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5 Tips on Tuning An Acoustic Guitar Perfectly

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5 Tips on Tuning An Acoustic Guitar Perfectly

Being able to tune an acoustic guitar with speed and accuracy is a must for players of all skill levels. A guitar should be tuned each time it is played, so even beginners need to take the time to become familiar with various tuning methods and devices.

1. Know the Ways To Tune

There are many ways to tune a guitar. Each has a different application depending on skill level, venue, and available time. Relative tuning relies on the guitarist’s ability to match tones by ear. This is appropriate for intermediate and advanced players who are already familiar with the way a guitar sounds when it is in tune, but beginners can learn it with a little time and patience.
Electronic tuners provide a quick and accurate way to tune any type of guitar. Though some acoustic models have tuners built right in, most tuners are small, external devices that can be carried in a guitar case or gig bag. Microphone, vibration, and LED or stroboscopic tuners are all common devices for guitarists.

2. Become Familiar With the Tuning Process

Before learning to tune a guitar, a player must know what strings correspond to what notes. In standard acoustic guitar tuning, the tones from the sixth string to the first string are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Beginners can become familiar with the sound of each note by playing them on the piano or having a skilled player demonstrate proper tuning methods.
All tuning methods require patience and a sensitive ear. It takes new guitarists much longer to tune their instruments than advanced players, but this should not be a discouragement. Each technique has a learning curve that any musician can master. Once a beginner becomes acquainted with the basic notes, all styles of tuning will start to come more easily.

3. Learn To Tune By Ear

The ability to tune by ear is a valuable skill; however, it takes more time to learn than any other method. Beginners may find it challenging at first, but being able to tune anywhere, any time without the aid of an electronic tuner is worth the effort. Some musicians rely on this method for quick tune-ups between songs at shows. Tuning by ear can also be used to ensure that a guitar is in tune before giving it a test run at a music shop.

Tuning With a Piano

Using a piano is helpful for beginners who are still becoming familiar with the sound of each guitar string. A piano may be used as a starting point or to tune strings individually. Be sure to use a piano that is properly tuned or an electronic keyboard, to achieve the most accurate tone possible.
Begin with the low E string. Play the E on the piano and adjust the sixth string until the pitch matches. Using this note as a reference, move on to relative tuning or harmonic tuning to adjust the other five strings. Alternatively, continue to play the rest of the notes on the piano, matching the sounds until the guitar is in tune.

Tuning the Guitar Relative To Itself

Relative tuning is a common method that tunes guitar strings in relation to each other. It requires a reference tone from a piano or online tuner to ensure that the low E string is the correct pitch. Once this has been achieved, the other strings can be tuned as follows:
Hold the low E string down on the fifth fret and pluck it. Adjust the A string until the two tones match. Repeat this with the A and D strings to tune for D and G.
Press the G string down at the fourth fret to tune for B. Return to the fifth fret on the B string to get the tone for high E.

Tuning With Harmonics

Harmonics offer a slightly more accurate method of relative tuning. Instead of holding strings down, the guitarist lightly touches each string above a specific fret to ring harmonic notes and uses these tones to adjust pitch.
Using a reference tone, make sure that the low E string is in tune. Touch the string on the 5th fret to get the harmonic. While it’s still ringing, touch the A string at the 7th fret and play that harmonic. Adjust the A string until the two tones are the same. Repeat these two steps for the D and G strings.
To tune for B, touch the low E string over the 7th fret and play the B string open while the harmonic is still sounding. Adjust for accuracy.
Return to the 5th harmonic on the low E string and play the high E string open. Once these tones match, the guitar is in tune.
With a bit of practice, relative tuning becomes quicker and easier. Many guitarists are able to tune their instruments using one of these methods in a matter of seconds.

4. Try Tuning With a Tuner

There are three main types of electronic guitar tuners: microphone, vibration, and stroboscopic. Each uses a different input method to determine the pitch of each string. The tuner then returns results using an LED display, a needle or dial, or a set of lights to show how close the tone is to where it should be.

Types Of Guitar Tuners

Microphone

Microphone tuners are small electronic devices with an internal microphone. The guitarist plucks a string, the microphone picks up on the sound, and the tuner displays whether it is sharp or flat in relation to the correct pitch.

Vibration

Vibration tuners clip onto a guitar’s headstock. When a string is plucked, the tuner uses the vibrations to determine whether the tone is sharp or flat. These tuners are unaffected by background noise, making them ideal for loud environments.

Stroboscopic

Stroboscopic tuners rely on input directly from an instrument. The guitar is plugged into the tuner, and the player plucks each string in succession. A dial or LED screen then displays how close the pitch is to the correct one, allowing the guitarist to adjust accordingly.

Using an Electronic Tuner

Players of all skill levels should have no problem getting started with any type of tuner. Refer to any included manual or information for proper setup and use instructions. It’s also important to note any special storage or care instructions to avoid damage to the device.
Be sure to check what, if any, batteries a tuner needs to work properly. Battery level can affect accuracy, so if a tuner suddenly seems to be returning bad results, try replacing the batteries before investing in a new tuner.
5. Choose the Best Way to Tune

The best tuning method depends largely on venue and skill level. Playing alone requires less accuracy than playing live or with a group. It may take a few tries to find an appropriate tuning method for each situation. Try different methods before settling on the one that feels most comfortable.

Relative by ear

Choose relative tuning when playing alone for fun or when doing short solo practice sessions. Since relative tuning can be inaccurate, it’s only appropriate for times when precise pitch doesn’t matter.
 

Relative with harmonics

Harmonics are slightly more accurate than relative tuning and can be relied on for personal practice or informal jam sessions.

Microphone tuner

Use a microphone tuner to tune up before band practice or a live performance. As long as the venue is quiet, a microphone tuner should deliver accurate pitch.
 

Vibration tuner

Noisy venues can interfere with microphone tuners, so a vibration tuner may be preferable. Picking up on vibrations directly from the headstock makes these tuners able to detect slight changes in pitch for precise results.
 

Stroboscopic tuner

Live performances offer little opportunity to stop and tune with a freestanding device. However, exact pitch is essential when performing live. Having a stroboscopic tuner hooked up along with other performance equipment allows guitarists to tune quickly between sets.

Finding Tuners on eBay

Tuners are such useful tools that they have their own section on eBay. Visit the "Musical Instruments & Gear" section and select "Equipment," then click on the "Tuners" category in the sidebar. Tuners of all kinds can then be browsed, searched, and purchased either directly or through auctions.

Conclusion

Knowing how to tune an acoustic guitar is an invaluable skill for players at all levels. Beginners can choose from a variety of electronic tuners to make the process easier. Intermediate and advanced players may wish to learn how to tune by ear and develop the skills necessary to tune any guitar on the fly. Proper tuning is worth the time it takes to learn and ensures that acoustic guitars always sound just right when played solo, with a band, or in a live show.

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