As a guitar player, you NEED to know how to tune your guitar. Out-of-tune guitars are miserable to play. As a guitar teacher, I’ve seen so many students in the past 10+ years frustrated with how they think they’re playing chords wrong. When they show me, I realize their placement is perfect, but their guitar’s out of tune. So they think they’re doing something wrong.
Tuning a guitar is simple in theory, but it can be tricky in execution. There is no shortage of helpful resources out there for tuning your guitar. My favorite is what Guitar Tricks does with their tuning.
Whether you think you’ve got tuning down and just need a little help or you’re completely lost, these tips for tuning guitar may be helpful.
#1 Start from below the pitch
This tip is so simple it doesn’t seem like it’d make much of a difference, but it really does. In my undergraduate degree, I repeated a tuning study done for all instruments (not just guitar, but there were guitar players on it as well). The study had people tune a string to a specific pitch from either above or below, but they only had a short time (5 seconds) to tune the string. The results?
People who were able to tune from below the pitch were much more accurate than those who had to tune from above the pitch.
If you feel lost in tuning, loosen the tension on your string to lower the pitch. Then, tighten it gradually to approach the tuning from the bottom. For some reason, our human ears hear better coming from this direction.
#2 Get fresh strings
Old strings won’t tune well. They seem to lose their pitch quickly, but they have a harder time settling into the exact pitch you want. Get some fresh strings (use a guitar store employee to help you change them if you need to).
The first day or so after putting on new strings, they’ll continue stretching out and lose their pitch. Once they settle, they usually hold their pitch very well for a long time.
#3 Keep The Climate Steady
Any guitarist will tell you how critical it is to keep temperature and humidity steady for your guitar. When it comes to tuning, this is also true. I’ve heard stories of people tuning their guitars in their cold room, and then they go into the warm living room to practice. Yes, if you do this, your strings may lose their tuning.
Keep the room you’re in as consistent as possible when tuning. Why do you think many guitarists keep their guitars on stage when they go off-stage? They’re keeping the temp and humidity as close the same as they can.
#4 Check Your Nut
The nut on your guitar is the (usually) white piece at the top of your neck, separating your tuners from the fretboard. It’s an important part. If the nut is cracked or worn down or not seated properly, the strings won’t work right. This makes it almost impossible to tune and will break your strings much faster.
Hopefully, this helps you a little. Tuning seems tough at first, but it’s something you need to spend the time mastering, so use whatever resources you need to get it figured out.