Being able to quickly and accurately tune a guitar is one of the hallmarks of an experienced musician. Learn how to sharpen your tuning skills.
Tuning your instrument can sometimes feel like an annoying chore, but it is vital all the same. It can mean the difference between a legendary performance and a complete flop. Even if you’re just practicing at home, taking a minute to tune up first will not only make rehearsal more rewarding, it will help train your ear.
So don’t skip it. Here are some pro tips to help you tune faster and easier, so you can get it out of the way and get on with the music.
Use an Electronic Tuner
You may find situations where tuning by ear or to a certain instrument is desirable, but those are few and far between. In the days of digital everything, using an electronic tuner is the gold standard.
Rugged, reliable tuning at your feet. When you need to tune onstage, the TC Polytune 2 Pedal Tuner is bright and accurate. It’s housed a tough metal chassis for years of service.
If you’re in a band you can be sure that your bandmates are using digital tuners, and you risk being out of tune with them if you don’t do the same. If you’re playing by yourself, a digital tuner is completely accurate and easy to use. (In most cases, it will be easier than any other method.) Check out our tuner buying guide for help in choosing the right one for you.
Try an Online Tuner
You may also want to try an online tuner. Some of simply generate tone for you to match by ear on your guitar. Others allow you to use a line-in connection or a microphone to input your guitar’s signal to the site, so the tuner will guide you to the correct pitch—much like an electronic tuner. Check out our Seven Online Guitar Tuners Rated for a review of some popular online tuners to get an idea of what’s out there and what might work best for you.
Make Sure You Stretch
Make sure your strings are in good shape and stretched out properly. Installing a fresh set of strings on your guitar or bass will restore its tone, but they also need to stretch out a bit to settle into stable tension. Be sure your strings have settled in before hitting the stage or studio.
After installing new strings on your instrument, tune up to approximate pitch then bend each string up and down as far as it will go without breaking it at the 12th fret. Then tune up again to take up the slack caused by stretching. This will help achieve tuning stability faster.
Tune Up to the Note
Always tune up to pitch—from flat up to the note, not from sharp down to the note. When you tune down, slack will be stored above the nut, and as you play that slack will transfer down the string so you’ll find yourself flat in no time. If you’re tuning to reference tones, set the volume of the tone to approximately match that of your guitar—it’ll make tuning easier.
Use Your Ears
Don’t be afraid to double check or tweak your tuning before playing. If something doesn’t sound quite right, it’s not. If your singer gives you the look, check your tuning one more time. Don’t let poor tuning ruin an otherwise solid performance.
Start Out on the Right Note
Wherever you are playing, whatever you are playing, tuning first is key. If you take the time and use good equipment, you’ll get better and faster over time, until you find yourself tuning—with a tuner or by ear on the fly—without a second thought.