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How to tune your guitar

“Reality is a sound, you have to tune in to it not just keep yelling.”
- Anne Carson


Like any other instrument, we have to make sure that it sounds as it’s supposed to sound. For the guitar, that means that each string must be tuned to a specific note, or else our playing will sound like crap.

In this lesson we'll learn how to tune your guitar to make sure it sounds correctly.

Check the video lesson below, where I'll show you how to use a common standard tuner as well as the built-in tuners on my multi-effects pedals, or continue reading for more details.

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Regarding the way they work, there are two kinds of tuners:

  • Standard tuners

These tuners are designed to tune a guitar to the standard tuning (EADGBE). Some can be set to offset the tuning by a couple of semitones (usually flats), but you cannot change the tuning of a string to any other note.

  • Chromatic tuners

These tuners give you maximum flexibility, and can tune your guitar to just about any tuning you might want to.

As for their shape and form, we have the following possibilities:

  • Plug-or-mic tuner

korgtuner.jpg These tuners can be used to tune acoustic or electric guitars by either pluging the lead cable into it, or hearing the notes with their built-in microphone. Some models have a built-in speaker that can give you a reference note to tune the string to, although to use this feature you need to develop your ear a little first.

These are usually standard tuners only.

Very practical to have one on your gig bag.

  • Clip-on tuner

These tuners tend to be used more for acoustic guitars. They clip on the guitar neck and hear the vibrations in order to tune the notes.

Clipon tuner.jpg

These tend to be chromatic tuners, and are the easier ones to use.

  • Pedal tuner

These tuners can come in the shape of a single stand-alone pedal or be included along with modern multi-effects pedals. They can be used with electric or electro-acoustic guitars, as they require a signal (they have no microphone).

Pedal tuner.jpg

These tend to be chromatic. I have two multi-effects pedals; both have tuners built-in, and they are great.

  • Tuning apps

If you don't want to carry extra gear with you, you can certainly use this. If you have any modern smartphone or tablet, you can find many tuning apps that will use the device's microphone to hear the notes and give you a reading, which means you will be able to use them for both acoustic or electric guitars.

Just search on your platform's store for "guitar tuner" and you'll find plenty of options like PitchLab or Alt Guitar Tuner.

Depending on the app, it can work as a standard or chromatic tuner.

Tuning apps.jpg

The way all tuners work is pretty straightforward, although it differs between standard and chromatic tuners.

With a standard tuner, when you play a single string, it will check if that note is close to any of the notes on the standard tuning, including the octave. If it is close to any of them, it will tell you which note it is and show you a meter that tells you how far off it is from the intended frequency, both flat and sharp.

If the note played is too far from any of the standard tuning, it will not respond.

On the other hand, a chromatic tuner will always give you a reading on which note the string is closer to, along with a reading on how far off it it, both flat and sharp.

The real difference between the two kinds of tuners, therefore, is that the standard tuner is easier for a beginner to tune the guitar to the standard tuning only.

The way we tune the guitar is by turning the tuning pegs of the guitar to tighten or loosen the strings. Which way it will tighten and loosen will depend on how the string has been wound (it's easy to find out).

tuning pegs of the guitar to tighten or loosen the strings.jpg

Tightening the string will make the note go up, while loosening it will make it go down. With the reading from the tuner, we will be able to know just how much tightening or loosening we will need to get the string to the proper note.

If you have any trouble tuning your instrument, let me know.

Good luck!


About the author:  Max Chiossi  is a rock guitarist and engineer with a laser-focused approach. You can visit my website at .

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@pauljones   2 years ago
Thanks for the lesson! Which tuner do you think is more suitable for live situations? I've always used pedal tuners since the fact that you can tune your guitar without producing a sound (by turning the volume knob down) is way more discreet than tuning at full volume in front on a live audience. But I'd like to hear more opinions on the subject :)
@maxtpg   2 years ago
I'm glad you liked it! I don't know why, but the insert of the video did not appear to work...the link is still on there, so you can check it out if you want to.

While playing live I've always used the built-in tuners of my multi-effects pedals. The advantage of these is that you can always turn the volume down and they will still tune the guitar. If you use any multi-effects, it's likely it already has its tuner, so I would recommend using it. In the video of this lesson I show how the tuners of my two pedals work.

If you don't use multi-effects, you can always go for any of the other tuning options, except using your phone app (it would be quite awkward and plus they're dependent on using the phone mic, and in a club or venue there are always noises that interfere, so avoid it). You can always unplug your guitar from your rig or amp (make sure you turn the volume down first to prevent noises) and then plug it into the tuner, so that you can tune your guitar in silence.
@pauljones   2 years ago
Thanks for the advice Max! Yes, I've had the bad experience of having to tune with a phone app during a live show- the tuner was barely working right due to the excesive noise in the room. That's why I switched to pedal tuners-however, I can see the advantage of using a multi-effect pedal because of the built-in tuner. I have to plug my tuner to my pedal rig separately, but at least I can tune easily without having to unplug anything. I'd like to get a multi-effect pedal, though. It's so much easier to carry than a bunch of separate pedals.
@maxtpg   2 years ago
If you want to get a multi-effects pedal and are on a tight budget, I recommend the Zoom G2 series. They are a great bang for buck! I've had the G2.1 for many years, and bought the G2.1nu in an eBay auction for virtually nothing (like 60 bucks). They are not the best for pros, but I assure you they will hold their ground in any gig (I've used mine many times and it did not disappoint).