Tuning A Guitar To Itself
Many professional guitarists use electronic tuners to make sure their instruments are in tune. Beginning guitarists can still tune a guitar to itself.
Early in their lessons, guitarists learn that the strings on a guitar are tuned to the notes E,A,D,G,B,and E. This can be easily memorized with the pneumonic phrase 'Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually.' Another critical element that a guitarist learns quickly is the importance of proper tuning. A string that is even slightly out of tune can be grating to hear, and strings that remain severely out of tune can actually damage the tuning mechanisms through excessive stress. The easiest way to tune a guitar is to use a special electronic tuner, which analyzes each string's true tone and advises the guitarist on the adjustments necessary. This can also be achieved manually by comparing the sound of a correctly-tuned piano with the corresponding string. But what if you don't have access to either one of these solutions? You can still tune your guitar relatively well by using its own strings to tune itself. Here's how you can tune a guitar to itself:
First, play your low E string by itself. Make sure it is not excessively loose or tight. Place your index finger (or whichever finger is most comfortable) firmly and squarely behind the fifth fret of the E string. Most guitars have a dot or other symbol marking the fifth fret, on both the fingerboard and side of the neck. With your finger on the fifth fret, pluck the string. That is the note A. Now pluck the open A string. Compare the two sounds carefully. Do they sound like the same string being plucked twice, or can you tell a difference? Adjust the A string's tuning peg so that it is a bit loose and slightly flat. Many people find it easier to tune from a slightly flat sound to the proper tone, rather than put too much strain by lowering the tone from a 'sharper' distance.
Continue comparing the sound of the two strings while twisting the A tuning peg up slightly. When you cannot detect a difference between them, stop twisting the peg immediately. The A string is now in tune with the E string.
Use this same method with the A and D strings. Finger the A string at the fifth fret, which would make it a D, and again compare the sound of the open D string to the fretted A string. Tune the D slightly flat, and slowly tighten until the strings are in unison. Now your E,A, and D strings are tuned relative to each other.
The D and G tuning is done exactly the same way, with the D string held at the fifth fret and the open G string compared and tuned. Now you have E,A,D and G in tune with each other.
Do the same procedure with the G string fingered at the fifth fret and the open B string. Once you have tuned this string, the procedure changes slightly. You now have E,A,D,G and B all tuned to each other.
For the last string, E, you must change the fingering from the fifth fret to the fourth fret. This will insure that you are tuning the E string to the fretted E on the B string, not F. Proceed as before with the tuning procedure. Sound the fretted E with the open E and tune. The higher strings (D,G,B and E) have more stress on them, so be especially careful that you start out the process low enough so that you don't have to put more stress that necessary on the high E string.
You should be in tune now. Practice strumming a few chords, to check for any glaring errors you many have missed. If you hear nothing that pulls your focus, then your guitar is properly tuned to itself. Temperature changes, condition of the tuning pegs and even performance style can all cause a guitar to fall out of tune rapidly, so you may have to make some corrections now and then. Also, it's never a good idea to leave a guitar tuned to itself without occasionally tuning it to a standard piano or professional tuning device. If your "E" is too far from the natural and correct "E", the additional stresses on the strings may hurt the instrument in the long run. Tuning a guitar to itself will help you get through a performance or two, but you still need the accuracy that only a professional tuning can provide.