Learning to play guitar is one of the most satisfying things in life, but also has the potential to be incredibly frustrating. Picking up the guitar only to find it is making a horrendous sound rather than the smooth and elegant melodies and chords can be demotivating to say the least.
There are two common problems for beginners when they first pick up their new musical instrument, a lack of knowledge about how to play, and a poorly set up instrument. Few newbie guitarists actually know that a guitar needs setting up, even if they hve made use of an electronic guitar tuner, so it’s hardly surprising that they quickly feel frustration set in and possibly even give up far too soon. So, what do we mean by setting up a guitar?
Setting Up A Guitar
Without getting too technical, each guitar string is stretched over the top of the frets (separated by metal ‘bars’ along the fretboard), allowing the guitarist to press the string down as he strums the string to select notes, either played individually or to form a chord with notes on other strings (you can see the accuracy of the notes being played using an acoustic or electric guitar tuner with a built in microphone). The accuracy of each note depends on two things, the length of the guitar string and its tension.
If you play right handed, that is strumming with your right hand and selecting notes with your left, at the far left you will see pegs to adjust the tension of each string. At the other end, where the strings disappear into the body of the guitar, you can usually adjust the length of the individual guitar strings. The idea is that the length of the string and the tension combine to create the perfect tuning when you play.
Getting The Guitar Into Tune
There are two ways to tune a guitar (and we’ll assume the previous step of setting up the guitar has been completed). The first approach is to tune by ear. If you’re tone deaf, learning how to tune a guitar by ear really isn’t for you. The second method involves using a device called an acoustic (or classical) guitar tuner to guide you to the precise tuning of your guitar. They’re incredibly easy to use, but the quality can vary dramatically. This website focuses on playing acoustic guitars, and particularly getting them tuned well, although the majority of the information also applies to tuning an electric guitar.
The Theory Of Tuning A Guitar
This part of the process of tuning a guitar is the same whether your instrument is electric or acoustic, and we’ll assume you want ‘standard’ tuning. Most guitarists use standard tuning for the majority of their time, but it doesn’t hurt to know that there are times that musicians choose to tune differently. Similarly you might see some guitarists use a device called a ‘cappo’ to hold down all the strings at a particular fret. This simply allows music to be played in a different key, without needing to work out the new chords in that key – you just move down a few frets.
Acoustic Guitar Standard Tuning
So, what is standard tuning? Again, this is simple, it means that running from the lowest pitched string to the highest, you are tuning the open (ie not pressed down) strings to play E, A, D, G, B, E. Note that we are talking about the lowest pitch to the highest pitch, not their physical position. The highest string in the sense of furthest from the floor is actually the lowest pitched string – as you can imagine this catches out a few new guitarists!
Using A Tuner For An Acoustic Guitar
In order to learn how to tune a guitar, you will need to recognise that every device is slightly different, but an acoustic guitar tuner will normally have one common feature to all the others, and that is to give you a reading about how accurately your guitar is tuned to each of the notes in standard tuning. You may or may not have to tell the tuner which string you are playing, and some digital (electronic) tuners will allow you to either manually select or auto detect the string. Normally it is advisable to manually select the string to test, as it’s easy to miss that the tuner has picked the wrong string, and tune to the wrong note!
A great tip is to be careful not to pluck the string too hard when tuning, knowing how to strum a guitar string is essential; often you get a more accurate result by being gentle. Another trick is to always tighten the string into tune, rather than loosen it with the peg. Loosening is more likely to go out of tune faster as the string can slacken off once you get into playing – and it’s frustrating to have to stop and re-tune again!
Double Check Your Guitar Tuning Once Done
A common source of frustration, particularly when tuning a guitar for the first time, is working through the strings from low to high pitch and getting them perfectly into tune. To the horror of the guitarist, you might find that the low E is out of tune again by the time you have completed the high E string. This happens because you are typically tightening or loosening strings and this can cause the neck of the guitar to move very slightly. for this reason, it’s not a bad idea to get close to perfect tuning in the first attempt, then repeat the process. The closer you get, the less movement will be caused in the guitar neck, and the less impact each string being fine tune will have on the others. Don’t be surprised if you have to go through the strings three or four times the first time you tune a new guitar – in future it wont take so long!
Alternatives To Buying A Tuner
Believe it or not you might have a guitar tuner without realising it! Many smart phones these days are able to act as guitar tuners. This is certainly true of Apple’s iPhone, and there are Apps available in the App Store to perform this task. Some are truly awful, but one I particularly like is called Epic Tune. Best of all it’s a free download!
Personally, I have found the best results come with a proper acoustic guitar tuner, but when starting out you’ve probably already spent a fortune on your new pride and joy, so spending more isn’t ideal. If money is tight, why not try the smart phone option and see how you get on. There are also alternatives for phones running Google’s Android operating system and Nokia Symbian and Windows phones. Similarly, there are plenty of computer programs that can help you too, although they will often need an external microphone as trying to use a computer guitar tuner using microphones built into the laptop or computer itself are unlikely to give a particularly accurate reading. Make sure the mic is positioned near enough to the guitar to ‘hear’ the strings get plucked, but clear of the risk of making contact with the guitar.
We hope you find the site useful – there’s a ton of information available on the web, as well as this website, so take your time to learn, and you’ll be playing your favourite music in no time.