Tuning By Ear
Tuning by ear is the best way to really, really get your guitar perfectly in tune. When you tune by ear, you can hear when the notes line up perfectly, but more importantly, you can also listen to how strings that aren’t adjacent to each other are in tune.
Relative tuning is a process of tuning each string to the one physically above it, or the next one lower in pitch. For this to work, you do have to tune your sixth string to a tuner, or to a keyboard, or some other instrument that you know is in tune. Then you tune the open 5th string to the 5th fret of the sixth string, as these are both supposed to be a 110 hertz A note. Repeat this process to tune the fourth and third strings, but then use the fourth fret of the third string to tune the open second string. The open first string is then tuned to the fifth fret of the second string.
How to know when the notes are in tune
You might be asking, “How do I know when two notes are in tune?” There is a trick to this. With the lower pitched strings, when two notes are close to being in tune, but not quite there, you can feel a vibration in the body of the guitar, more so on acoustics. You can also hear this “wah-wah-wah-wah” sound if you listen carefully, but focusing on the physical sensation is probably going to be easier at first. As the two notes get closer to being in tune, this vibration slows down, and then disappears once the notes are perfectly in tune. It’s harder to feel this vibration with the first, second, and third strings, but it is also easier to hear it.
Proper tuning techniques
As you are tuning the strings, you want to play the two notes, and then let them continue to ring out as you make the adjustment so you can hear the notes getting closer to being in tune. This might be a little tough if you’re a complete beginner, as you can’t let the finger that is fretting a string touch the open string you’re trying to tune. You also will have to do something with the pick as you reach over to the headstock to adjust the tuning machine. I flip it over my index finger and hold it with my index and middle fingers; with a little practice you can master this, and it makes it a lot easier.
It’s also a good idea to always tune the string up to the pitch you want to go to, not down. If the string you are tuning is too high, bring it down below the pitch it should be at, and then tune it up to pitch.
If you’re tuning an electric guitar, put the pickup selector on the bridge pickup, as you get a clearer sound than the other pickup configurations. Make sure all effects are off and use a clean sound, not overdrive. When tuning acoustic guitars, try picking the strings a little closer to the bridge, just past the sound hole.