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Home : Basics : Tuning
Before you start to play your guitar, you'll need to "tune" it so that all of the strings sound the way they are supposed to.  Tuning is done by turning the pegs attached to each string.  When you turn the pegs one direction, the strings stretch, and go higher in pitch.  When you turn them in the other direction, they loosen, and go lower in pitch.

There are six strings on the guitar.  Strings are numbered from the ground up:  "1" is the thinnest, highest sounding string, "6" is the thickest, bass string. The piece of plastic or bone at the end of the long neck of the guitar (close to the tuning pegs) is called the "nut".  The metal strips going across the neck are called "frets".  Frets are numbered from the nut upward (the nut is considered the 0 or "open" fret). To play any note on the guitar, you must press an individual string against the fretboard with a left hand finger, just to the left of a specific fret, and then pluck that string with a finger of the right hand.  Each of the string/fret locations on the guitar has a specific note name and produces a specific sound.  Strings plucked by themselves, without being fretted by the left hand, are called "open" strings.

You can tune the guitar to another instrument, or to itself.  If you want to play guitar along with another instrument, you will have to make sure both instruments are "in tune" with one another.  To tune to another instrument, find these notes on the other instrument, and then turn the tuning pegs attached to each string until they sound the same as the given note:

1st string should sound like an "E" (thinnest string - high note)
2nd string should sound like a "B"
3rd string should sound like a "G"
4th string should sound like a "D"
5th string should sound like an "A"
6th string should sound like an "E" (thickest string - low note)

The following mp3 contains a recording of each of the open string notes, played slowly and repeatedly.  Use it to help tune up your guitar to the correct pitches.

(recording)

If you don't have another instrument available, or if you don't know how to find the notes on it, you can tune the guitar to itself. This is done by tuning adjacent strings so that they sound the same. To do this, follow the chart below:

Press down on this        And tune this open (unfretted)
string and fret:          string so that it sounds the same:

6th string 5th fret       5th string (open)
5th string 5th fret       4th string (open)
4th string 5th fret       3rd string (open)
3rd string 4th fret       2nd string (open)
2nd string 5th fret       1st string (open)

Notice that the 3rd string is the only string on which the 4th fret is pressed.  All other strings are pressed down at the 5th fret.

You should follow the chart in the order given above. If you want your guitar to be in tune with another guitar, you should start by tuning the 6th (thickest) strings on each instrument so that they sound the same.  Then, follow the chart for each guitar.  For many people it's harder to learn how to tune a guitar than it is to learn how to play it!

Be patient, have a friend help, and consider investing in an electronic tuner.  Tuners are inexpensive, and they help your ears develop tuning skills by allowing you to always hear the sound of an in-tune instrument.  Professional players typically rely on tuners during performance and recording sessions - they are not just for beginners.  The money spent on a good tuner will be put to use as long as you play your instrument.

Copyright 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.