How to Tune an Acoustic Guitar

By Monica | News

Jan 17
how to tune an acoustic guitar

The question of how to tune your acoustic guitar can be quite a simple one to answer these days as anyone with a smart phone can download an app and simply pluck the strings and tweak the pegs until the app gives you the green light. This will do a fairly good job of tuning your guitar, it won’t however tune your ear.

Below I’ll talk about the different ways of tuning your guitar, the importance of keeping it in tune and how this simple but essential routine can improve your playing.


Everyone loves an old standard

Standard guitar tuning as written in Helmholtz notation is:

  • E A D G B E’

Most guitarist play in standard tuning and probably 99% of song books will be written in standard tuning, it is the easiest place to start from as a beginner before getting into the weird and wonderful world of alternate tunings, more on that another day.

The reason for the different cased letters and the apostrophe over the e, is to differentiate between the different E’s, A’s etc that the guitar is able to play, this is known as Helmholtz notation. To put it another way, imagine a piano, an E at one end of the key board will sound quite different to an E at the other end so Helmholtz notation is one way of telling them apart when written down.

This works for all notes but I will use E as an example:

  • The E denotes the low E
  • The e denotes the E one octave higher
  • The e’ denotes the E a further octave higher
  • The e’’ an octave higher again

Tuning for cheats

As I said earlier the quickest and easiest way of tuning a guitar is to buy an electric tuner or download an app on your smart phone, (there are hundreds to choose from some have a number of uses, metronome, chord finder etc, I use “Gstring” which is just a basic tuner). You simply turn them on and pluck the string, the gauge shows you the note you are playing and you turn the peg until you are playing the relevant note for that string, do this with each string in turn and hey-presto a tuned guitar.

Electric tuner Vs App

Most serious musicians would insist on electric tuners for the simple reason that mobile phones can be distracting in a number of ways and should not interfere with practice, and definitely not performance. However although electric tuners are inexpensive the apps are often free and reasonably reliable. The decision is entirely yours.

Tune up your ear

Electric tuners are quick and easy but not good for training the ears, by only using a tuner guitarists won’t pick up the subtle variations in pitch. Your ears can be trained to recognize notes, which is very important if you have any aspirations to solo in a band or play along with the radio. To be able hear a note and quickly reproduce it and to recognize a key and adjust accordingly are important to the improvisational side of playing most musical instruments.

Also when you play even slightly out of tune it will not sound good, you may not recognize the problem, your fingers are doing as their told and your timing is good but the music still sounds bad. So guitarists of any reasonable standard learn to tune by ear.

Plead the Fifth

The easiest and most reliable way of tuning an acoustic guitar is to use the Fifth Fret method, there are more complex ways to tune to a higher degree of perfection, but unless you are already regularly performing on stage then the Fifth Fret method will work just fine and be a lot less time consuming.

The principle is to tune the E string to concert pitch using another instrument, tuning fork, synthesized tone etc. then tune the A string using the E string as a reference point, tune the d string using the A string, and so on referencing each string from the one before.

It’s known as the Fifth Fret method because you will need to depress the previously tuned string at the fifth fret to create the note the following string needs to be tuned too.Once the E string is tuned hold the string at the fifth fret and adjust the A until both notes sound the same.

Tuning string

When you are happy the guitar is tuned you can “cheat” and check each string with the electric tuner, then repeat the fifth fret process without the tuner to try and recognize the difference. This is where you not only fine tune your guitar but also your ear, over time you will pick up on the slight differences to recognize precise tone and you will need the electric tuner less and less, DON’T forget it entirely though as you can lose your ear quickly. I still check with my electric tuner every day.

If your guitar needs constant re-tuning (after every piece or two), then I’m afraid that’s not a good sign, it may be fairly straight forward to fix but it will mean a trip to the shop to get an expert to look at it.

4 Golden Rules for Tuning an Acoustic Guitar:

  • 1- Tune every time. Tune your guitar EVERY time you pick it up, even if it’s just a quick run through the fifth fret method without checking with an electric tuner, it can take about 5 seconds once you’re used to it.
  • 2- Tune up. Bring your guitar into tune by tuning up, so if the pitch is too high, tune down past the correct frequency and tune back up, this can help the guitar hold the tuning significantly longer.
  • Tune gently. The thicker the string the more sensitive the pegs will be, they may only need the slightest tweak in contrast to the pegs of the thinner strings.
  • Remember rule 1. Don’t get lazy, it’s amazing how people can’t be bothered to follow a process that can only takes a few seconds even though it can make you a significantly better musician, I know this because I was that lazy individual, so eager to knuckle down and learn my new favorite piece that I’d ignore the basics. Once you’ve been over it a few times it’ll only take a minute and will of great benefit.

I hope you have found this informative, as always comments or questions are welcome below. Feel free have a look around the rest of the site or follow the link to read my post on how to change your acoustic guitar strings. To find out more about guitar lessons, you may go to

Guest Post from John Anthony (


About the Author

Hi everyone! Im Monica and I am an avid lover of guitars and everything in-between. My current profession is not really music-related. It is quite discouraging but I just don't want to drop my zeal--especially not to guitars! I created GuitarTrance.Com so that I can keep up with my hobby. Of course, I want to engage with the community as well! Hope we can all get along!