Technology is great these days, and almost every guitarist probably has a guitar tuner of some sort lying around. The conventional way of tuning a guitar has been with a guitar tuner, but this has changed over the years. Now, there are so many ways to tune your guitar that there really is no reason that you should ever not be able to get perfect tune no matter where you are. That being said, we will review several different ways to tune a guitar without a conventional tuner in case you find yourself in a pinch. We will even go over a way for you to tune up even if the nation suffers an electromagnetic pulse attack and the entire electrical grid goes down. After all, in a situation like that, entertaining yourself with an old-fashioned acoustic guitar may be more important to you than ever. In any case, let’s take a look at how to tune a guitar without a tuner.
Why Do I Need a Tuner Anyway?
Well, you don’t. If you have a good enough ear, you can tune your guitar to itself. Most guitar players learn how to tune their guitar to itself very early on and we are going to publish an article that outlines this procedure from beginning to end in the future. For now, let’s just say that there is a pattern of holding down the strings that allows you to tune the five strings lower on the guitar to the one on the top. That is, you tune the strings to be “in tune” with the low E bass string. This is only as precise as your ear, although it has been successful for guitarists for generations. The problems arise when you want to play with someone else.
Guitars slip out of tune with time, especially if there is moisture or significant temperature differences. Some guitars simply are more prone to slipping out of tune than others. Of course, your string selection may play a part in this as well. In any case, if you only tune your guitar to be in tune with itself, you may find that if you ever want to play along with a recording or with some friends that you guitar is way out of tune despite sounding just fine when you are strumming around by yourself. So, even if you have an ear for tuning up, you are going to need to start somewhere. The various types of tuning mechanisms we go over below will give you that way of knowing that at least your low E string is tuned to something relevant before you worry about the other strings.
Smartphones are Lifesavers for Tuners on the Go
You no longer have to have a standalone electronic guitar tuner with you to tune up. It was a pain anyway. You either have to have a plug going to a wall outlet or a battery that is just sure to run out of juice at the most inopportune time. Nowadays, almost everyone is toting a smartphone in their pocket anyway, and luckily, there are now a multitude of applications available that allow for quick and accurate guitar tuning on the go.
Most tuning applications for smartphones use the built-in microphone on the device to “listen” to you as you pluck the strings. Then, you get real-time feedback on how high or low your pitch is. More advanced tuner applications include some pretty amazing features, like setting different tunings and even a metronome. There’s really no reason to not have a tuner with you at all times when it is just this easy.
The Web Can Help
There are numerous websites that help out with guitar tuning in a pinch as well. Some just play the pitch so you can match it, and others can actually use the computer’s inputs to analyze your signal and pitch. These are useful because they are anywhere that you have Internet access. The drawback, of course, is that you to have a computer or something capable of viewing web pages to use one of these. Still, it’s a good option if you are just looking for a quick step in the right direction.
Kick It Old School With a Pitch Pipe
Before all of this electronic nonsense, people still tuned their guitars. Your average guitar dealer probably has one for sale still in today’s world. These are just little pipes that are engineered so that when you blow into it, you get the exact sound of the note that you are trying to tune your guitar to. Once you get that one string in the right pitch, matching up the others is no big deal. The obvious advantage of a pitch pipe is that it requires no power and can be taken absolutely anywhere, so it’s a great item to have in your backpack if you like to take your guitar off the grid. The main disadvantage to this style of tuning is it is relying on your ear for accuracy, where as most electronic tuners are going to more precise. This may not be a big deal if you are jamming by yourself, but could be more important when playing with other people.
As we mentioned earlier, the pitch pipe may be the gold standard if anything ever happened to the United States’ electrical grid, but mainly, it’s a surefire way to make sure that you can tune your guitar no matter what the situation.
The Verdict — Tuners are Plentiful These Days
Learning to tune your guitar by ear is a great skill, but it’s not as necessary in this age as it would have been a couple of decades ago. There are all sorts of devices and mediums to help you get your guitar tuned up and playing in a perfect key in no time. Always be prepared by having one of the devices above available just in case you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have your normal setup. In the meantime, we will be reviewing several styles of tuners here on Just Guitar Talk, so stay tuned.