How To Tune A Guitar

Regardless of how good you may be, if you don’t know how to tune a guitar, there is a high possibility of your playing never sounding great. Getting your guitar in tune and ready to play is the first and important step towards a great performance.

How To Tune A Guitar

It goes without saying that you always have to tune your guitar before you practice. This is because it ensures that your ears will become accustomed to hearing the correct pitch of the instrument and the right intervals within scales. 

The Basics Of Guitar Tuning

Tuning involves changing the pitch of your guitar by loosening or tightening your tuning pegs. These tuning pegs are located on the headstock of the guitar. 

By tightening the pegs, the pitch goes higher and when they are loosened, the pitch becomes low. Tuning a guitar involves adjusting 6 strings on the instrument. Standard guitar tuning involves starting from the thickest and lowest-pitched string/the 6th string. 

The guitar strings are always tuned relative to each other starting with the low E and working towards the high E. Once you identify the right pitch of a single pitch, you can tune your guitar’s remaining strings.

The first thing to do is to ensure your sixth string (the low E string) is in tune. To do this, use a reference pitch.  For a reference pitch, you can refer to another guitar, a piano, a pitch pipe, the dial tone on a landline or just by ear. This process can be used for the remaining strings.

Fret the 5th fret of the low E string then tune the A string to the same pitch.

Fret the 5th fret of the A string and tune the D string to the same pitch.

Fret the 5th fret of the D string and tune the G string to the same pitch.

Fret the 4th fret of the G string and tune the B string to the same pitch.

Fret the 5th fret of the B string and tune the high E string to the same pitch

Tuning With Electric Tuners

Tuning with electric tuners is the easiest way to tune your guitar. This relieves you from the stress of using strings to identify the right tunes for other strings. 

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Once you turn on your electric tuner, tune your guitar by playing each note individually and it will let you know if your guitar is in tune in a few seconds. It identifies the string being tuned and shows if the string is too flat or sharp for the desired pitch. Now, that’s life! You’ve got to love technology.

Tuning To A Piano

You can tune your low E to the same note on the piano as a reference pitch if you have access to one. 

To do this, look at the black keys on the piano and you will notice that there is a set of two black keys, followed by an extra white key, another set of three black keys, then a white key. This pattern is repeated for the length of the piano. 

The white note placed directly on the right of the set of two black keys is the note E. So, play that note then tune your low E string to it. It is important to know that the E you play on the piano may not be in the same octave as the low E string on your guitar. 

You can correct this by playing a different E on the piano until you find the one that is really close to your open sixth string.

Different Ways To Tune Your Guitar

Lowered Guitar Tuning

In this tuning, the string is tuned one tone lower as opposed to standard tuning. Lower tunings are quite popular among rock and heavy metal bands as they are used to achieve a deeper sound. This is also used to accommodate a singer’s vocal range, there are different levels of lowered tuning.

D Tuning– this is a whole step down from standard tuning and produces a d g c f a d pattern. It is used by most of Elliot Smith songs. It is also used by bands like Symphony X, Cradle of Filth, In Solitude, Dream Theater, and many others

E Tuning – This is half a step down the standard tuning and produces the e♭-a♭-d♭-g♭-b♭-e♭ pattern. It is used by several artists and bands like Jimi Hendrix, Motorhead and Kiss. 

  • C/D Tuning – C♯-F♯-B-E-G♯-C♯ / D♭-G♭-B-E-A♭-D♭ (One and a half steps down), 
  • C Tuning –  C-F-B♭-E♭-G-C / C-F-A♯-D♯-G-C (2 full steps down from regular tuning)
  • A/B Tuning – A♯-D♯-G♯-C♯-F-A♯ / B♭-E♭-A♭-D♭-F-B♭ (3 full steps down from the standard tuning)
  • A-Tuning A-D-G-C-E-A (3 and a half steps down from standard tuning)
  • G/A Tuning  – G♯-C♯-F♯-B-D♯-G♯ / A♭-D♭-G♭-B-E♭-A♭ (Four full steps down from standard tuning) 
  • G Tuning – G-C-F-A♯-D-G / G-C-F-B♭-D-G (4 and a half steps down from standard tuning)
  • F/G Tuning – F♯-B-E-A-C♯-F♯ / G♭-B-E-A-D♭-G♭ (Five whole steps from standard tuning.) 
  • F Tuning – F-A♯-D♯-G♯-C-F / F-B♭-E♭-A♭-C-F (5 and one half steps down from standard tuning)

Raised Guitar Tuning

Here, strings are tuned up by the same interval. Raised tuning allows for an extended upper note range compared to standard tuning which limits the number of notes that can be played. Under raised tunings, we have the following:

  • F Tuning F-A♯-D♯-G♯-C-F / F-B♭-E♭-A♭-C-F – this is half a step up from standard tuning.
  • F/G Tuning (F♯-B-E-A-C♯-F♯ / G♭-B-E-A-D♭-G♭) – this is one whole step up from standard. 
  • G Tuning (G-C-F-A♯-D-G / G-C-F-B♭-D-G) – this is also referred as Terz tuning (spelled as “tierce”, “third”, or “tertz” sometimes, all of which are acceptable) This tuning is one and one half steps up from standard.
  • G/A Tuning (G♯-C♯-F♯-B-D♯-G♯ / A♭-D♭-G♭-B-E♭-A♭) – 2 full steps up from standard tuning
  • A Tuning (A-D-G-C-E-A) – 2 and one half steps up from standard. It is also the standard tuning for the Lap stick travel guitar.
  • A/B Tuning – A♯-D♯-G♯-C♯-F-A♯ / B♭-E♭-A♭-D♭-F-B♭ – 3 full steps up from standard.

Drop D Tuning 

Drop D tuning is almost the same as standard guitar tuning but with a single exception. In Drop D guitar tuning, the sixth (lowest) string is tuned down a whole step. This act moves the note to D2 instead of E2 and gives you a DADGBE pattern. If you are using a four-stringed bass guitar, the E string down is lowered to the D string.  When you lower the sixth string in drop D tuning, you get varying effects.

  • It automatically erases restrictions and you can now go all the way down to D2 instead of stopping at the usual E2. You will also be able to play D#2. This is the note between D2 and E2.
  • The drop D does not put any limit on the highest pitch on the guitar. No note that was available in standard tuning will be excluded in a drop D tuning. Instead, you will have access to two extra notes, D2 and D#2.
  • The loosened bottom string in drop D tuning sounds heavier and possesses a more low-frequency rumble.
  • This tuning makes it easier to play power chords. By simply strumming the bottom three strings in a drop D guitar, and you’ll be strumming the 3 notes of a power chord. 

Drop D Tuning is used by country, folk, and jazz guitar players but this tuning commonly used in rock music, mostly within heavier subgenres.

  • Grunge: Seattle’s grunge scene popular guitarists found many uses for drop D. Soundgarden’s guitarist, Chris Cornell used this a lot as it helps help with the flawless transition from playing to singing while performing. This includes Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell. 
  • Hard Rock: Popular Queen’s songs like “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Rage Against The Machine” and Dream Theater’s “Home” was performed using drop D tuning.
  • Heavy Metal: Several metal bands have many drop D songs as they do standardly tuned songs. Bands like Korn, Slipknot, Tool, Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, and other metal bands use the drop D tuning to produce heavier riffs and a girth-like ending

Tuning Your Guitar For Drop D

You can easily Shift a guitar from standard tuning to drop D tuning since all you have to do is to change the tuning of one string. You can do this in the following ways.

  • Utilize the open 4th string on your guitar. In tuning your guitar, the 4th string is usually tuned to D3. To get a drop D tuning, strum your open 4th string and let it ring as you adjust the tuning peg on your 6th string. Then, try to match the pitch, but remember your 6th string should sound an octave lower than your 4th string.
  • By making use of a tuner. As stated earlier, making use of tuners make tuning easier. You can use a clip-on headstock tuner, a tuning app on your smartphone, or an electronic tuner to get your guitar into drop D.
  • By using the Eddie Van Halen’s D-Tuna device. Eddie Van Halen invented a device called the D-Tuna which allows guitarists to drop their lowest string to D2 instantly. They don’t have to bother with adjusting the tuning pegs. You can purchase a guitar that has this device built-in or buy a D-Tuna and install it in an existing electric guitar bridge.

Other drop tuning types include;

  • Drop C/Drop D (C♯-G♯-c♯-F♯-A♯-D♯ / D♭-A♭-D♭-G♭-B♭-E♭) this is one-half step down from drop D. 
  • Drop C – C-G-c-F-A-D – One whole step down from Drop D.
  • Drop B – B-F♯-b-E-G♯-C♯ / B-G♭-b-E-A♭-D♭ – 1 and one half steps down from Drop D. 
  • Drop A/Drop B – A♯-F-a♯-D♯-G-C / B♭-F-b♭-E♭-G-C – 2 whole steps down from Drop D. 
  • Drop A – A-E-a-D-F♯-B / A-E-a-D-G♭-B – 2 and one half steps down from Drop D. This tuning is often used by death metal or deathcore musicians, 
  • Drop A in standard variation A-a-D-G-B-E: The 6th string is dropped to A while the other strings maintain their standard tuning
  • Drop G/Drop A – G♯-D♯-g♯-C♯-F-A♯ / A♭-E♭-a♭-D♭-F-B♭ – 3 whole steps down from Drop D. 
  • Drop G – G-D-g-C-E-A – 3 and one half steps down from Drop D. 
  • Drop F/Drop G – F♯-C♯-f♯-B-D♯-G♯ / G♭-D♭-g♭-B-E♭-A♭ – 4 whole steps down from Drop D, or two full steps up from drop D1. 
  • Drop F – F-C-f-A♯-D-G / F-C-f-B♭-D-G – 4 and one half steps down from Drop D, or one and a half steps up from Drop D1.
  • Drop E – E-B-e-A-C♯-F♯ / E-B-e-A-D♭-G♭ – 5 whole steps down from Drop D, or one full step up from Drop D1. 
  • Drop D/Drop E – D♯-A♯-d♯-G♯-C-F / E♭-B♭-e♭-A♭-C-F – 5 and one half steps down from Drop D, or one half step up from Drop D1. 
  • Drop D1 – D-A-d-G-B-E – 6 whole steps (one octave) down from Drop D. 8 string example; D-A-d-a-d-G-B-E. Black Tongue uses this tuning.
  • Drop C1/Drop D1 – One octave down from Drop C♯/Drop D♭..
  • Drop C1 – Six full steps, that is, one octave, down from Drop C. 

Conclusion — How To Tune A Guitar

You should always tune your guitar every time you use it. This is because guitars, especially the cheap ones, tend to go out of tune easily and quickly. 

Ensure that your guitar is in tune when you begin to play it.  While practicing, check the tuning frequently because the act of playing the guitar can make out of tune. 

When starting out, it may take you five minutes or more to get your guitar in tune. However, once you become familiar you are with tuning process, you will be able to do it faster. 

Most experienced guitarists can get their instrument in tune in about 30 seconds. Also, you can keep your guitar in tune longer by changing your strings regularly depending on how often you play it.