
On the third string, press the fourth fret, rather than the fifth. Tune the second string to this tone, which is a B. Finally, move your finger back to the fifth fret of the second string. This note is an E, the tone for your first string. At this point, your guitar should be in tune.
This is a tried and true method to tune a guitar. Keep in mind that, as you play, strings will stretch and go out of tune. Also, new strings will need to be re-tuned several times before they hold the correct pitch.
You may not be a guitar god just yet. As with any endeavor, practice is required to learn songs and acquire proficiency. However, your instrument is in tune, and you are now ready to tackle some simple songs.
While tuning each open (unfretted) string to a fretted lower-pitched string is the most commonly used method, it may give poor results. This is because pressing down on the string stretches it, making the note go slightly sharp. The effect is especially pronounced if you have light gauge strings and press down hard midway between two frets. Press lightly, just behind the fret, to minimize this sharping.
An alternate tuning method makes use of harmonics. Pluck the low E (6th) string while lightly touching it at the fifth fret. Take your finger off the string right after plucking it. This will produce an E two octaves higher than the open string. Now pluck the A (5th) string while lightly touching it at the seventh fret. You will hear the same E. Tune the A string so that the two harmonics are at the same pitch. Similarly, tune the D string so that its 5th fret harmonic is the same as the A string's 7th fret harmonic. Next, tune the G string so that its 5th fret harmonic is the same as the D string's 7th fret harmonic. Tune the open B string to the 7th fret harmonic of the low E string. Finally, tune the open high E string to the 5th fret harmonic of the low E string.
This method takes longer to describe than it does to perform. Once you try it a few times, you can tune very quickly and accurately.