Tune Your Electric Guitar by Ear

Edited by Alexander Avdeev, Eng, VC

I would like to demonstrate how to tune a guitar by ear. There are situations when you cannot find a quiet place or a tuner, and you ought to replace a string urgently. It can also be that you are just looking for a new way to improve your ear and find faster methods to tune your guitar.When you replace one or several strings, you usually come across a gauge that is different from the original; thus causing the string to go out of tune at a certain range of the fretboard. Please read this tutorial to find out how you can resolve that.


  1. 1
    You have to find a sound source for the string being tuned. It can be a friend playing a note on another musical instrument, or a smartphone application.I have downloaded GarageBand for iPhone, as you can see.
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  2. 2
    You can open the piano keyboard in this application. The numbers on the screen above the piano keyboard represent the track that will be recorded.
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  3. 3
    You have to know the tuning for the string that is being tuned. In my case, the string is the guitar's first string that is intended to be tuned to B2. I choose to record a loop with the note one octave higher (B3) for more accessible tuning.
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  4. 4
    Now, you have to match the volume of your guitar's amplifier and the sound source while playing the string that is intended to be tuned. Ask your friend to play the needed note on his instrument, or start a prerecorded track on the downloaded smartphone application. After that, you can plug your guitar into the amplifier, turn it on, and increase the volume to the level where you can hear both sources clearly.
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  5. 5
    There are various types of bridges. The bridge is the device that holds the strings on the guitar body. Note that guitars with floating bridges may require you to loosen the locking nuts. You can also remove the locking nuts completely. When you have finished with all the steps in the tutorial, place the locking nuts back and tighten them again.
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  6. 6
    The ways to adjust the string length vary. For the bridge in the picture, there are six screws that require a blade screwdriver. Turning them clockwise will increase the overall string length, thus changing the pitch and the pitch distribution across the fretboard.
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  7. 7
    There are also hex-key screws, two per each string, that will either lift or lower the strings above the fretboard. This will change the length as well, and I would not recommend touching them when you are in a hurry.
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  8. 8
    The guitar in the picture has similar blade-screwdriver screws. There are also two adjustment wheels that will either raise or lower the entire bridge above the guitar.
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  9. 9
    This guitar has a floating bridge (Floyd Rose-type). The micro-tuning nuts illustrated here will lift the strings above the fretboard only slightly if you tighten them.
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  10. 10
    The two screws to each side of the bridge will lift the strings above the fretboard if you loosen them.
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  11. 11
    Each string has its own hex-key screw that must be loosened to proceed with the string length changes. This is the hardest type of adjustment, as it requires a lot of time and effort to find the correct string length.To adjust the length, turn the tuning pegs to make the string loose. Move the string and loosen the screw. Move the head holding the string to the desired position. Lock the screw again and tune the string back to the required pitch.
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  12. 12
    Match the note on your guitar with the sound from the amplifier. Make sure you hear as few mismatch vibrations as possible. Mismatch vibrations, as I call them, can be perceived as either slow or fast “wow” sound. The slower it is, the better the tuning. When the two sounds play as one, make a full bend and tune the string again if necessary.
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  13. 13
    Repeat the steps above for each string. The strings that were not replaced may not require length adjustment at all.
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What to Get:

  • a blade screwdriver;
  • a set of hex keys;
  • a friend with a tuned musical instrument or a smartphone with the Internet access.

Tips and Tricks

  • You can turn on a distortion effect on your amplifier to hear the mismatched vibrations better.
  • Use new strings to replace old ones, as new strings have a constant gauge throughout their lengths.
  • Floating bridges are quite time-consuming in tuning; therefore, I recommend making them fixed by installing the Termol-No system or any other floating bridge-blocking system for a really fast tuning. You can lock and unlock the bridge with Tremol-No at any time. Alternatively, you can install more springs or better springs into the bridge on the back side of your guitar.

Video: Tune Your Electric Guitar by Ear

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Categories : Music

Recent edits by: Eng, Alexander Avdeev

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