How To Tune Guitar By Ear Properly

In general I would advice you to use an electric tuner, especially if you play in a band or in any other situation where you need to be in tune with other musicians. But there are some benefits for you to tune the guitar by ear, which make it worth to give it a try:

  1. You develop your listening skills.
  2. If you play with an other guitarist who has intonation problems with his guitar, you may need to adjust your tuning by ear to each other.
  3. If you have intonation problems with your own guitar, you will get aware of it with the method I will give you.
  4. It can be a lot of fun for you once you get it!

How NOT to tune your guitar by ear: The 55545 Method

This is probably the most prominent method I’ve seen most guitarists using. For those of you who are not familiar with it, you strum the open string you want to tune and play the same note one string lower to check if the sound matches each other. On the lower string you find the same note as the open string you want to tune on the 5th fret, except the B string, where you find the same “B-note” on the 4th fret of the G string. (That’s why it is called the 55545 Method).

The problem with this method is, that if you’ve made a mistake on the previous string, you pass this mistake along to the next string without noticing it. It is very common that you tune the strings (especially strings 1-3) a little bit to high and as you move from string to string this mistake just gets worse and worse.

How to avoid this problem: Using a single string as reference point

With this method you choose a string to begin with and tune it with an electric tuner, or with a reference note (e.g. by hitting the note on a piano). You are going now to tune all the other strings by using the first string you choose as a reference point.

You do this by finding the same note on your starting string and every other string on the guitar you want to tune. You always tune all strings to the same reference string you chose in the beginning. To double check if you did it correctly, you can play the string you just tuned, together with the same note on any other string which you previously tuned.

For example using the A-string: After having your A-string in tune, you are going to tune your D-string with the previous shown method of using the D note on the 5th fret of the A-String. To double check if you did it correctly (and to detect problems with intonation) you play the A note on the D-string (7th fret) together with the open A-string.

Moving up to the G-string you play the A note (2nd fret) together with the open A-string. To double check you play the open G-string together with the 10th fret on the A-string and than the 5th fret of the D-string which you previously tuned.

Next, you play the open B-string with the 2nd fret of the A-string. You can double check by playing the 10th fret of the B-string together with the open A-string and than together with the 4th fret of the G-string.

The open high E-string can be tuned together with the 7th fret of the A-string. To check if you did it correctly you can play the 5th fret of the E-string together with the open A-string. You can use the same way for the low E-string and than simply play the both E-strings together and see if they are in tune.

This article was written by Marco von Baumbach, who is an electric guitar teacher in Wuppertal, Germany. You can find out more about his teachings under the following link: Gitarrenunterricht in Wuppertal