Guitar DIY: How to tune your guitar by ear

Matt Gleeson teaches you the best way to tune your guitar by ear, with or without a guitar tuner.

Tuning your guitar by ear is something that all guitar players should learn to do, but a surprisingly large amount still choose not to or have never taken the time to learn. In the latest episode of our Guitar DIY series, in association with Elixir Strings, Monty’s Guitars’ Matt Gleeson guides you through teaching yourself to tune by ear.

Old guitar strings are less than ideal when it comes to tuning by ear. Over time those strings will have been pulled and stretched, losing tension thus resulting in a change in harmonics and pitch. You’ll need a guitar tuner to hand, but if you have a keyboard player, bass player or someone with perfect pitch to hand that will work, too.

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Matt utilises two ways of tuning by ear. The first is to tune using the guitars harmonics. You begin by playing the harmonic on the 5th fret and then the harmonic on the 7th fret of the next string up. For example, if you played the E harmonic on fret five, you’d then play the A harmonic on fret seven and tune to pitch. The aim is to remove the difference in frequency, or, the audible “wobble”. Method two is to fret the low E string on the fifth fret and then playing the open A string beneath and tuning to pitch, you’ll have to move down to the fourth fret when tuning the B string. Matt advises signing the note in your head as you tune, to teach yourself the pitch each string correctly by ear.

Note that guitar tuners are geared, so it’s better to tune up to pitch. If you over turn the machine head, Matt advises reverting back a half turn, before tuning back up a quarter turn to pitch, and loading the machine head for better accuracy. Practice makes permanent.

Don’t forget to look back at previous instalments in this series for advice on how to setup a Stratocaster, how to correctly restring an acoustic or even when to change your guitars strings.

Are you on the hunt for more advice on how to get the best out of your beloved guitar? Click here for our entire Guitar DIY series, hosted by Matt in association with Elixir Strings.

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