Playing good and harmonious sounds with your electric guitar calls for practice, precision, technique, and most importantly, a properly tuned guitar regardless of your skill level.
This could be the difference between creating sweet harmony or noisy discord! Learning how to tune an electric guitar can be a tricky undertaking but the good news is that it is doable, and once you develop this skill, you can do it with minimal effort. Whether you are a novice guitar player or a guru in the field, using the following guitar tuning tips and techniques will help improve your guitar tone and the quality of your music in general. For more information about which strings to use, read How to Choose Guitar Strings.
Make use of tuning tools!
Tuning your guitar with the use of cutting edge tuning tools will immensely improve your instrument’s sound quality. Clip-on tuners that have a metronome are an added advantage as they increase tuning accuracy while eliminating distortions that may be associated with background noise and other environmental factors. When clipped directly onto to the headstock of your guitar, a clip-on tuner is able to easily sense and pick up vibrations, therefore making it easy to fine tune your guitar with high accuracy even in a noisy setting. Plus, the added metronome means you can eliminate an extra device, making practice less of a hassle.
Tuners equipped with LED light indicators, most of which display red light (for too low or too high) and green light (for in-tune) further simplify your tuning needs and completely take out the guessing game, improving your chances of getting your guitar in proper tune faster. Small size and light weight tuners make it possible for you to have them discreetly on hand without increasing the bulk of your instrument, which is an added advantage for emergency out-of-whack tune situations.
Other guitar tuners come with a pitch calibration option and transpose function for easy manipulation especially if you choose non-standard tuning, further assisting you in your guitar tuning quest. To save time and energy, especially if your guitar falls out of tune in the midst of your on-stage gig, using guitar tuners that have a super-tight sensitivity and ultra-fast response will ensure that you lock into tune fast and stay in tune longer. As a rule of thumb, it is however important to frequently tune your guitar to ensure that it is in tip-top functionality and do not stress if you are unable to perfect the tune. It is never a perfect accomplishment as some guitar strings can stretch and get loose with the effect of external factors such as changes in temperature and humidity.
Make use of the E A D G B E tone references and more!
Tune your electric guitar by following the most common E A D G B E tone range to achieve harmony in less time. Adjusting strings to the pitch of your choice and to fit with the standard tuning for a 6-stringed electric guitar can be an earful so to speak; one that needs focused and accurate listening as well as overall knowledge of guitar functionality. This also calls for a good understanding of the anatomy of your guitar. Starting with the largest (thickest) string (string No. 6), the string closest to you, and tuning it to low E will act as a guideline to help you adjust the rest of the strings in a descending order(A D G B E) respectively, with the smallest (thinnest) string being tuned at a high pitch E. This technique is commonly referred to as “tuning by ear” which can prove tricky for both beginners and seasoned guitar players therefore requiring patience and persistence.
Apart from the standard tuning tone range, cutting edge technology presents other choices of tone references that work best to improve sound quality. Currently there are a myriad of useful electronic sources such as keyboards, pianos and computers. Keep in mind that pianos and keyboards represent some of the most reliable guitar tuning tone references and a 6-stringed guitar can be easily tuned against six keys on the piano to create sweet harmony. If using a computer for tuning, the Guitar Pro 6 Fretlight Ready is an example of a computer application, that allows you to connect your guitar to your computer and you are then able to see your notes, chords and scales. This makes it possible for you to fine-tune and adjust accordingly. With a complete customization option, it guarantees you tuning freedom to suit your unique sounds’ needs.
Make use of Octaves for tuning!
Octave intervals are usually set in a 2:1 ratio therefore if tuning your electric guitar with the aid of octaves, the pitch will follow a similar pattern within a 2:1 successive increment. It is however helpful to note that the ratios and the guitar strings have a reciprocal or an inverse relationship (therefore string length will play a part in affecting the guitar’s pitch). This technique allows you to customize sound without having to memorize fixed pitches giving you more room for trials and errors without completely throwing your guitar off key. With the help of a keyboard you can tune the very first open string, which needs to be tuned to E. After you have the first string in tune the rest will follow in the 2:1 ratio. To be able to use the octaves tuning technique you will need to have a good understanding of these relationships.
Tuning an Electric Guitar in Standard Tuning
The first step in learning how to tune an electric guitar is knowing where to start. You always want to tune the sixth string (the one closest to you) first, because it’s the thickest, and the one least likely to go out of tune in the first place. Using your preferred method of tuning (I prefer an electric tuner), pluck the open sixth string and tune to E. Make certain you’re tuning to the correct octave. This should be obvious, as a lower octave will be unplayable from the string slack, and the string will have snapped long before you tune to the higher octave.
Once you tuned the sixth string, move onto the fifth, or A string. There are two ways to go about this. Since you know the sixth string is tuned, you may either compare the fifth fret on the sixth string (which is an A) to the open A string, or continue using a tuner. If you’re using the first method, you’ll want to play the two string simultaneously, and hear if there are any “strange” sounds. If they’re not in tune, they create a sort of “wobbly” sound that doesn’t sound stable. If they are, it will sound almost as if there’s only one string being plucked.
Continue this on all the strings. Warning: Because of how standard tuning works, if you’re using the first method, you must compare the fourth fret on the third (G) string to the open second (B) string! If using a tuner, there is no difference.
Once you’ve tuned all strings, you may be surprised to find that some of the strings have seemingly gone out of tune again! This is normal, especially when the strings were severely out of tune, the strings are new, or the guitar has been exposed to a new environment. Just keep repeating the steps until they stabilize.
In conclusion; you need to know your instrument!
Regardless of which guitar tuning technique you choose, or your knowledge level on how to tune an electric guitar, you can increase your tuning success with some helpful tips and in this case, knowledge of your instrument adds more tuning power to you! Generally, guitars with thicker gauged strings are easier to tune and stay in tune longer as they do not bend or stretch easily and are also credited for producing a richer sound. Hardwood guitar necks such as maple and mahogany will determine how stable and rigid guitar frets will be, which in turn affects playability and tone. In the end, investing in a quality electric guitar and tuner will save you a whole lot of tuning nightmares and headaches.