How to tune an electric guitar

Tuning an electric guitarOne of the challenges of the electric guitar for beginners is tuning. Electric guitars are more likely to go out of tune with just a little use, so it is very important to check the guitar’s tuning often. The basic method of tuning electric and acoustic guitars is the same, so if you do not know how to tune a guitar, use this tutorial. The factor that makes learning how to tune an electric guitar acquiring a new skill set is the range of features available on electric guitar tuners.

If you have a computer handy when you are tuning your guitar, you could make use of one of the on-line guitar tuning websites. These tuners generate electric guitar tones which you match with the corresponding note on your guitar by turning the tuning peg until the two sounds match up. Beginner guitarists may find this kind of tuner difficult to use at first, as it requires a practiced ear to easily detect whether a note is sharp or flat. If you have been struggling with tuning your guitar using a tuning fork, on-line tuners might make the job easier as they produce realistic guitar sounds, and the tones usually last longer than the tone of a tuning fork.

The disadvantage of tuning an electric guitar using an on-line tuner or a tuning fork is the background noise at a gig, or in the place you use for practice, makes concentrating and comparing the notes difficult. The background noise factor makes a tuner which connects to the guitar by a cable the best alternative, but there are other options to consider:

The type of graphic display

Some tuners use LED lights to indicate whether the guitar is sharp, flat or in tune. These displays are easy to read in any room, no matter how dark. Other tuners have a needle which shows the guitar is in tune when it is hovering in the center of the dial. If you decide on a tuner with this type of display, make sure it has a backlight so you can read it in a dimly-lit room. The displays on some tuners can be intensified so they can be read in bright sunlight at outdoor venues.

The Method of detecting sounds

There are three ways a guitar tuner can detect the note you are playing:

  • Microphone
    These tuners have a microphone which picks up the sound of the guitar. These types of tuner work well in quiet environments but it will be difficult to tune a guitar at a gig where there is a lot of background noise.
  • Clip-on Tuners
    These tuners feel the vibration when you play a note, and analyze the sound to work out which string you are playing and how flat or sharp the note is. Clip-on tuners often have a microphone if you prefer to tune that way, and a built-in metronome for practice sessions.
  • Cable
    These are specifically made for electric guitars. The guitar is plugged into the tuner via a cable from the output jack. Some tuners of this type are versatile enough to tune basses and seven-string guitars, automatically compensate for flat tunings, and some contain a microphone for tuning acoustic guitars.

As the plug-in tuners are generally more reliable and accurate under all kinds of playing conditions, they are the most popular for electric guitar players. This does not make them more accurate when it comes to tuning – many guitarists prefer clip-on tuners or microphone tuners for tuning accuracy. Your own experience will govern which tuner you choose.

An advantage to using tuners which connect to your guitar is that they can be integrated into your effects pedal board. This way you can use a pedal to turn your tuner on whenever you need it.

Tuning Mode

Some tuners for electric guitars are limited to indicating the notes of the guitar in standard tuning: E A D G B E. The most versatile tuner offers the choice between chromatic and guitar modes. When the tuner is set to chromatic mode, it can be tuned to any note, which makes it ideal for a player who uses alternate tunings. Some tuners also have a bass mode for tuning bass guitars.

Silent Mode

Some electric guitar tuners give the guitarist a choice between hearing the notes during the tuning process, and tuning solely by using the needle or LEDs.

Power Source

Your average electric guitar tuner uses a battery as the main source of power. This allows the player to tune his guitar without needing to look for a power outlet. The trouble with batteries is that they run out of power, so it is best to buy the power adapter which is often an optional extra with the tuner. Your tuner should also have the option to save battery life by turning off the display when it is not in use.

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