How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar: A Beginner’s Guide

Tuning a guitar with a tuner

In this post, I’m going to show you how to tune a guitar and share a few reliable tips to help you get the hang of it.

In fact, these are the same techniques I’ve been using for my entire musical career.

Each method of tuning a guitar has its use, depending on the situation.

To make things easy, I’ll tackle tuning your guitar in three sections:

  • Theory and tips
  • Tuning a guitar with a tuner
  • Tuning a guitar by ear

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It’s my awesome, daily practice program that will transform your playing when learning guitar.

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Let’s kick things off with some simple background you should know before you learn how to tune a guitar.

Table of Contents

Originally published on September 21, 2022, this post was republished on Jan

Basic Guitar Tuning

The bulk of this article delves deep into the theory of guitar tuning and all the various methods you can use to tune your guitar. But if you want to get right to it, here’s a quick, three-step process using an electronic tuner:

Step 1

Identify the string you want to tune, then, using your guitar pick, pick the string every two or three seconds so that it’s always ringing.

Step 2

Have your electronic tuner on hand. Now, as you pick the string you want to tune, keep an eye on the tuner and begin turning the appropriate tuning peg.

If the tuner says the note is reading too low, turn the tuning peg away from you. Do the opposite if it says the note is reading too high.

Step 3

Keep picking and adjusting the tuning pegs of the string until the note is perfectly in tune, then repeat the process for any other strings that might be out of tune. Remember, always keep an eye on your tuner and do this process slowly to get your strings perfectly tuned!

Tuning Theory

I talked about the musical alphabet in a previous lesson on guitar notes, but here’s a quick recap:

  • The musical alphabet has the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G
  • The strings on a guitar are, from thickest to thinnest, E-A-D-G-B-E
  • The letters by themselves are called naturals.

In addition to naturals, there are also flats and sharps.

If there is a “b” symbol next to a natural, that means that the note is flat.

Alternatively, if a “#” symbol appears next to a natural, that means the note is sharp.

When using a clip-on tuner or a tuner with a microphone, there are a few ways to tell if your strings are sharp or flat:

  • Most tuners have lights that will indicate whether your string is sharp or flat.
  • If the light is going off on the right, that means your string is sharp.
  • When the left side lights up, that means your string is flat.

How to Memorize EADGBE

Standard Tuning

As you can probably tell by now, knowing the order of the strings is a pretty important part of your guitar-learning journey – luckily, it’s quite an easy one.

The strings go from thickest (the lowest) to thinnest (the highest): E – A – D – G – B – E

A fun way of memorizing the order of the strings is to remember one or both of these two phrases: 

  • Elvis Always Does Good Bread Everyday
  • Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie

And if either of these doesn’t resonate with you, then make one up of your own that you can remember!

Tip #1: Make Sure You Are Tuning the Right String

Make sure you’re tuning the right string.

how to tune a guitar

I know that sounds silly, but people frequently turn the wrong tuning key.

To help prevent that, make sure to follow the string you want to tune all the way to its respective tuning key.

Always make sure to double-check that you’re tuning the same string that you’re turning the tuning key for.

Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Common Sense

Don’t be afraid to use common sense.

If the string feels too tight or it sounds too high, it probably is.

If that happens, don’t be afraid to loosen the string by tuning it down. From there, you can start over.

I always encourage folks to play around with the tuning keys. Don’t be afraid to turn them — make sure you know how much the pitch changes when you turn the tuning key.

Tip #3: Tune Up to a Note Instead of Down From a Note

Tune up to a note instead of down from a note.

When you tune up to a note, it helps the string stay in tune longer.

If you’re tuning a string that’s too sharp, try tuning down below the target first, so the note becomes a little flat. Then tune back up to reach the correct note.

How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar With a Tuner

There are hundreds of different electronic tuners you can buy. We’re talking clip-on, handheld, smartphone, and so many more types of tuners.

how to tune with a clip on tuner

Regardless of what kind you choose, you can get a decent-quality tuner for around $15-25.

Here are just a couple of my favorites below:

  • TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Mini: A mini polyphonic tuner that allows you to strum all strings at once and see which strings are out of tune. It also offers a chromatic mode for precise tuning of individual strings.
  • BOSS TU-3 Chromatic Tuner: A pedal tuner known for its accuracy and durability. It’s a chromatic tuner, meaning it can tune to any note, making it versatile for various instruments and tunings.

When you get an electric tuner, make sure to calibrate it.

  1. Turn the tuner on.
  2. If it displays a series of numbers, make sure it says A 440 Hz.
  3. When there are different numbers, consult the instructions to change the frequency.
  4. If there are no numbers displayed, your tuner is most likely permanently set on A 440 Hz.

If you don’t calibrate your tuner, you will sound slightly off from everyone else who is in tune.

Here’s how to tune your guitar with an electronic tuner:

  1. Get on the right note names: Make sure the tuner displays the correct note name for each string. That means each string is approximately at the right note. For example, you want the low E string to show as an “E” on the tuner, even if it’s still out of tune.
  2. Fine-tune: Once the string is displaying the right note name, begin to fine-tune until the needle on your tuner is in the middle – or the tuner turns green.
  3. Check the strings again: Once you tune all of your strings, go back and check that each string is still in tune. Learning how to tune a guitar requires double-checking because a string may have slipped out of tune as you adjusted a different one.

How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar With Your Phone

If you don’t have a tuner on hand, you can actually tune your guitar using an app on your phone.

In fact, there are a ton of free tuning apps online!

These apps work with your phone’s built-in microphone to identify the note you’re playing and determine if it’s flat or not.

One of my favorites is Simply Tune – it’s free, easy to use, and has great visuals to help you as you go.

Once you’ve downloaded the app, it will provide you with a step-by-step guide to help you along your way. The app’s easy-to-understand visuals show you in which order to pluck your strings.

Keep in mind that while guitar tuning apps are a great way to tune on the go, they’re typically a bit less accurate than traditional tuners.

How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar by Ear

Learning how to tune a guitar by ear can help develop your ear and allow you to tune when you don’t have an electronic tuner.

As long as one of your strings is in tune, you can use a method of tuning by ear that has been used by thousands, if not millions, of guitarists.

Tuning a Guitar From the 5th Fret

How to Tune From the 5th Fret

To tune your guitar using the 5th fret, you need your low E string to be in tune. You can use another guitar, a piano, or an electronic pitch.

How to tune a guitar by ear using the 5th fret:

  1. Make sure the low E string is in tune using another source. Once your fingers are in place, play an A note and listen closely.
  2. Fret the 5th fret of the E string and play an A note. Let the A note ring out, and then with your fingers, pluck the A string.
  3. While that note is ringing, pluck the open A string. Listen closely to make sure their pitches sound exactly the same.
  4. These two notes should sound exactly the same. If they don’t sound the same, figure out whether the 5th string is higher or lower and adjust it accordingly. Turn the tuning peg clockwise to make it higher or anticlockwise to make it lower.
  5. Adjust the open A string until it matches the pitch of the A note played on the low E string. Move on to the next string and apply the same process. Tune each string to match the note on the 5th fret of the string below.
  6. Continue the same process to tune strings D and G, tuning each string to match the note on the 5th fret of the string below.
  7. Tune the B string to match a B note played on the 4th fret of the G string. Again, let both of these notes ring together and if something sounds off, adjust the string accordingly.
  8. Tune the high E string to match the E note played on the 5th fret on the B string. And finally, let both of these notes ring together and adjust accordingly if they sound off.

Tuning an Acoustic Guitar With Harmonic Tuning

How to Tune With Harmonics

Harmonics are sounds you can make at various places on a guitar that have a unique bell-like quality that can be used to tune a guitar.

To play a harmonic, lightly touch the string above a 5th, 7th, or 12th fret without pressing it down and pluck the string to produce a tone.

The process of harmonic tuning is somewhat similar to tuning from the 5th fret – as outlined above. 

How to Tune a Guitar Using Harmonic Tuning:

  1. To start, make sure your low E string is in tune. This will be your reference point.
  2. Next, play a harmonic on the 5th fret of the low E string. Let it ring out while you play a harmonic at the 7th fret of the A string. 
  3. These two notes should sound the same. You’ll hear a constant high pitch if they’re in tune. If not, you’ll hear an oscillating noise, this means you need to tune the A string.
  4. Once the A string is in tune, you repeat this process for the A and D string. 
  5. Repeat the process again for the D and G string. 
  6. To tune the B string, play a harmonic on the 7th fret of the low E string. Let it ring out while you play the B string open.
  7. To tune the final high E string, play a harmonic on the 7th fret of the A string. Let it ring out while you play the high E string open. 

Once you’ve read through that step-by-step process, here’s a quick list of the strings and harmonics to play:

  • Low E string, 5th fret harmonic = A string, 7th fret harmonic
  • A string, 5th fret harmonic = D string, 7th fret harmonic
  • D string, 5th fret harmonic = G string, 7th fret harmonic
  • Low E string, 7th fret harmonic = B string, open
  • A string, 7th fret harmonic = high E string, open

 Tuning an Acoustic Guitar With Drop D Tuning

Drop D Tuning

Drop D tuning is one of the original alternate tuning methods and it’s the one I often recommend to try out first.

It’s easy to do and to revert to standard tuning. All you need to do is change one string!

This tuning method is great for lower, heavier songs and for playing power chords

Drop D tuning involves lowering the low E string by a whole step, shifting it from the standard E to D pitch. This alters the usual EADGBE tuning to DADGBE. 

How to Tune a Guitar Using Drop D Tuning:

  1. Start by tuning your low E string down to D using an electronic tuner or by comparing the pitch with a reference tone like another guitar or a piano. 
  2. Play the low E string and listen to the sound. It should match the pitch of the open D string when played on the gift fret of the A string.

With your new Drop D tuning, try playing different chords and power chords and get a feel for your new sound!

Anytime, Anywhere, Alternate Tuning Methods

Aside from tuning by ear or by phone, there are, of course, lots of alternate tuning methods.

I usually encourage all my students to try out various methods and go with what they feel most comfortable with.

These are perhaps more suited to more advanced players, but it can be fun to try anyway:

Tuning With a Piano or Keyboard

  1. Using the standard tuning of a guitar, EADGBE, play the corresponding note on a piano or keyboard for each guitar string. For example, the low E string on the guitar corresponds to the note E on the piano/keyboard.
  2. Tune the corresponding string until it is the same pitch as the key of the piano.
  3. Repeat this process for all strings on your guitar. 
  4. Play some chords to test your tuning.

Tuning With a Pitch Pipe

  1. Using a chromatic pitch pipe, blow the low E note and listen carefully.
  2. Next, pluck the low E string on your guitar and compare its sound with the pitch pipe. Adjust the string until they match.
  3. Repeat this process for all strings on your guitar.
  4. Play some chords to test your tuning.

Tuning With a Tuning Fork

  1. Start by gently striking the tuning fork against a firm surface. Tuning forks are designed to hit a specific pitch – most standard ones are set to A.
  2. As soon as your tuning fork starts ringing out, pluck the A string on your guitar and adjust your guitar to the sound of the tuning fork.
  3. Once the A string is in tune, use it as a reference point to tune the other strings. Press the 5th fret of the low E string to produce the A note, and tune the open A string accordingly. 
  4. Then, use the 5th fret of the A string to tune the open D string, and so on. 
  5. For the high E string, use the 5th fret of the B string as a reference.
  6. Play some chords to test your tuning.


How Often Should I Tune My Guitar?

I always recommend tuning your guitar every time you play it. Guitars can go out of tune very easily. Traveling with it, playing it, or simply moving it can knock it out of tune.

How to Keep Your Guitar in Tune Longer?

For those who find themselves tuning their guitar way too often, there are a couple of tips to keep your guitar in tune for longer:

  • Avoid environments with sudden temperature changes
  • Keep your guitar in good shape with regular maintenance checks
  • Play your guitar regularly
  • Keep the nut and bridge lubricated with graphite from a pencil

What Are the 3 Ways to Tune Guitar?

The three classic ways to tune a guitar are:

  1. Using a tuning fork
  2. By ear
  3. Using an electric guitar tuner

What Is the Most Common Guitar Tuning?

The most common guitar tuning, also called standard tuning is: E – A – D – G – B – E.

What’s Next?

Now that your guitar is in tune, you’re ready to play! You might also want to explore some other alternative tunings such a:

If you’re not sure what to play yet, maybe you need some inspiration and ideas to get you practicing and having fun with your guitar. 

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