If this is the first time you’ve held a guitar in your hands, and you don’t have a perfect pitch from birth you are highly unlikely to be able to tune a guitar without help or special equipment, even if you know the system. You will acquire these skills through experience, but for now let’s discuss the various tuning methods...
To begin with, I’d like to point out that there are various guitar tunings, for example: Open G (DGDGB D), Open D (DADF#AD) etc. Let us focus on the standard EADGB E pitch. These letters are the names of the notes that sound when the guitar strings are plucked. E (mi) – the sixth string (the thickest); A (la) – the fifth string; D (re) – the fourth string; G (sol) – the third string; B natural (si) – the second string; E (mi) – the first string (the thinnest).
The easiest and most universal way that doesn’t require any knowledge or aural skills is to use a guitar tuner in the form of a standalone device or software. You pluck the string, and the tuner prompts you whether you should loosen or tighten it. This method is both the easiest and the most precise. To use the software, you need a sound card and a microphone.
You can download the guitar tuner here.. This is the MuzLand tuner. Please note that currently the software interface supports only Russian.
With a piano (keyboard) or another instrument
If you have a piano, a synthesizer, or any other correctly tuned instrument, you can use this method. The tuning diagram is shown in the figure below. For a keyboard instrument there is a separate diagram for those who have no knowledge of music notation (please observe the octaves).
To tune by the traditional method, you must find the pitch of the first string, for example, an E tuning fork, or an A tuning fork (in which case the string must be held down at the fifth fret). Alternatively, you can also use any musical instrument that can produce an E.
If you can’t find anything of the kind at your place, try finding a landline telephone. Usually, the dialing tone frequency of a telephone line is 425 Hz. The frequency of A-flat (the fourth fret of the first string) is approximately 415 Hz., so, more or less; they can be treated as equivalents. Tune the guitar by the dialing tone in the telephone receiver.
If the telephone is not available either, we’ll have to tune the first string approximately. The point is to ensure it’s not too loose or too tight.
Next, observe the following rules:
- 2nd string pressed at the 5th fret sounds in unison (the same) with the 1st open string;
- 3rd string pressed at the 4th fret sounds in unison with the 2nd open string;
- 4th string pressed at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 3rd open string;
- 5th string pressed at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 4th open string;
- 6th string pressed at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 5th open string.
Tuning to harmonics
A harmonic is the note produced by stringed instruments, both bowed and fretted, that rings true when a string is lightly pressed at certain points along its length. Different harmonics are produced when the string is touched at different points along its length (at various frets).
Tuning to harmonics can be very useful. Tune up the first string according to the previous method, and follow the rules below:
- 2nd string at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 1st string at the 7th fret;
- 3rd string at the 4th fret sounds in unison with the 2nd string at the 5th fret;
- 4th string at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 3rd string at the 7th fret;
- 5th string at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 4th string at the 7th fret;
- 6th string at the 5th fret sounds in unison with the 5th string at the 7th fret.
What if I can’t tune the guitar?
Sometimes, none of the proven guitar tuning methods will work, and no matter how you try you can't make it sound right. This may be for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is worn strings. Worn strings are exposed to micro-deformations when they touch frets, and this gives rise to changes in the sound frequency. Please read the article about strings.
If restoring or replacing strings hasn’t resolved the issue, you should take the instrument to a guitar repairer: if you haven’t left your guitar out in the pouring rain, haven’t dropped it in a lake, and haven’t dried it under the hot sun, he will probably be able to help you.