Guitar Tuner FAQ

Table of contents:

Frequently Asked Questions:

What sort of tuners are best for beginners? Can I use a guitar tuner for Bass? Why does my guitar go out of tune? Find the answers to these questions and more! And if your question isn’t covered, you can ‘ask the experts’ and we’ll do our best to answer your specific guitar tuner and tuning questions.

  1. What are the best guitar tuners for a beginner?
  2. Best guitar tuner for the beginner
  3. What is Drop D tuning?
  4. Are all “rack” tuners the same size?
  5. Can I use a pedal tuner in my amp effects loop?
  6. What does Cents mean in Tuner spec?
  7. Can I use a guitar tuner to tune a bass?
  8. How do I tune my guitar without a tuner?
  9. What is open G tuning?
  10. What is a Strobe Tuner?
  11. Where should a pedal tuner go in my effects pedal chain?
  12. What is standard tuning for a 7 string guitar?
  13. What is Nashville Tuning?

 

1. What are the best guitar tuners for a beginner?

The easiest way of tuning your guitar is to use an electronic guitar tuner – basic models are available for under $15.

A particular feature that is useful for beginners is an off-note indication. This will tell you which way to tune even if the string is a very long way out of tune.

Beginners generally don’t need ‘chromatic’ tuners, or ones with adjustable pitch.

Automatic note selection makes the tuner easy to use if the strings are roughly in tune, but can confuse beginners if the guitar is a long way out of tune or if the strings have just been replaced. A simple non-chromatic tuner with a clear display and a choice of both automatic and manual modes is ideal for beginners and those with LED displays are ideal.

If you are beginner playing acoustic guitar only (whether steel strung or classical nylon strung), you could also consider a clip-on tuner. This type of tuner picks up sound vibrations directly via the head of the guitar instead of through a microphone.

2. Best guitar tuner for the beginner

Tuning the guitar is one of the first things a beginner learns and is often one of the most daunting. But a carefully-chosen guitar tuner can be a big help to beginners and you will soon learn to tune your guitar quickly, easily and accurately.

Most budget guitar tuners are suitable for beginners and are very easy to use… but some are a better choice than others. Here we guide you through some of the features available on modern guitar tuners and which ones you need as a beginner.

LED or LCD?

It is best to choose a tuner with LEDs to indicate sharp (note too high) and flat (note too low) – most tuners have this as standard, along with an “in tune” LED.

Manual note selection can be useful for beginners and a particular feature that is useful for beginners is an off-note indication; this will tell you which way to tune even if the string is a very long way out of tune – a particular problem beginners often face. Many guitar tuners also have a 7-segment LED display to indicate the chosen note, but budget tuners with manual-only note selection may not have this. It is not a vital requirement for a beginner’s guitar tuner, but is is a “nice to have”.

LCDs are popular on many cheap beginners guitar tuners but can be a little more difficult to read than LEDs. Fine if you will only be practicing at home, with good light (and good eyesight!), but LEDs will always be easier to use and have the advantage that you can see easily them in dim light conditions.

[Note: LED = Light Emitting Diode; LCD = Liquid Crystal Display]

Do I need a chromatic tuner?

If you are a beginner at guitar and will be playing only with standard guitar tuning (EADGBE) then you do not need a Chromatic feature on your tuner, but don’t be put off if your chosen guitar has this. Chromatic simply means that any note can be tuned, even sharps and flats (e.g Eb or C#). This is not needed for standard beginner’s tuning. [As an aside, complete beginners may not know that the full range of note in musical notation is: A, Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, G# – 12 notes in total. It’s not quite this simple, because Eb is the same as D# etc., but it’s worth noting a basic oddity that there is no such thing as E# or B#!!)

Do I need a microphone or mic?

If your guitar is an acoustic, with either steel strings or nylon strings, then ensure that your chosen tuner has a built-in microphone (or ‘mic’).

The microphone picks up the sound in the same way as you hear it, with no connections to the guitar.

Do I need a socket or jack?

If you will be tuning electric guitars then you will need a ¼” jack socket to plug your guitar lead into and you don’t need a microphone.

When playing electric guitars it is also very useful to have both an input jack and output jack on your guitar. With two guitar leads you can then leave your tuner “in circuit” for ease of use. This means that you don’t have to unplug your guitar from its amplifier to plug it into your tuner. Not vital, but makes checking your tuning easier.

What about clip-on guitar tuners?

Clip-on guitar tuners are a relatively new invention. They can be used for both acoustic and electric guitars and pick up the guitar’s notes as vibrations though the guitar itself, not through the air with a microphone. Clip-on tuners are very small and lightweight and clip directly onto the head of the guitar. This can be convenient, as it’s close to the tuning pegs, but can be awkward, difficult to read and get in the way! A personal choice, but the author would not recommend clip-on tuners as the best choice for the beginner.

Should I chose a pedal tuner?

Pedal tuners are an excellent choice for all electric guitarists and will usually have all the recommended features mentioned above, nicely packaged in a very robust pedal that will last you for many years. The only down-side is the price, which tends to significantly higher than basic plastic-cased lightweight tuners often chosen by beginners. But if you are learning to play electric guitar or bass guitar and can afford one, pedal tuners are highly recommended.

Pedal tuners are not usually suitable for acoustic guitars, because they do not have a built-in microphone.

And finally…

Remember, when you are a beginner learning to play the guitar, it will never sound right unless your guitar is in tune! Although tuning your guitar can seem like a chore at first it does get easier with practice and you will be rewarded with the sound of clear harmonious notes and tuneful notes. 🙂

Good luck with your tuning and your journey in learning the guitar.

3. What is Drop D tuning?

Drop D Tuning is used by many grunge, metal and heavy rock bands, as it makes it really easy to get a heavy rock sound using only one finger to barre the chords! Drop D Tuning is probably the easiest alternative tuning for guitar as it involves retuning only one string – the sixth string. It simply changes the 6th string from and ‘E’ note to a ‘D’ note.

To tune your guitar to “Drop D Tuning”, start of with standard tuning (E A D G B E) and simply tune the sixth string down a tone to D. It should sound the same as the fourth (D) string, but an octave lower. You can do this with most electronic guitar tuners, but make sure you are tuning down (loosening the string), as if you try to tune up to D then you will probably break the string!

To check your tuning by ear, simply fret the 6th string at the 12th fret (or play the harmonic if you know how) then it should sound exactly the same as the 4th string played open (D). Your whole guitar tuning is now D A D G B E – you are tuned to “dropped D”.

4. Are all “rack” tuners the same size?

The width and height of rack-mounted guitar tuners is defined by internationally-agreed standards that have been in use for many years. Such equipment is often referred to as 19″ Rack Mounted – the 19 inch reference is to the overall width of the rack including the mounting tabs or “ears”.

The height of a rack tuner is often quoted in “U” units. Typically a rack mounted guitar tuner will be 1U, which is the minimum standard height for rack mounted equipment.

Officially a 1U “slot” is 1.75 inches (44.5 mm) tall. The actual rack tuner will allow for a small gap above and actually be 1.719 inches (43.7 mm) tall. This simply allows space for the rack tuner to be installed and removed without jamming against equipment mounted in adjacent rack spaces.

So it is reasonable to assume that any rack mounted tuner of any brand from any country sill fit in the same rack case!

5. Can I use a pedal tuner in my amp effects loop?

Yes, most pedal guitar tuners can be used in an effects loop in the same way as effects pedals.

You should ensure that the pedal is the first in the loop (before any effects), so that it receiving a clean signal from the guitar, and choose a pedal guitar tuner that has “true bypass” to ensure that it does not introduce any hum or other problems into your rig when not being used.

Pedal guitar tuners are the easiest to use on stage, especially for a quick tune-up between songs! Make sure you choose a tuner pedal that has a clear display that you can see from your standing position, in all lighting conditions. The Planet Waves pedal tuner is excellent in this respect.

6. What does Cents mean in Tuner spec?

Cents are the units of tuning accuracy. A cent is one hundredth of a semitone. Since there are 12 semitones in an octave, there are 1200 cents in an octave.

Every tuner has manufacturer specifications for accuracy. They describe how accurate the tuner’s internal pitch reference is, and therefore how accurately you can tune your instrument using their product. In simple terms, the lower the inaccuracy in cents,and the finer the display, the better the tuner. Rack tuners often have the capability to display tuning to the nearest cent.

It is commonly agreed that the human ear can notice a pitch change of about five cents; no guitar or other musical instrument will ever be perfectly in tune, but less inaccuracy in the tuner allows tuning near enough to perfect that no listener will be able to hear the difference.

7. Can I use a guitar tuner to tune a bass?

Yes, most modern guitar tuners are also suitable for tuning bass guitars, including 5 and 6 string basses.

8. How do I tune my guitar without a tuner?

best guitar tuner for beginner

One of the first things you need to know as a new guitarist is how to tune your guitar. Although an electronic tuner makes tuning easier, it is not difficult to tune a guitar without a tuner. The tuning is the same for all 6-string guitars regardless of whether they are acoustic, electric or classical.

Which string is which?

The thinnest and highest sounding string is the 1st string. The thickest and lowest sounding string on the guitar is the 6th string.

The strings are named as follows:

6th string = low E
5th string = A
4th string = D
3rd string = G
2nd string = B
1st string = high E

Tuning your guitar without a tuner

First you need a reference pitch. You might hear people talking about “A440” or “concert pitch”. Concert Pitch is the standard pitch that you should tune to and when correctly tuned your 5th string (the ‘A’ string) should produce a frequency of 440Hz (440 hertz). To hear a 440Hz ‘A’ note, either use a tuning fork or try this great online version: www.onlinetuningfork.com

To tune your guitar by ear, first tune the 5th string to sound the same as the A440 tone.

Once your 5th string (A) is in tune hold down the 5th fret on this string and play the note.
This note is a D so tune the 4th string to sound the same.

Once your 4th string (D) is in tune hold down the 5th fret on this string and play the note.
This note is a G so tune the 3rd string to sound the same.

Once your 3rd string (G) is in tune hold down the 4th fret on this string and play the note.
This note is a B so tune the 2nd string to sound the same.

Once your 2nd string (B) is in tune hold down the 5th fret on this string and play the note.
This note is a high E so tune the 1st string to sound the same.

The 6th string (low E) and the 1st string (high E) should sound the same note an octave apart.
You can check the low E is correct by holding it down the 5th fret and playing the note.
This note will be an A and should sound the same as the 5th string.

You will usually need to repeat this the whole tuning process again. Then hold down a simple chord that uses all six strings (such as E or G) and strum slowly, hearing each string individually – the chord should sound “in tune” and harmonious – if not, repeat the whole tuning again!

9. What is open G tuning?

Open G tuning gives a chord of G when all the strings are played open, without any frets being held down. It uses the following notes: D G D G B D . Open G tuning is sometimes called “Spanish Tuning”.

To change a standard tuning (EADGBE) to Spanish or Open G tuning, tune the first, fifth and sixth strings down one whole-step. You can do this either using a regular electronic guitar tuner, or by comparison to the other strings, which are left untouched.

Starting with standard EADGBE tuning,
Tune the 1st string down from E to D (same as 2nd string 3rd fret)
Tune the 5th string down from A to G (same as 6th string 3rd fret)
Tune the 6th string down from E to D (same as 4th string but an octave lower)

When you strum all six strings without fretting any of them, you should hear a pleasant-sounding G chord.

Note that this open G chord now contains three G notes (covering 3 octaves), two G notes (covering two bass octaves) and a single B note ( in the treble octave). The chord is therefore slightly ‘unbalanced’, but is a very useful voicing of the G chord.

Open G tuning has been used by many rock and pop guitarists including Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones – most notably in early versions of Jumping Jack Flash and others.

Give it a go and enjoy experimenting with open tunings.

10. What is a Strobe Tuner?

A strobe tuner uses the physical phenomenon of “beat frequencies” to display tuning inaccuracies in the form of a moving image on a disk. Using the strobe concept, if the strobe display appears to be moving to the left then the note is flat; if the display appears to be moving to the right then the note is sharp. If the strobe display is not moving at all, then the guitar string is perfectly in tune!

True strobe tuners are used by luthiers, guitar technicians and professional recording guitarists because they are much more accurate than regular electronic tuners. Whereas a top quality rack tuner might be able to tune within 1 cent, a good strobe tuner can tune to within 0.1cent.

Strobe tuners have been around for a long time (at least since the 1950s) and are traditionally made with a mechanically spinning disk with special strobe markings. The disk spins at a fixed speed, whilst the strobe light flashes at a frequency determined by the string being tuned. The effect of the strobe light flashing on the moving disk gives the illusion of movement – difficult to describe, but surprisingly effective!

Some modern strobe tuners simulate the effect of a mechanical strobe tuner on some sort of display, dispensing with the mechanically-spinning disk but still using the same principals and visual effect.

Probably the most famous maker of Strobe Tuners is Peterson Tuners, who make an array of top end models, some of which are more akin to laboratory instruments than musician’s tools. They do, however, also make some more affordable and practical models, including handheld and pedal tuners.

The new kid on the block for strobe tuners is Sonic Research Inc., who’s Turbo Tuner range has a very enthusiastic following. Turbo Tuners us a true strobe approach in solid state tuners, giving very fast and accurate tuners with rotating LED displays.

For further information about the scientific principles behind the workings of strobe tuners, see:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strobe_light
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(acoustics)

11. Where should a pedal tuner go in my effects pedal chain?

Pedal Tuners are a very convenient way of tuning your guitar, especially on stage. But you should always make sure you put your tuner pedal first in the chain, before other stomp-boxes. For easy and accurate tuning you need to give your tuner the cleanest possible signal – even the best tuner can struggle if you feed it distorted, delayed or chorused signal!

To ensure that your tuner does not affect your guitar’s tone, make sure your tuner pedal has a “true bypass” switch – this means that when it is not being used all of the tuner’s electronic circuitry is switched out and the signal from your guitar is passed directly to the pedal tuner’s output jack.

12. What is standard tuning for a 7 string guitar?

Seven string guitar tunings is similar to the principle of a five-string bass guitar tuning. Seven-string tuning adds a low note for the extra string, being a fifth lower than the original sixth string – i.e. it is a low B note for standard 7-string guitar tuning.

Standard Tuning for 7-string guitar

B-E-A-D-G-B-E
1st string = E (highest)
2nd string = B
3rd string = G
4th string = D
5th string = A
6th string = E
7th string = B (lowest)

Example of 7-string guitar string set:
D’addario EXL110-7 Regular Light “10s”
10 / 13 / 17 / 26w / 36w / 46w / 59w

13. What is Nashville Tuning?

Nashville Tuning (aka “High Strung tuning”) is a way of giving a 12-string guitar sound from a regular 6-string guitar. Nashville used the same basic notes (EADGBE) but with thinner strings to give the same notes in different octaves. If you took off the regular strings from a 12-string, you’d be left with a Nashville Tuned guitar!

It is often used in recording played alongside another guitar with regular tuning, giving 12-string guitar sound when no 12-string is available. It also has the advantage that the high and low parts of the 12-string sound can be separated in the stereo mix, giving a more spacial sound.

String notes for Nashville Tuning:

1 – E (as per normal tuning)
2 – B (as per normal tuning)
3 – G (one octave higher than normal tuning)
4 – D (one octave higher than normal tuning)
5 – A (one octave higher than normal tuning)
6 – E (one octave higher than normal tuning)

Famous songs that use Nashville Tuning include:

  • Hey You – Pink Floyd
  • Wild Horses – Rolling Stones
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash – Rolling Stones
  • Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
  • Bye Bye love – Everly Brothers
   

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