The first thing you need to know about your guitar in order to tune it is what note each string needs to be tuned to.
From thickest to thinnest, the standard tuning for a six-string guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E.
It’s important to note that the E on the six string is different from the E on the first string, in that one is lower and one is higher.
The main thing to avoid when tuning your guitar is tightening a string too far. When a guitar is in tune, there is some tension on the strings, but if you aren’t used to tuning your guitar, you may not be able to recognize exactly how tense it needs to be. Tightening too far may result in the breaking of a string.
Conversely, loosening a string won’t generally have a detrimental effect on it. It should be self-evident when a string is too loose, as it tends to buzz a lot.
Here are several ways to tune your guitar.
Tune to Yourself
If you aren’t playing with anyone else, then tuning to yourself may be a viable option. Just remember that, if you tune to yourself, you may not be tuned accurately to other instruments.
On the sixth string, place your index finger on the fifth fret, and compare that note against the open fifth string. If it sounds different, loosen or tighten the fifth string until it sounds the same.
Then, repeat this process with the fifth, fourth, and third strings. On the second string, you need to fret the fourth fret instead of the fifth, so when tuning your B string, check against the fourth fret on the third string.
Tuning your first string is the same as the fifth, fourth, or third.
Tune to Another Instrument
It is possible to tune your guitar to another instrument. The piano is perhaps the most commonplace example.
On the piano, you can play the E, A, D, G, B, and E notes in the correct frequency to check against the strings on your guitar.
Your high E is just two keys above middle C. The lower E is two octaves below the high E. All of the other notes are in between these two Es. From the high E, you would simply find the closest B (below the E) on the keyboard, and repeat that process for G, D, A, and E.
Keep in mind that tuning to another instrument isn’t always completely accurate either, as the other instrument may not be perfectly tuned.
Tune Using an Electronic Tuner
Electronic tuners are generally affordable, easy-to-use, and make tuning your guitar a straightforward process.
The one thing you need to remember is that your tuner may not display E, A, D, G, B, E as the notes you are playing if your guitar is especially out of tune.
For example, the low E note could show up as an F if you are too high, or as an Eb or even a D if it is too low.
It’s a good idea to memorize the notes on the fretboard (especially the low E string) so that you can quickly discern whether or not a string is sharp (too high) or flat (too low) based on what the tuner displays.