how to tune an electric guitarI know that it might sound simple at first. And yes, once you learn how to tune an electric guitar with a tuner you can be done with it in less than a minute – that’s true. However, in order to be certain that you’re doing it properly you need to remember about a couple of things.

What a guitar tuner is

For those who don’t know yet, it’s a small electronic device that listens to the sounds your guitar makes and tells you whether they’re in tune or not. And, of course, tells you if you need to tune it up or tune it down to make it sound right.

That’s all. It’s really not that complicated piece of equipment. Now, there’s one last thing we need to cover before I can tell you how to tune an electric guitar…

What equipment to choose

First of all, NO ONLINE TUNERS. Just forget about this stuff. Online tuners have never been accurate in the history of guitarverse.

If you want your guitar to be in tune you need to buy a quality guitar tuner. Here are some options:

Snark SN-2 All Instrument Clip-On Chromatic Tuner

Korg GA-40 Large Display Guitar and Bass Tuner

Boss TU-3 Chromatic Pedal Tuner

You can go with whichever you like best. But the fact is that the last one – Boss TU-3 – is one of the most popular and best devices of its kind, so it might be worth considering. Currently at $88.50, but the price varies from $80 to $200 depending on Amazon’s mood … so it might be worth to act quickly. (By the way, I will receive a commission if you purchase through any of the links above.)

Just a word about why real tuners are better than their online/software brothers. The thing is simple. An online tuner is just a piece of software running on your computer. It operates using your computer’s resources (its processing power, sound card, etc.) therefore it can never outperform a physical device that’s been designed solely to be a guitar tuner. Every piece of electronics in those little boxes is put there to improve the device’s “tuning skills”.

Online tuners are simply like a “spork” … you know, they are not quite a fork and not quite a spoon. A real, box tuner is like a laser precision tool, and that’s why it’s better.

How to tune an electric guitar with a guitar tuner

Here’s what a typical guitar tuner’s display looks like:

guitar tuner - how to tune an electric guitar

In the top section you can see the letters that correspond to individual guitar strings. Below there’s a dial and a small indicator showing the sounds that are currently being played. The two arrows next to the indicator show whether the pitch needs to be brought up or down.

Of course, this is just my tuner. But there’s not much difference between all the other ones available on the market. Basically, every guitar tuner indicates two main things: (1) which string you’re currently playing, (2) how far off you are from the ideal pitch.

Now how to tune an electric guitar exactly. There’re several steps here:

  1. Play an empty string (the thickest one – E, for example).
  2. If the indicator is to the left of the ideal pitch (like the image above) you need to turn the pitch up a little. If the indicator is to the right of the ideal pitch you need to turn the pitch down a little.
  3. Play another empty string and repeat the steps.

Two important tips when using a guitar tuner

I don’t want to complicate this quite simple task, but there are two things to remember when you’re using a guitar tuner.

1. Always tune up, never tune down.

What this means is simple. If your tuner indicates that your pitch is to low then, naturally, you will tune it up. But when your tuner indicates that your pitch is to high then don’t tune it down until you reach the perfect pitch! Instead, tune it down even more than the tuner indicates, and then tune it up until you reach the perfect pitch.

I know that it sounds a little counterintuitive at first, but as experience shows guitar strings tend to “remember” their pitch much better if they were tuned up to reach it. In other words, it’s much easier to lose your tune when you’re tuning down.

2. Look at the initial indication of the pitch.

When you’re tuning your guitar the tuner will “hear” the sound your string makes for a couple of seconds. And as you’ll see, the sound will fluctuate giving a slightly different indication after a moment.

There are situations when you strum a string and it starts to fluctuate around the perfect pitch (above or below it) and then it settles on the perfect pitch. Don’t take this indication as a confirmation that you’re in tune.

Always look at the initial indication your tuner gives. If you strum a string, and immediately it tells you that you’re out of tune then you are out of tune. Don’t wait for the sound to settle on a different value.

That’s pretty much all there is to learning how to tune an electric guitar with a guitar tuner. Or is it? That’s where you come in. Feel free to write me a comment if you have some thoughts, tips or advice on using a guitar tuner. You’re more than welcome.