How to Tune the Guitar Without a Tuner – Some Simple Tricks.

Digital Guitar TunerNo Guitar Tuner Blues

So you don’t have a tuner? I guess you’ll just have to call it quits and never play the guitar again right? WRONG MY FRIEND. After moving through this post, you’ll never be stuck dealing with an out of tune guitar ever again. Let’s pick up that guitar and get it in singing shape in absolutely no time at all.

To refresh your memory, Standard tuning on a 6 string guitar is E, A, D, G, B, and E (from thickest to the thinnest string). You may also remember from previous posts, that it is of paramount importance that you practice with a tuned instrument every time. This will help you tune your ears to the right sound. Let’s find out how to tune the guitar without a tuner.

The Desperate Measures Method – REALLY desperate.

This probably isn’t what this technique is called, but it definitely is for today. I refer to it as such because I believe you should really only use this method if no other tuning method is available to you. This method also operates on the condition that the low E string is correctly tuned.

That being said it may be a worthwhile exercise getting your ears used to the sound of the E string when it is perfectly tuned. This will make it easier for you to use this method when you are in a pinch or even if you need to change tuning on your guitar for any reason.

To use this method you make use of the notes on a tuned string, to tune the next string. What now? Let break it down a bit. Assuming the E string is tuned, place your finger on the 5th fret of the E string, and proceed to pick the E string making it sing out this note.

For those more advanced citizens among us, you will know that this note is, in fact, an A note. This corresponds to the sound or note that the next string should be singing for you, which is, in fact, A. This pattern repeats until you reach the 3rd string where you place your finger on the 4th fret instead of the 5th in order to produce the note sound called B.

If you place your guitar in your lap as if you’re about to play. then turn it up it to face you, it should look as follows in the list below. Simply place your finger on the fret indicated in brackets and pick the string to sound the notes [in the square brackets] as follows:

  1. E
  2. B (5th fret [E])
  3. G (4th fret [B])
  4. D (5th fret [G])
  5. A (5th fret [D])
  6. E (5th fret [A])

You will notice that the high E string does not have any numbers next to it. This is because there are no more strings left to tune, however, if you play the high E open it should sing the same note as the low E string. This may be difficult at first, but the more frequently you tune your guitar, the better equipped you will be to tune the guitar without a tuner.

That being said if you have access to a tuner, please use it, as it is a far more standardized and accurate way (hence why I called this the desperate method) to make sure your guitar will sing all the right notes for you. Yes, I know you’re here because you said you don’t have a tuner, believe me, I was listening, I just thought it was worth mentioning.

The Using Another Instrument Method – A tuned One Please

If you are fortunate enough to have access to another instrument, whether it be your or someone you know, you may be able to use this method. Now sometimes you may have to deviate from standard in order to synchronize with your bandmates. We will proceed to assume you are trying to get your guitar into standard tuning.

To use this method, the first and most vital step is to verify that the instrument you are using as a baseline is in fact correctly tuned as well, If not you may be better off reading the other methods below. After you have made sure the instrument is in fact in tune you can proceed. This is step is important enough to get an entire paragraph, so please do it.

To tune your guitar, you will have to find the right notes on the baseline instrument (let’s call it this for now). There are a variety of instruments you can use, so I will just run through the ones I believe to be the most likely to be available For simplicity, I have broken the methods into their own sections directly below.

Another Guitar (Not As Many As The Picture Though)

Guitar Wall

Using another tuned guitar is probably the easiest way to bring your little strings back into the right frame of mind. This simple because all you have to do is play each string on the tuned, and make sure that your strings are making the same noise for every string. If the sound is too low, you tighten the tuning peg, if it is too high you slow loosen the tuning peg.

So simply Play the low E string open ( not pressing the string down on any fret) on the tuned guitar, then play the Low E open on your guitar and listen carefully to hear if they match. Do not be afraid to play each string multiple times until you are happy that the sounds match. For your convenience the sequence is as follows:

  1. E (Play on Tuned Guitar first, then match sound on your guitar)
  2. B (Play on Tuned Guitar first, then match sound on your guitar)
  3. G (Play on Tuned Guitar first, then match sound on your guitar)
  4. D (Play on Tuned Guitar first, then match sound on your guitar)
  5. A (Play on Tuned Guitar first, then match sound on your guitar)
  6. E (Play on Tuned Guitar first, then match sound on your guitar)

A Piano or KeyboardPiano Keys

For simplicity, I will assume you do not know anything about the keyboard or piano keys. What you need to know is that the note called C is located next to the left of the two little black keys. This will help you find the note you actually need which is E. Place your finger on C, moving your finger one key toward the right is D, and moving once more will get you to E.

Try to find the E that is closest to your low E, as pianos and keyboards come in different shapes and sizes with more or fewer keys, so it is hard to say for certain which one you will be using. The easy thing about using a piano or keyboard is that you only have to use the white keys. Once you find the correct E move as follows below:

These are the White Keys: C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E

You can see from above you move three keys across to the next key, except when trying to find B as you only move two keys across from G.

Any Other Tuned Instrument

You can basically use any other instrument that is correctly tuned to help you in your tuning efforts. All you really need to do is find the right notes you need (EADGBE) on the tuned instrument, and accurately match those notes on your guitar. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it, and most musicians will be more than happy to help you get in tune.

A Short Note On Archaic Tuning Devices – Kicking It Old School

While they may not as old as I may have made them seem, there are some tools available that some of our younger and more digital members may never have heard of (before now). Among these, two stick out for me. The pitch pipe and the tuning fork.

A pitch pipe is basically like a harmonica and you blow air in one of the channels and it produces a musical note. These are usually labelled with the names of the notes to help you when tuning your instrument.

The tuning fork may be familiar to some from science class. It is a metal object, with two prongs and it looks like a pitchfork (pardon the pun). The tuning fork is simply struck against another object or vice versa in order to produce a specific sound. I have only ever seen a tuning for designed to produce a single frequency when struck, although anything is possible.


So I Guess There are No More Excuses Now, Right?

Yes, friend, fortunately (or unfortunately) for you, an out of tune guitar can no longer be an excuse for not practising your guitar skills. I hope that one of these methods will be able to benefit you ( even the desperate method) and help you to get in tune and play with confidence and joy. See you in the next post.

Happy Guitar Tuning




4 Replies to “How to Tune the Guitar Without a Tuner – Some Simple Tricks.”

  1. Wow great post this is a must read for all guitarists. Your on point and prove you can tune it without a tuner. Again thank you so much. David

  2. Hey Renton, nice overview of how you can tune your axe.
    I’ve been through all of them and although the “desperate measure method” is the hardest one, it comes in handy, when you have absolutely nothing around. So, on the long term, every guitar player should learn it.
    I personally currently use a tuning app on my smartphone, which is always with me.

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