Tuning an Electric Guitar

Tuning any musical instrument is easy once you get the hang of it. If you are reading this, then you either need to know some basics about tuning, or you are just interested in how other people tune their guitars. This section is divided into 2 small sections. The first guides a novice user through basically tuning a guitar (not necessarily an electric one). The second section addresses the subject of intonation and explains how you can use G-tune to correctly adjust it.

Warning: Strings can break!

The first thing to mention is really the most important, especially for novices. When you tighten a string to tune it, you are putting it under a lot of tension. Under normal circumstances this is not a problem, but if your guitar has some rough parts that can snag a string, or if you incorrectly tune it and overtighten the string, it will break. Because it is under so much tension, the string can cause a lot of damage — I have seen someone cut their finger open as a string slashed passed them; thankfully I have yet to see someone blinded by a string.

The bottom line is: DON’T overtighen strings, if in any doubt, tune DOWN!

If you are an octave too low you’ll realise soon enough. If you’re an octave too high, you might damage your guitar, or yourself!!! Be warned.

Tune one string at a time:

It is usually best to start with the bottom string (the fattest one). The reason for this is that this string usually has the most tension, and it’s “pulling” effect on the guitar’s neck is the highest. The force that each string excerts on the neck causes the neck to bend slightly. As it bends, all of the other strings detune! If you tune the heaviest string, you will detune all the other strings, but this is less important if you still have to tune the other strings. This effect is more pronounced if your guitar has a tremolo.

Before you begin tuning, you need to connect your guitar to your computer sound card, either directly or with a microphone. Then you must ensure that you have a good quality signal. See Instructions for more information on improving signal qulaity.

Tuning a string:

Tuning a string is very simple if you follow one basic rule:  ALWAYS tune UP to the note. What this means is that once you get close the the correct note, you should end the tuning procedure whilst you are increasing the pitch of the string. The reason for this is simple: if you end whilst decreasing the string’s pitch the string can slip on the tuning peg, making the string detune again. By always ending as you increase the pitch, you make string slippage less likely and therefore your guitar will stay in tune longer.

To begin tuning, strike a clear note with G-tune on. If G-tune is correctly set up, it will illuminate a note indicator and the needle should be steady. If this is not the case, you’ll have to ensure that G-tune has been set-up properly. If the needle is off-centre, or you want to tune to a different note, just turn the appropriate tuning peg and watch the needle move. In most cases you won’t have to turn the peg very far. When the needle gets close to the centre mark (with the correct note being displayed) only turn the tuning peg gradually until the needle is dead-centre. If you found that you were decresing the pitch to get the needle dead-centre, you should detune slightly and then tune back up again (see earlier). Remember, try to end whilst tuning UP.

Tuning all the strings:

To tune the remaining strings, simply repeat the above procedure until all strings have been tuned. You guitar will probably not be tuned yet! As mentioned above, as you tune one string, all the other strings detune slightly. Therefore you should repeat the above procedure starting at the heaviest string. Repeat this procedure until all strings are in tune (a few cents sharp or flat is acceptable in most cases). The number of times you tune each string depends on what kind of guitar you have.

Adjusting Intonation…

The first thing a novice will ask is what is intonation? Put simply, good intonation means that your guitar stays in tune as you play different notes along the neck. You may have a string that is perfectly in tune but at the 10th fret, it is half a semitone out. This is a classic case of bad intonation.

Poor intonation is caused by a mismatch between the length of the string and the spacing of the frets of the guitar. It can also be caused by non-uniform strings where their thickness changes along their length, as in the case of old corroded strings. If you have old strings, don’t attempt to change your intonation. Conversely, if you can’t fix the intonation, try changing your strings and see if that helps.

On an electric guitar intonation is easily adjusted as the bridge usually consists of separate adjustable parts, one for each string. The intonation on an acoustic guitar can be adjusted slightly, but that is a job for professionals. (Buying tip: if you are buying an acoustic guitar, check its intonation. If it is bad then don’t buy it!)

…on an electric guitar

First: make sure your strings are new. Second: tune your guitar as mentioned above.

Now play a note at a high fret (12th is typical) being careful not to bend the string. G-tune should detect the tone being played. If the tone is out-of-tune (i.e., the needle is off centre) then the intonation is out. The intonation adjustment is different on different guitars, but the aim is the same. If the fretted note is flat, this means that the string is too long. Conversely, if the fretted not is sharp, the string is too short. Once you have decided whether you have to shorten the string (note was flat) or lengthen the string (note was sharp), adjust the string slightly by moving the appropriate bridge piece. Note that you may have to detune the string to move the bridge.

Once the bridge has been adjusted, retune the string and recheck the intonation. You may find that you have to repeat this procedure several times on each string. It can be a time consuming process the first time you do it but it is worth it.


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