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I'd like to hear about the different techniques of tuning a guitar with standard tuning, and why you use them.

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Answers should probably be give as one method per answer and marked "Community Wiki" since there's no one correct answer to this question. –  Ian C. Jan 13 '11 at 21:20
    
Can you add some specifics? Do you mean tunings (i.e. EADGBE)? Methods of tuning (5th fret vs harmonics vs tuner)? Mechanics (turn tuning pegs vs floyd rose setups)? –  yossarian Jan 13 '11 at 21:21
    
@Ian, I think that just means the question needs updating. It's not very good as written. Community Wiki doesn't really help. If the question is broken in to a series of more specific questions, then each can have a good answer. –  yossarian Jan 13 '11 at 21:22
    
@yossarian, yes definitely the question needs to be updated. "List all the methods for tuning a guitar and their pros and cons" would be a better choice. –  Ian C. Jan 13 '11 at 21:25
    
@ian, voted to close as too broad based on the first few answers. –  yossarian Jan 13 '11 at 21:29
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11 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Very basic tuning method to tune the guitar's strings relative to each other starting with the low E and working towards the high E.

  1. Tune the low E string. Try to use a reference pitch. Use another guitar, some other instrument, a pitch pipe, or just by ear.

  2. Fret the 5th fret of the low E string. Tune the A string to the same pitch.

  3. Fret the 5th fret of the A string. Tune the D string to the same pitch.

  4. Fret the 5th fret of the D string. Tune the G string to the same pitch.

  5. Fret the 4th fret of the G string. Tune the B string to the same pitch.

  6. Fret the 5th fret of the B string. Tune the high E string to the same pitch.

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Just wanted to add, that if you ever need a reference pitch and don't have anything else handy, a dial tone on any land line phone is a perfect A note, and can be used to tune the 5th string. –  Anonymous Jan 13 '11 at 21:34
    
"Use another already-tuned guitar" sounds like a catch-22. –  bobobobo Jan 14 '11 at 12:15
    
@bobobobo: Not necessarily. Sometimes you're not as concerned about being tuned to a reference pitch like A440 as you are concerned about being in tune with another guitar (or intrument). Personally, I always use a tuner, but if you don't have one and you're just jamming with some other musicians, you can just pick a reference pitch and everyone tunes to it. –  Avalanchis Jan 21 '11 at 18:28
    
A tip I picked up a while ago is if you don't have (and don't need) an absolute tuning reference, start from the A-string: the low strings tend to stay in tune a bit better, and the A tuner is less likely to be accidentally knocked than the E. –  Anonymous Mar 9 '11 at 23:18
    
@Anonymous surely that depends where in the world you live. Dial tones vary. –  slim Sep 28 '11 at 14:28
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Direct Intervals (Sharp Fourths)

This is a summary of my long answer to What are the various methods of tuning the guitar?. It gives better results than harmonics, but it is difficult to do, which enhances its coolness factor. :)

  • Tune the A string with an external A440 source.

  • Tune the D string to a perfect fourth from the A, then nudge up a smidge into a tempered fourth.

  • Tune the G string to a perfect fourth from the G, then nudge up a smidge into a tempered fourth.

  • Tune the low E string from the A string by scooping from below and stopping short at the tempered fourth just below the perfect fourth.

  • Tune the high E string from the low E string.

  • Tune the B string from the high E string by scooping from below and stopping short at the tempered fourth just below the perfect fourth.

Check that the open triads are balanced: G-B-E, D-G-B. Check that the fourths are all balanced: E-A, A-D, D-G, B-E. Check that the fifths are balanced: E-B, A-E.

The properly equal-tempered fourth in all cases has a very slow beat to it. It is difficult to hear, but the strategy is easy to understand. When tuning the upper note of a tempered fourth, it should be slightly sharper than perfect; so, since we always tune upward, tune to perfect, then nudge up a tiny bit sharper. When tuning the lower note of a tempered fourth, it should be slightly flatter than perfect; so, since we always tune upward, we approach the perfect note from below, and scoop in towards it, stopping short just before perfect.

For a properly set-up guitar with good intonation, this should be equivalent to the fretboard method. This should also be equivalent to using a tuner. I say should because it's easier to screw this up. There's a lot to pay attention to, a lot to train your ears for. But if the checks succeed, you're good. If not, try, try again (or use a tuner).

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I can have other people give me a reference note and go from there, but I far prefer to use an tuner. They come on phones now. They come as HTML5 web apps now. They come as pedals now. And, of course, one is built into my multieffect processor, which is the one I use most often.

I had a strobotuner but it broke after a few uses.

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Good thing: I use app called as "Tabs" to tune my Guitar, its very easy to use and tunes PERFECT. No ear can manually tune with like that.

Bad thing: It was initially free App, but now it is paid version. But worth buy!

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Another fairly accurate online tuner I like to use is The Seventh String Tuner.

They also include a Tuning Fork as well, if you prefer doing it by ear, and need quick access to pitch-perfect notes.

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Here's another way to tune using harmonics and octaves. This is how I like to tune when I don't have access to a tuner (and even sometimes if I do have access to one).

When you tune with harmonics, you should listen for the oscillation or "beats" between two notes. As the notes are tuned closer together, the frequency of the beats will slow down. When they stop completely, the strings are in tune with each other.

I find that it is easier to hear the beats with this method than when using harmonics at the 5th fret because the 12th fret harmonic typically is much louder.

  1. Tune the A string to a reference pitch.

  2. Hit a 12th fret harmonic on the low E string. Hit a harmonic at the 7th fret on the A string. While both harmonics are still ringing, tune the E string to match the A string.

  3. Hit a 12th fret harmonic on the A string. Hit a harmonic at the 7th fret on the D string. While both harmonics are still ringing, tune the D string to match the A string.

  4. Hit a 12th fret harmonic on the D string. Hit a harmonic at the 7th fret on the G string. While both harmonics are still ringing, tune the G string to match the D string.

  5. Hit a 12th fret harmonic on the G string. Fret the B string at the 8th fret and tune it until it matches the G string.

  6. Hit a 12th fret harmonic on the B string. Hit a harmonic at the 7th fret on the high E string. While both harmonics are still ringing, tune the high E string to match the B string.

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I actually use this app to initially tune each string, then finally adjust by checking 5th fret on 1st matches open on 2nd, etc.

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Now I use Da Tuner on my Android! Wonderful app! –  bobobobo Dec 4 '11 at 4:49
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I use a clip-on tuner (specifically this one), on an acoustic guitar. These can sometimes struggle to correctly identify your note, but seem to be fairly accurate and work well in noisy places. After struggling with tuners with microphones for years, the clip-on is a great improvement.

I seem to have pretty good results with it on my electric too, but I suspect a plug-in (inline) tuner would be the best for electrics.

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I know three methods:

1. Comparing notes that should sound equally

This is probably the most popular way to tune guitar "by ear". To use it, you must know that all guitar strings are tuned in fourths (2.5 tones), except 2nd and 3rd - those are tuned in a third (2 tones). This means, that those notes should sound equally:

  1. open 1st string and 2nd string on fret 5 (E)
  2. open 2nd string and 3rd string on fret 4 (B)
  3. open 3rd string and 4th string on fret 5 (G)
  4. open 4th string and 5th string on fret 5 (D)
  5. open 5th string and 6th string on fret 5 (A)

By comparing the sound, you can tune the guitar up.

2. Using natural harmonics

This method is very similar to #1, but uses natural harmonics

Here is a tutorial, that explains it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSth9bmDFGg

3. Using electric tuner

this is the easiest and the most accurate. Tuner is a device that has a built in microphone, which tells you what note you are currently playing. Just adjust your strings until the tuner says that you are ok.

alt text

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Tuning by harmonics actually puts the guitar slightly out of tune (assuming, of course, that you want the guitar to be tuned using equal temperment). This is because the harmonics are pure ratios of the fundamental frequency, but equal-tempered intervals are not. –  Alex Basson Jan 15 '11 at 15:14
    
Thanks: didn't know that... So a mix of technique 1 and 2 is better or worse? I use standard by ear tuning to get it in "shape" and then with harmonics I thought to make it better... Am I wrong? –  Pitto Aug 23 '11 at 15:51
    
Tuning electric guitars with an electronic tuner works wonderfully. Tuning acoustic guitars with an electronic tuner's built-in microphone can be frustrating. You can get electronic tuners that clip onto the headstock and respond to the vibrations of the instrument. They are cheap and I heartily recommend them. –  slim Sep 28 '11 at 14:30
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Using a Chromatic or Stroboscopic Tuner

Open string tuning using a chromatic tuner or a stroboscopic tuner to tell you when the string is sound a particular note is popular for noisy environments where it would be otherwise impossible to hear your guitar. It also spares an audience the sound of a guitarist tuning up since it can mute your signal.

Electronic tuners can be had fairly cheap.

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It depends how badly it's out of tune : )

If it's totally out of tune I'll use a standard tuner, actually at the moment I'm using TC Electronic Polytune on my iPhone plus iRig which is pretty good.

If it's slightly out of tune then I'll tune using harmonics, it's easier to finetune a guitar this way.

http://www.get-tuned.com/harmonics.php

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please don't link to the technique, explain how it works :( –  Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 13:31
    
As I commented to Silver Light's answer, tuning by harmonics actually puts the guitar slightly out of tune. –  Alex Basson Jan 15 '11 at 15:16
    
Alex, this may be true, but it worked for Segovia when I saw him in concert, and it's worked for me for 40 yrs.Just watch that you use the bridge pick-up on an electric - the neck pup is often exactly under the harmonic node.(see another of my questions about this). Also it's worth doing 'playing hand harmonics'as this leaves your fretting hand free to twiddle your knobs, so to speak. –  Tim Mar 22 '13 at 10:17
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