How To Tune a Guitar

The first step towards rocking out isn’t learning guitar chord shapes, phrasings, or even the perfect power stance, it’s learning how to tune your guitar. Tuning your guitar is a lot like putting gas into a car before you start it. Sure, you’ll need to know how to drive if you want to get anywhere, but you’ll need gas to get moving. And that is the subject of today’s article. We won’t just cover standard tuning, we’ll dive deep into the different variations of tuning, what genres they’re best used for, and finally, an all-encompassing guide of the best guitar tuners on the market. My goal is to have this article be the end all, be all, resource for everything tuning. Let’s dive in.

10 of the Best Guitar Tuners you can Buy

First off, we’ve pulled together a list of our favorite tuners of every type, each with their own set of unique features. While there’s no one true superior option, hopefully you can pick out one that fits your own specific needs.

TC Electronic PolyTune Clip on Guitar Tuner

TC Electronics PolyTune Clip Polytune Guitar Tuner

TC Electronics’ state-of-the-art polyphonic clip on guitar tuner combines the accuracy of polyphonics with the portability of a clip-on device. The result: a fantastic tuner at an affordable price. Its ultra-bright and easy to read display works well on the stage or in the bedroom, and the  +/-0.02 percent accuracy is just about as perfect as perfect can get. The benefit of polyphonic tuning allows players to easily tune all six guitar strings at once. It even provides flat and capo tuning options, as well as a reference pitch selection for total tuning flexibility. This tuner is a must have for band practice or solo shredding and it’s definitely the best clip on guitar tuners that you can buy.

TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Tuner Pedal

TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Polyphonic LED Guitar Tuner Pedal Buffer

If you’re looking for a more professional option for your tuning needs, TC Electronics’ PolyTune 3 Pedal is exactly what you’re in the market for. This pedal is packed with the same polyphonic design, and the same incredible accuracy found within the PolyTune Clip, along with a plethora of new and advanced features. Multiple tuning modes (including: polyphonic, chromatic, strobe, and more), an onboard “bonafide buffer” (that preserves your tone over long cable runs and signal paths), and an upgraded LED, are just a few of these extra features. I happen to own one of these bad boys myself, and I have to say my own personal favorite feature is the “always on tuning mode,” which keeps the tuner on and active even when not muted. Accurate, slim, and bursting at the seams with new features, this pedal tuner is a must-have for professional guitarists.

Boss TU 12 EX Chromatic Tuner

Boss TU 12 EX Chromatic Guitar Tuner

The next evolution of Boss’ legendary TU-12, the EX is a fantastic tuner with the very cool, very old-school, needle indicator readout. Great for guitar and bass, this feature-packed tuner provides a metronome, a headphone amp with a speaker simulator (for monitoring effects), three tuning modes, and flat tuning functions that go up to six steps. The most impressive offering of the TU12 EX, is the built-in headphone amp. This gives you the freedom to tune, jam, and play your effects with headphones or direct recording. Best of all, this tuner eliminates any guesswork by emitting a very satisfying audible “beep” noise when you’ve hit the perfect tone. If Boss is your brand, then the TU12 EX is a must have.

Boss TU3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal

Boss TU3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal

The TU3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal by Boss is an icon for road-tested guitar players. This stompbox-style tuner’s LED meter is bright enough for any club, as it’s accu-pitch sign function provides a beacon of bright light to let you know when you’re tuning is complete. This reliable tuner can be trusted in any signal chain, as its bypass eliminates any static or fuzz.

Its versatile design supports tunings for guitar and bass, including 7-string guitars and 6-string basses, and it even supports drop tunings up to six semitones below standard pitch. So, if you’re a hard rock or metal guitarist, this is the best tuner that you can buy.

Korg AW3G2WH PitchHawk Clip Guitar Tuner

Korg AW3G2WH PitchHawk G2 Clip-On Guitar Tuner, White

The first thing you’ll notice about the Korg Pitchhawk Clip Tuner is its striking size and easy to read display. I mean, you can’t miss it. Its color-coded system provides a quick and accurate reference if you’re too sharp (red) or too flat (blue), allowing you to check your tone at just a glance. This Korg Tuner is slimmer than most clip guitar tuners, which allows it to be positioned more easily upon different headstocks. It works for both guitar, bass, capo and drop tunings, and can even be calibrated to your favorite options, allowing you to never waste a moment when adjusting to your sound. With all of these features, it’s clear Korg made no compromises with this beast of a clip tuner.

Korg AW2G Clip On Chromatic Guitar Tuner

Korg AW2G Clip-On Chromatic Guitar Tuner

Borrowing many features from the AW3 PitchHawk, the AW2G guitar tuner is specifically designed for the acoustic guitarist in mind. Resting unobtrusively on any headstock, the piezo sensor built within ensures the most accurate tuning, regardless of how noisy your environment is. While many clip-on tuners merely offer convenience, the Korg’s AW2G provides swift, on-demand accuracy as well. Its needle-style meter and backlit display makes it functional, and extremely visible. Combined with its articulate mounting system, its entire display can be quickly positioned to however you see fit. The AW2G Korg guitar tuner simply takes the stress out of tuning and is great for guitarists on a budget.

Peterson StroboClip Clip On Tuner

Peterson StroboClip HD Clip-On Tuner

Chicago’s family-owned Peterson Strobe tuners has been providing quality tuning hardware since the early 1900s. And it’s StroboClip clip-on tuner is the company’s flagship model. This model in particular is perfect for multiple instruments including guitar, bass, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, and so much more. Basically if it’s got strings, this tuner can tune it. The StroboClip features a high-definition, real-time tuning displays that delivers an unparalleled 0.1 percent accuracy. It’s loaded with over fifty exclusive, preset “sweetened tunings” to boost your sound. It’s fast, it’s accurate, and it’s in a class of its own.

KLIQ TinyTune Guitar Tuner Pedal

KLIQ TinyTune Pro Stage Tuner Pedal for Guitar and Bass

The KLIQ TinyTune Guitar Tuner Pedal is not just fun to say, but it’s a blast to use. Completely redesigned from the ground up, the TinyTune pedal is faster and more intuitive than ever before. It’s slim enough to slot in virtually any pedal board, but the power within makes it a true giant. Features such as a true bypass, pitch sampling, a pitch calibration range of 420-459HZ, and a flat tuning mode come standard. The TinyTune also conveniently stores your preferred tunings and settings when powered down, to save you time. From reference pitch to flat tuning mode, you only have to set these parameters once, and the tuner will recall them the next time you use it. Best of all, KLIQ is a fantastic company that offers a no questions asked replacement guarantee. So, even if there is a small imperfection on your device, KLIQ will send a new one at the drop of a hat. Great company, great tuner, and great buy.

Korg RPC1 Rimpitch Acoustic Guitar Tuner

Korg RPC1 Rimpitch Acoustic Guitar Tuner

Perhaps one of the most unique features of Korg’s Rimpitch Acoustic guitar tuner is its physical design. Technically, it’s a clip-on. However, it doesn’t rest on your headstock, but rather snugly and conveniently around the rim of your sound hole, which provides a tuning experience within your natural line of sight.

Like every clip-on tuner, the Rimpitch detects your tone by sensing the vibration in the guitar’s body. However, since the piezo pickup is within the body of the guitar (instead of at the head), Korg claims that it detects pitch at an even greater accuracy. Best of all its housing is small enough that it doesn’t touch any of your guitar’s internal bracings, and it can be rotated to any position around the sound hole. So, it’s well-designed; but how well does it tune?

Overall, the Rimpitch is a pretty standard tuner. In terms of accuracy and pitch sensing capabilities it measures up to the KLIQ TinyTuner and the AW3. It’s not as good as say, the Peterson StroboClip or the TC Electronic PolyTune pedal, but that’s not the point. This tuner was designed to be uniquely designed. For it’s physical reasons alone, I’d say this tuner is definitely worth a shot if you’re on the hunt for a new option for your acoustic guitar.

Boss TU 10 Chromatic Guitar Tuner

Boss TU-10 Clip-On Chromatic Guitar and Bass Tuner

The Boss TU-10 is renowned by guitarists for its vice grip-like strength when attached to headstocks. It’s also small, portable and lightweight, which makes it perfect for practice or even in a pinch on stage. Within, it allows you to select your preferred reference pitch, and it contains a chromatic mode which when activated allows for a variety of alternative tunings. With 0.1 percent accuracy, a tuning range of C0 (16.35 Hz) to C8 (4,186 Hz), an illuminating, easy to read LED display, and a budget-friendly price point, this truly is the working man’s tuner. No player can go wrong when going with the TU 10.

What are the common types of guitar tunings?

Now that we’ve covered the hardware. Let’s talk about the different ways of tuning your guitar. If you really want to get technical, there can be a seemingly infinite amount of ways to alter your tone. But, since 99% of those ways aren’t very practical or sonically appealing, we’re going to stick with a few, tried-and-true mainstays musicians actually use.

Standard Tuning a Guitar: E-A-D-G-B-E

Also known as “standard tuning,” this method is the most common, and most widely used structure and can be considered the foundation of guitar. Since Western music assigned tunings to pitches on the open strings of guitars, the notes in this tuning are ordered from lowest to highest. Between the open-strings of standard tuning are three perfect fourths (E-A, A-D, D-G), which is a musical interval of the Western twelve-semitone system consisting of five semitones and spanning four degrees of the diatonic scale. At the end, it contains a major third (G-B), which consists of four semitones and spanning three degrees of the diatonic scale, and finally, a fourth perfect-forth (B-E).

Using standard tuning as a guide, many musicians have been known to alter the pitch by simply dropping each note half a step flat. Bands like Guns N Roses, Slayer, and Rise Against are known to utilize this technique in their songs.

Simply put, standard tuning is what any beginner guitarist should start out with as it’s used in most lessons and guidebooks. It spans nearly all genres of music and is also the default tuning setting found on most guitar tuners.

Dropped Tunings:

For the heavier genres of metal, doom, and hard progressive, dropped tunings are common. Dropped tunings also have the benefit of allowing players to hold power chords on the fourth, fifth and sixth strings with only one finger, and naturally allows for lower, deeper bass notes.

Dropped D Tuning (D-A-D-G-B-E)

Dropped D is the most common alternate tuning for guitar. One easy way to achieve drop D, is simply striking the sixth E string and tuning downward until you hear the sound of a full D chord. Dropped D tuning has gained popularity in hard rock and heavy metal, as the low “D” is primarily used for palm muted “chugs” with high gain, that produces a powerful depth to the sound. Perhaps the most famous song in drop D is “Everlong” by Foo Fighters.

Drop C Tuning (C-G-C-F-A-D)

If you want to achieve a sound harder than Dropped D, but with the same benefits of using one finger to create power chords, Drop C tuning may be your choice. To achieve dropped C, first you must bring your low E string down to a D. Then, go through each string and tune them one whole step down. The result: brutal lows, and heavy tones. Nearly all serious metal and hard rock bands tune to drop C. Some famous songs include “So Cold” by Breaking Benjamin, “Animal I’ve Become” by Three Days Grace, and “Oblivion” by Mastodon.

Drop B Tuning (B-F#-B-E-G#-C#)

Another alternative in dropped tuning comes with the peculiar drop B. To achieve it, tune the whole guitar down a minor third from standard tuning, then the 6th string is lowered an additional whole step down). As a result, it uses the same fingering as all other “drop” tunings. Drop B tuning is mostly used by nu-metal bands like Slipknot, August Burns Red, many deathcore bands, and some death metal bands.

Open Tunings for Guitar:

If you’re in a rut, or just bored of standard tunings, open tunings are a great opportunity to break away and truly set your sound free. Open tunings are created by tuning your strings to the notes of a chord, most commonly a major one, so that one unfretted strum rings out in a perfect chord. Open tunings not only teach you to approach your guitar from a different perspective, but also provide interesting voicings that are usually unobtainable via standard tuning. They’re also fantastic for guitar solos.

Open A Guitar Tuning (EAC#EAE)

Open A brings your guitar to a perfect A major chord. This tuning is achieved by raising the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings one full step, while the 1st, 5th and 6th remain the same as in standard tuning. Open A found its roots with delta blues musicians, particularly the legendary Robert Johnson. It’s also a common tuning for Hawaiian lap steel guitar players. As of late, it’s found its way into popular rock music, like White Stripes’ most famous tune “Seven Nation Army.” Other songs that utilize Open A are Eric Clapton’s “Lonely Years,” “In My Time of Dying” by Led Zeppelin, and “I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters.

Open G Guitar Tuning (DGDGBD)

Keith Richards famously used open G tuning as the backbone to many hits of the Rolling Stones (“Brown Sugar,” “Sympathy For The Devil,” and “Start Me Up,” just to name a few). Open G is also a fantastic choice for newcomers as its easy to achieve. Simply drop the 6th, 5th, and 1st strings one step down from standard tuning, and you’re golden.

Open C Guitar Tuning (CGCGCE)

Open C creates a C major chord by dropping your low E two entire steps downward to C, the fifth and fourth strings one whole step to G and C, and by raising the second string a half step up to C. The third and high E remain unchanged. It’s repeating sequences and intuitive arpeggios make Open C a perfect choice for rhythmic acoustic guitar players (i.e. John Butler). Mumford and Sons, Tallest Man on Earth, and Boys Like Girls are just a few bands that utilize this tuning.

Open C6 Tuning (CACGCE)

Open C6 is a variant of the traditional Open C tuning, used famously on Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-y-Aur.” The only difference is that you leave the A string alone when tuning to open C away from standard.

Open D Tuning (DADF#AD) & Open E Tuning (EBEG#BE)

Perfect for fans of blues-y slide guitar, this popular alternative tuning has been used by everyone from Bob Dylan to Alt-J. Perhaps the most unique factor with Open D tuning is that one can play a full chord simply by barring one finger across all strings. Open D is also known to provide a very rich and deep tone. By simply placing a capo on the second fret of an Open D tuning, you can achieve Open E tuning.

How to tune a guitar with a tuner?

Achieving the perfect tone has never been simpler with the help of a guitar tuner. These electronic devices pick up any given guitar frequency and tell you which way to tune your guitar to achieve the required note. Tuners work one of two ways: direct input, which requires you to plug into the device, or external microphone, which picks up your tone via an embedded microphone and requires no cord input. With the dawn of the smartphone, free tuner apps have become readily available. While these work in a pinch, I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re looking for the most accurate tuning.

What are the different types of guitar tuners?

If you’re shopping for a tuner, you’re likely to run into a variety of different types. Most likely you’ll be seeing chromatic vs. non-chromatic. Non-chromatic tuners are designed to only tune your guitar to the standard EADGBE tuning. Thus, if you were to play a low E, the tuner would recognize you are trying to tune that particular string, and it would tell you how sharp or flat you are in relation only to the note E. A chromatic tuner will tell you how close you are to the nearest semitone (i.e. the closest note in the chromatic scale). Therefore, chromatic tuners offer you the opportunity to tune into alternate tunings, and even tune other instruments besides your guitar.

Clip-on tuners are common “box” tuners that pick up low frequencies via an internal microphone. They’re convenient, small, and have the benefit of seamlessly attaching themselves to the headstock of your guitar. What’s unique about these is that they actually listen to the vibration through the guitar.

Pedal tuners are geared toward guitarists who specifically play electric, or electro acoustic guitars through an amplifier. Much like a guitar effects pedal, they’re built into a sturdy box and meant for a seamless integration into a pedalboard. Pedal tuners have no built-in microphone, and therefore require the player to plug in directly to the jack with a cable. For the gig-minded electric guitarists, these are highly recommended for their bright displays and stomp activation.

Finally, polyphonic tuners are a newer type of tuners that allow guitarists to tune quicker and more accurately. While most tuners require you to strum one string at a time, polyphonic tuners allow you to strum all of your open strings at once, and then identifies which strings need to be loosened or tightened. This relatively new technology eliminates the need to go one by one to tune every string.

Conclusion

Hopefully by now, you have an idea of the basics of tune, different types of guitar tunings, and which guitar tuner best suits you and your tone. As I mentioned before, you can’t go wrong with any of our curated tuners on our list. So, next time you’re at band practice, you can confidently turn around to your bandmates and proclaim with complete authority that “it’s not ME that’s out of tune, it’s YOU.”

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