2 ways to tune an electric guitar without a tuner

Learning how to tune an electric guitar by ear is an invaluable skill that save you from dragging a tuner around. Discover the two most common methods.

2 ways to tune an electric guitar without a tuner

Being in tune helps when preparing for a music lesson or a jam session with friends. Attuning the ear to the strings' frequencies means you'll pick up on an out-of-tune guitar faster, helping to improve performances. Tuning by ear can be tricky at first, but practice makes perfect. Learning more than one technique also helps novice guitarists to check their tuning in multiple ways, providing a great back up.

1. Listening to pitch

With a standard electric guitar tuning, each string makes a different note when struck, other than the high and low E. To hear each string's pitch, get used to striking it independently of the others. Turn your amp's distortion and effects off so you can listen to pitch without anything getting in the way. Use a reference pitch from a pitch pipe or a keyboard to tune the A string to standard pitch. Turn the machine head clockwise to tighten the string, sharpening the pitch or vice-versa, as required.

Once tuned, finger the A string at the fifth fret to sound the note of D. This will allow you to adjust the D string, the next one down, to the correct pitch. Once, completed, hold the D string at the fifth fret and repeat for the G string. Remember that when you tune the B string from the G string that you need to finger it at the fourth fret, not the fifth.

For the top E string, hold the tuned B string at the fifth fret, once more. Finally, you can use the top E as a reference pitch for the bottom E string. Alternatively, hold the bottom E string at the fifth fret and tune it with the machine head by comparing the A note played with the open A string.

The important thing to do is to compare the string you are tuning with the one you have just tuned until they make the same note.

2. Listening to harmonics

If you lightly touch a string over the top of the fifth fret without pushing it down onto the fret board, a pure note—or harmonic—will sound. Use your amp with a clean setting to be able to hear this harmonic. The same harmonic on any string's fifth fret is also to be found on the next string up, but on the seventh fret. This helps guitarists to check whether they are in tune with one another.

For example, if you sound the guitar's D string harmonic on the fifth fret and then the harmonic of the G string at the seventh fret should sound the same. You can compare the harmonics of each adjacent pair of strings expect the G and B strings, since these are two tones apart, not two and a half like all the others.

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