Essential Guitar Tuning Tips

Guitar strings close-up

Tuning a guitar is a crucial aspect of playing music. To play in harmony with other instruments, your guitar must first be in tune with itself. This requires more than just adjusting the open strings to pitch on the headstock; it involves the entire fretboard. In this article, we will discuss five key essentials for getting in tune and staying in tune.

Proper Set Up

Before we dive into different tuning techniques and tools, it’s important to have your guitar properly set up. The two elements that you should be aware of are “Action” and “Intonation”. Action refers to the height of the strings and intonation refers to the string length. These adjustments are crucial for tuning because if the strings are too low, the notes will buzz and ring out poorly. On the other hand, if the action is too high, you will have to bend the strings more than necessary when fretting a note. To ensure consistent pitch across the fretboard, the string length must be set correctly. While understanding the finer points of guitar set up may not be necessary, it is a foundation for everything else in tuning.

Dead Strings

Another factor that can affect tuning is the lifespan of your strings. Dead strings can ruin your tuning. Strings lose their life and sound over time due to wear and tear against the frets and corrosion from contact with skin. This leads to issues with vibrations, resonance, and sustain, which ultimately affects their consistency with staying in tune. To prevent this, be sure to wipe down your strings after playing and change them when they start to sound dull.

Stretching New Strings

It’s important to note that new strings take time to settle down and stretch out. While changing strings is essential, brand new strings can be problematic for tuning. To help with this, play the strings until they have stretched out or lightly pinch-stretch each string until they hold pitch. When changing strings, be sure to thread each string properly at the headstock. Too few or too many rounds can cause strings to slip out of tune.

Double Checking Your Tuning

It may seem like common sense, but double-checking your tuning is essential. Start from the low E and tune progressively through to the lighter strings. Remember, tuning changes the string tension against the guitar neck, so it’s important to fine-tune everything after each string is in place.

Tuning Up

Finally, always tune up to the open note, not down. If you overshoot and tune a note too sharp, start again. Similarly, if you’re using an alternate tuning like “drop D”, drop below the low D note and tune up to it. Some issues with tuning occur at the nut of the guitar, so it’s important to avoid the string slipping or catching at the nut. Some players use specialized guitar powders or lubricants to prevent this, but as a general rule, always tuning up helps to keep things in pitch.

In conclusion, tuning a guitar involves more than just adjusting the open strings to pitch. It involves proper set up, healthy strings, stretching new strings, double-checking your tuning, and always tuning up. By following these five key essentials, you can ensure your guitar is in tune and ready for any performance.