How To:
Tune a Guitar

Loading audio...

A Sad Guitar.

Take a second and strum the guitar. It doesn’t sound so good, does it?

We’ve just taken it out of storage and it’s all out of tune...

Electric Tuner to the Rescue.

Tune the guitar using the tuner. Click and drag the tuning knobs on the right to tighten and loosen the strings.

Keep at it.

This doesn’t sound in tune quite yet. Scroll back up and try to get all of the tuning knobs to turn green.

How does this thing work?

Guitars generate noise through the vibration of their strings. On an electric guitar such as this one, magnetic “pick-ups” convert those vibrations into an electrical signal which can then be sent to a tuner or an amplifier.

This signal can be visualized as a raw waveform, but often we want to visualize the frequency instead. The fourier transform is a mathematical function that reveals the audio frequencies hidden in that wave.

Strum the guitar to see the frequency visualized.

Tuning by Ear.

Now that we’ve tuned the guitar using a tuner, let’s try to tune the guitar by ear. This is more challenging, and it may take you time to master.

The guitar is out of tune again!

Match the Reference.

We’ll start by tuning to a reference note. When you manipulate the tuners on the right the current note will be played, as will a reference note.

This will be easier with a cleaner sound. Match the two sounds to get the guitar in tune.

Tuning Techniques.

Harmonic Intervals.

Most of the strings on a guitar are separated by an interval known as a perfect fourth.

The perfect fourth is beautifully resonant, but there’s one pair of strings on a guitar which are not separated by a perfect fourth.

The interval between the GG and BB strings is a major third. The major third sounds happy and uplifting.

These intervals show up all the time in music, for example, the major third can be found the first two notes of The Saints. The first two notes of Amazing Grace form a perfect fourth.

Learning to hear these intervals will help you tune your guitar without a tuner.

Find the beat.

When two strings are played together, they produce a third higher frequency known as an overtone.

When the two strings are not perfectly in tune, the overtone is inconsistent over time. This produces a wobbling, a beat, in the overtone which you can hear if you listen carefully.

Play notes with a 5.00 Hz difference:

As you get a pair of strings closer in tune, the beats will slow down until the overtone is perfectly amplified. Listening for the slowing of these beats is a helpful cue for tuning.

Practice makes perfect.

Try tuning the guitar by listening for the relationships between adjacent strings and the beats in the resultant overtone.

About this.

This page was built using Idyll, a markup language for interactive documents. The guitar was created using Sketch Interactive Export, D3, and a modified version of Tone.js. Audio samples were provided by user SpeedY.

This project is from the Interactive Data Lab at the University of Washington.