How To Tune Your Guitar Quickly, Like A Pro
If you’re new to guitar (or even an experienced player) you know how frustrating it can be to try and tune your guitar in a reasonable amount of time. If you are like me when I started playing guitar, you sometimes waste up to 20 minutes tuning your guitar for a 30 minute practice session. That’s 2/3rds of your practice time wasted!
I’m going to share with you some things I’ve learned, tested, and measured over the years about how to tune a guitar quickly. Some of these tips are also things I’ve learned from professional studio and touring musicians; tips that matter when there is a crunch for time and accuracy.
Let’s start with some general guidelines and some things to remember, and then we’ll dive into the meat of how to tune a guitar. Watch the video for a full demonstration of these processes. The 10 minutes you invest into watching this video will pay dividends now and for the rest of your life.
Things To Remember:
1) Tuning a guitar lots wears down the strings so when you put the time in to practice these steps, do it on a guitar with older strings. You don’t want to ruin your brand new strings within a week of putting them on.
2) If the guitar is really out of tune (or you’re putting new strings on) have another guitar or a tuner app (like GuitarTuna) that can play the sounds of the strings nearby. Use your ear to get the guitar you’re tuning as close as possible to the sound of your other guitar or app. This helps you when you actually go to use the tuner and it isn’t jumping all over the place trying to guess the string.
3) Change your strings every 3-6 months (more often if you gig regularly). Old guitar strings are more malleable than new strings, making an accurate tuning not last as long. If you are having trouble keeping your guitar in tune, ask yourself when the last time you changed your strings was. Even if you haven’t played your guitar in a year, the climate will adversely affect your strings’ health.
4) Actually practice tuning your guitar with the tips below so that you get the experience needed to tune your guitar quickly. You need to get the experience and get a feel for how your guitar tunes with the tuning pegs it has. You will get better at quickly judging how far you need to turn a specific peg to get closer to the tuning you want.
5) Tune before every time you play
6) Practice changing your guitar strings so you are prepared for when they break
Pro Tuning Tips:
1) Always tune from BELOW up to the pitch you want. This helps take up any excess tension in the strings resulting in a longer lasting, accurate result. When you tune from a higher pitch to a lower pitch, there is some excess tension left over in the tuning pegs and where the strings sit that will cause your guitar to go (slightly) out of tune the moment you slide, bend, or even fret a note. Always tune from a lower pitch up to the target note. If your strings are too sharp (high) in pitch, simply bring it right below the target pitch and then tune up.
2) For floating bridges: always press the bridge all the way down and gently release it before tuning. This takes up any excess tension in the strings and will result in a truer, longer lasting, accurate result.
3) If using an electronic tuner, mute the other strings at around the 10th fret (definitely not the 3, 5, 7, 9, or 12) but DONT PRESS DOWN ON THE STRINGS.
When you mute the strings at the 10th fret, there are very few overtones at that specific fret to mess up your tuning. If you know about how to play harmonics on the guitar then you know the 10th fret is a hard place to get to ring out with a harmonic. Without nerding out about the science behind it, I will tell you that if you gently mute at the places I mentioned not to, the overtones will confuse the tuner and take up more of your time (and/or cause you to tune incorrectly wasting further time).
Also, don’t press down very hard on the strings when doing this, especially if you have a floating bridge. When you press down on the strings, you create tension, which will pull the bridge or neck tighter and closer together. When you tune your strings like this and then let go, the resulting tuning will be sharp (high) and will not sound good with other instruments. Simply mute the strings by resting your fingers on them gently.
4) Tune from thickest to thinnest, and then do it again. Why? The thickest string carries the most tension and will influence the tuning of the other strings more than other strings will influence the low E string. So if you tune from thinnest to thickest, by the time you’ve tuned the thickest string, the thinnest string will be much more out of tune and you will have to repeat the process 3-4-5+ times to get an accurate tuning. It is best to tune from thickest to thinnest so you only have to do it at a max of 2 times.
5) Pluck and then wait 1 second before adjusting. When you first pluck the string, the string is vibrating at a more intense rate right after the pluck than a second after the pluck. If you tune your guitar without waiting for the string to “slow down” to a normal rate, you’re guitar will always sound sharp (higher) than other guitars, recordings, and instruments. If you want a true, accurate tuning for recording, performing, jamming with others, ear training, or just playing at home, then wait just one second to adjust the tuning pegs. Watch the video for a demonstration of this.
6) Hit the string every 3 seconds to maintain an accurate reading. For the same reasons we give the string a second to “calm down” before tuning, we don’t want to wait too long to tune up. For this reason, hit the string then wait a second, adjust the tuning peg, and then hit the string again to check your tuning.
7) When changing to another string to tune, mute the old string and hit the new string 2-3 times while muting between hits/plucks to get the tuner to recognize the new string faster. Watch the video for a demonstration on how to do this.
These 7 tips will help improve how quickly and accurately you tune your guitar every time you tune it. If you practice these tips consistently, and tune every time you play, you WILL get faster at this. It shouldn’t take you 20 minutes to tune your guitar, maaaaaybe 5 at max. So Implement these tips, and watch your practice time (and fun) go waaaaay up!
About the Author:
Bryce Gorman is the only professional guitar teacher living in the entire Elk Valley, BC, with a passion for helping his students become the best players they can be! If you are interested in taking “Guitar Lessons in Lethbridge, Alberta, then be sure to contact Bryce!”