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Different methods of tuning the guitar give slightly different results. Your preferred method will depend both on what is easy and convenient for you and on what you want the result to sound like.

Introduction

There are several different popular methods for tuning a guitar. All are adequate, but you will probably find that some are either more convenient for you or easier for you to hear well. Also, the results of each method are slightly different. For the beginning guitarist who is just practicing alone, it is most important to choose a tuning method that is easy and convenient. But as you start to play with other people or become more picky about how your guitar sounds, the results of the different tuning methods will be more important to you.

Pitch pipes

There are pitch pipes available (check your local guitar supplier) that give the pitches for all six strings; you simply match the pitch of each string to the appropriate pipe.

Pitch pipes are inexpensive (say, compared to an electronic tuner) and easy to use even for young beginners. They are small and easy to bring along.

Pitch pipes do not have as clear and precise a pitch as a tuning fork, piano, or electronic tuner, and their pitches are equal temperament . (See the discussion in the keyboard section, below , for more about guitars and equal temperament.) Advanced players often find the result dissatisfying.

Electronic tuner

Also available are electronic tuners that can also give you each of the individual pitches you need for all six strings. Electronic tuners also have a setting that allows to you check a sound to see whether it is flat, sharp, or on pitch.

Electronic tuners have a more precise pitch than a pitch pipe and some people find the feature that lets them check their pitch useful. Some are large, but plenty are small and easy to bring along.

Electronic tuners are quite expensive, however, and require batteries or an electrical outlet. Also, they are set to give equal temperament tuning (see the discussion below ) and some people have trouble tuning to a thin, electronic tone. It is generally not worth the expense to get an electronic tuner just to tune a guitar.

Keyboard

If an electronic keyboard or a well-tuned piano is available, this can also be an easy way to tune the guitar. Be aware that guitar music actually sounds one octave lower than written, so the highest guitar string, for example, is only the E above middle C, not the E an octave and a third above middle C, as it is written.

Tuning to a keyboard

The open strings of the guitar (the six red notes) span two octaves from the E above middle C to the E two octaves below that.

Pianos and keyboards give a precise, clear, loud pitch that is easy to tune to. This can be a good choice for beginners who have a keyboard available, or for guitarists who are going to be practicing or performing with a keyboard player.

Obviously, this method is not useful when a keyboard is not available. But there is also the issue of exactly how you want your guitar to be tuned. Keyboards use equal temperament , which is basically the official tuning system of modern Western music. This tuning system became so popluar and widely used, in fact, precisely because it is so good for keyboard instruments; it is designed so that an instrument that uses it will play equally in tune no matter what key it plays in. This is very important for instruments like pianos and harps which cannot retune easily or quickly.

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Source:  OpenStax, Beginning guitar. OpenStax CNX. Aug 18, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10421/1.2
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