Tuning your guitar is just one of those things you gotta deal with if you’re a player. Some folks get all jittery and sweaty about it, thinking it’s some kind of rocket science or they need superhuman hearing.
It’s not as daunting as it seems.
Here are some nifty tips to save your sanity when your guitar just won’t cooperate or when you’re under the spotlight and time is ticking away.
1. Embrace the tuner.
Yeah, it’s obvious, but seriously, grab yourself a tuner. It won’t make you any less of a badass guitarist. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. You can even find ones with built-in metronomes to keep your rhythm on point.
You can strap them to your guitar or get fancy tuning apps on your phone. These gadgets are designed to bring your guitar to register, which is that sweet spot at A440. Trust me, being even a half-step off can mess up your tuning game. Plus, it messes with the tension and intonation of your ax.
Heads up. Your guitar might have its own quirks, so tweak the tuning a bit even after using the tuner. Every instrument has its own personality, ya know?
2. Tune up, not down.
When you’re tuning by ear and can’t tell if a string is a tad sharp or a smidge flat, don’t fight it. Drop that note way flat and then bring it back up to the right pitch.
Don’t you dare tune down to the note, especially with brand-spankin’-new strings. That just messes with the tension between the tuning peg and nut, and before you know it, you’re out of tune again. So, be a rebel and drop that note considerably flat. Slowly but surely, tighten the string until it’s where it should be. You’ll thank us later.
3. Tune up like a boss without even touching the knobs.
Now here’s a nifty trick, but fair warning, it’s got its limitations and might not last the whole gig. When your guitar is slightly off and you’re in a pinch, try the “Look Mom, no knobs” approach.
If a string is a bit flat, press down on it between the tuning peg and nut to create more tension between the nut and bridge. Boom. The note sharpens right up.
On the flip side, if a string is a touch sharp, give it a gentle pull around the sound hole area to stretch it. That loosens the tension between the bridge and nut and brings the note down.
It takes some time and practice to get the hang of how much to adjust based on how out of tune your guitar is. This method is perfect for fine-tuning a slightly misbehaving string.
4. Pencil it in for easier tuning.
Ever cranked that tuning knob and hear a high-pitched “ping.”? It sounds like you plucked the string between the tuning peg and nut, and it’s not exactly music to your ears.
Here’s the deal. When this happens, the string is binding where it meets the nut. That little bugger won’t break free until enough pressure builds up from cranking the tuning knob, and then it breaks loose all at once. Not cool.
But You can prevent string binding with a good ol’ #2 pencil. Seriously. Next time you change strings, rake that lead across the slots on the top of the nut. The graphite magically lubricates the string, saving you from those cringe-worthy “ping” moments.
5. Capo with care.
Now, it’s best to never, ever retune with a capo clamped on. Is that reality?
Sometimes you’ll wind up tweaking the tuning once the capo’s clamped on. Just don’t slap a capo on and then tune to DADGAD. It’s a one-way ticket to trashing the rubber or plastic bar on your capo, and your frets won’t be too happy about it either.
When you slap on those levered or screw tension capos, be gentle with them. Tightening them too much sharpens the notes, and nobody wants that. Don’t clamp a capo down on your fretboard like high school shop class.
If you have a capo with an adjustable thumb screw or lever, find that sweet spot where it’s just past the point of string buzz. That way, your less apt to pull your strings sharp.
6. New strings means retuning a time or two.
When you put on fresh strings, get ready for some retuning action. It’s just a fact of life, strum bud.
There are a few things you can do to minimize the break-in time for those new strings.
- Pre-stretch those bad boys. Put on the strings, get them to register, and give each one a gentle pull. Retune and repeat until they settle in. But don’t go all Hercules on them. A gentle inch or so pull each time will do the trick. By the second time, you’ll be good to go and ready to rock.
- Play with a little extra aggression. Yeah, you heard me right. Tune up and play more fiercely than usual. Bend those blues notes, strum like there’s no tomorrow. This will naturally stretch the strings, and yes, you’ll need to retune more often. But the bright, fresh string sound will stick around longer than over stretching them.
- Consider round core strings. Okay, here’s a topic as divisive as politics. Round core versus hex core strings. It’s up to you, your desires, beliefs, experiences, and opinions. But let me tell you this, round core strings tune up way faster and stay more stable once they’re there. They have a warm, woody, and muddy tone, whereas hex core strings are brighter, colder, and sharper. Plus, with round core strings, you’ll rarely break a string even if you get a little wild. Trust me, I’ve been there. So, give round core strings a whirl, 7. Hug up your guitar before stage time.
Now, here’s a pro tip. About 20 minutes before you hit the stage, strap on that guitar. Make sure its back is against your body and your arm is resting on the top. Just before you take the stage, find a moment to check your tuning. Why? Well, if you don’t, your body heat and those stage lights will change the temperature of the wood, and that can pull your guitar out of tune at the worst time. So, hug your guitar tight, my friend, and keep it in check.
Arm yourself with these nuggets, you’ll sound like a pro and conquer the tuning game like a champ.