Electric guitars are tuned the same way as acoustic guitars. Electric guitars do not need to be tuned more frequently than acoustic guitars. Electric guitars are designed to hold their tune longer than most acoustic guitars, but they require the same amount of ongoing care.
In this article, I’ll go over a few common mistakes that guitarists can avoid to keep their electric guitars in tune.
Do You Need a Tuner For An Electric Guitar?
Electric guitar tuning can be done by ear but is made much easier by using a clip-on tuner.
An electric guitar tuner attaches to the headstock of the guitar, or clips onto the instrument cable.
Tuners are inexpensive and readily available for purchase in most musical instrument stores.
Tuners attach to the headstock of an electric guitar (left) or clip onto the incoming cable (right).
Tuners are active, which means they need power. They typically get this from a watch battery that is easily replaced when it runs out.
The battery provides continuous power to the tuner’s display whether or not an electric guitar is connected.
Keeping Your Electric Guitar in Tune
The biggest problem with keeping an electric guitar in tune is a result of a common mistake – tightening strings incorrectly.
A new set of electric guitar strings will tend to stretch slightly as they settle into place on your guitar.
Pay attention to the recommended string gauge for your particular electric guitar model, and replace your strings one at a time so they stretch evenly across all six.
Typically, strings should be replaced one at a time, so they stretch evenly across the whole set.
Note: Always check your tuning before each session with your electric guitar. This is especially important if you are about to record or perform live with it.
It takes longer for electric guitar strings to lose tension than it does for them to settle into place, and leaving old strings on the instrument puts it out of tune quickly between string changes.
If you don’t replace all six strings at once, make sure that you check your tuning frequently as the day progresses – every hour or two may be necessary depending on humidity conditions where you are playing (heavier gauge strings will stretch faster).
Keeping an Electric Guitar in Tune With Age
Eventually, all guitar strings need to be replaced, but as long as they are still in good shape and you keep them clean, there is no reason that an electric guitar should continually go out of tune after replacing a string or two.
There is some debate over how often strings should be replaced on an electric guitar – especially bass guitars (which may not be tuned the same way as standard six-string electrics).
Here’s my take:
Strings that have broken or gone dead will obviously need to be replaced immediately.
Change your strings whenever you feel like it would sound better than leaving them installed for another week.
If an old set of strings sounds until you put a new set on, throw the old ones out.
Treat yourself to a fresh set of strings whenever you feel like it would sound better than leaving them installed.
If your guitar is several years old and still has the original strings from when it was initially purchased from the store, consider upgrading to a fresh set of strings.
Electric guitars hold their tune better than acoustic guitars but need regular maintenance in order for this advantage to be fully realized.
This doesn’t mean spending big money on frequent string changes – there’s no reason not to change those nickel-wound electric guitar strings every three months or so (if they start to corrode, change them a little more often – a corroded string will go out of tune faster and stretch faster between sessions).
Keeping an Electric Guitar in Tune With Temperature Changes
Temperature changes can throw off the tuning of any stringed instrument, but it usually takes longer to notice the effect on electric guitar strings because they are under less tension.
As long as your electric guitar strings aren’t old or corroded, they should be fine when you take your guitar from one room where it has been kept at a constant temperature to another where the humidity is different.
You may find that the tuning shifts slightly over time as you play, though this shift is usually gradual enough that it isn’t noticeable until you check.
This means that normal temperature changes do not need to affect your electric guitar tuning at all.
If you’re going from a very hot environment (such as an automobile left in the summer sun) into a relatively cool room or outdoor setting, you may notice that your guitar is slightly out of tune when you arrive.
Naturally, if it’s too cold for you to play outside comfortably, so is it probably too cold for your guitar.
In this case, just check the tuning before playing and use either the truss rod or bridge to correct any issues with string intonation until things warm up a bit – then retune again.
Typically, though, temperature changes have little impact on electric guitars unless they are drastic enough to cause condensation inside the instrument or to freeze the strings.
If your strings are old and have begun to corrode, they will go out of tune very quickly – especially if you’re playing in colder conditions.
In this case, you’ll probably need to change your strings before each outdoor engagement (corroded strings sound duller and lose tonal quality faster than good ones do).
Do Electric Guitars Come Tuned?
As you get better, you’ll experiment with alternate tunings.
However, the standard tuning will always be there as a foundation, guiding how you traverse the fretboard.
The majority of electric guitarists use plug-in/pedal tuners, but it’s also essential to understand how to tune an electric guitar without an amplifier.
Electric guitars come in equal temperament (ET) tuning, which is the most common and currently “standard” form of tuning.
Besides ET, there are also other types of guitar tunings that alter the pitch in order to change the way musicians can use chords and scales.
Since this could be an entire article in itself, we’ll skip it for now and focus on how to tune a standard electric guitar using your ear.
Step 1: Familiarize Yourself with the General Tuning Process
Begin by picking two notes – any two notes will do since you’re just starting out.
The first note should be higher than the second one so that you have some room to get louder or quieter as you bring either of the strings into tune.
Step 2: Tune Your First String to Your Second String
If you’re playing the bass guitar, this may be a little difficult because it’s hard to hear which string is higher or lower when both are played at the same time (that is, they both go “thud” instead of one going “thwack”).
When in doubt, err on the side of tuning down rather than up – if your bass is too low, you can always turn the volume knob up.
Also, make sure that both notes are clean and clear before you proceed.
Out-of-tune notes sound muddy and indistinct; they won’t help you do your job as an electric guitar player!
Step 3: Repeat for All Strings
Repeat the same process with each string until you’ve gone all the way around your tuning pegs.
It’s best to start off by tightening the string rather than loosening it, but both are acceptable.
If you need to tune down, do so carefully and steadily – don’t snap strings because they break easily!
Alternately, if you find that your guitar is very flat overall (not just one or two notes), then use the opposite method of this guide and start on the highest note on your fretboard.
Some electric guitars have a micro-tilt adjustment feature built into them, but not every model does.
So check your owner’s manual first before trying any DIY repair techniques.
Q: How often should you tune your guitar?
A: You should tune your guitar after each practice session. It’s unrealistic to believe that your guitar will stay in tune between lessons. Guitars go out of tune when you bend strings or perform for lengthy periods of time, particularly if you’re a fast strummer.
Q: What’s the best way to transport an electric guitar?
A: Electric guitars are rather delicate instruments, so you should always use a good case when transporting them. This will protect your guitar from impact damage (and save you money if your guitar sustains any dents or scratches).
Q: Can temperature affect the tuning of an electric guitar?
A: Sure. Colder conditions will decrease string tension, so you’ll have to tune your guitar more frequently when it’s cold outside. On hotter days, however, your strings will take a beating since they stretch faster under high humidity levels.
Q: Can humidity affect the tuning of an electric guitar?
A: Yes, but not as much as temperature. The amount of moisture in the air will affect your strings’ tension and the sound they produce, but the humidity has a smaller effect on tuning since it’s a gradual process – your guitar won’t go from sharp to flat overnight.
Q: Can acidic or alkaline conditions damage my electric guitar?
A: Yes. You should always clean your guitar after playing in order to get rid of any sweat, oils, and other impurities that might be on the fretboard. These substances can corrode your strings if they’re left on for too long (i.e., overnight). So it’s a good idea to wipe down your guitar after playing, even if you don’t notice any dirt or grime on its surface.