How to Use a Clip On Tuner

guitarist using a clip on tuner

Using a clip on tuner is one of the easiest and most reliable methods for tuning your guitar. In this post we’ll show you how to use a clip on tuner to get your guitar in tune every time you play.

When you set out to learn how to play the guitar, one of the first things you might struggle with is knowing if your guitar is “in tune” or not. A properly tuned guitar can be the difference between sounding like a well-paid studio musician or a beginner. No matter how well someone can play, an out of tune guitar always sounds bad.

So, when should you tune your guitar? The answer is simple: every time you pick it up to play.

Tuning your guitar before you play is an essential habit to develop. It will help you train your ear to hear the different characteristics of each string, chord, and note you play.

A Trusty Clip On Tuner

When it comes to tuning your guitar, one of the easiest and most effective ways to have it perfectly in tune, is with the assistance of a pocket-sized device known as a clip on tuner. These handy tuners simply “clip on” to the headstock of your acoustic or electric guitar and use the string’s vibration to sense and display the pitch.

At Northville Guitar Lessons, we recommend using the Snark ST-8 Super Tight Clip On Tuner. Its bright, high definition display, and 360º swivel head allows for easy tuning in any lighting and at any angle. These tuners are very affordable, light-weight, and fit perfectly in your guitar case or pocket.

Start With Standard Tuning

Now that you’ve got your clip on tuner don’t just go cranking away on the tuning pegs. It’s important to know that 99% of the songs you’ll learn as a beginner are in “standard tuning.” The strings on your guitar all have names. These names are based on standard tuning. If you know the names of the strings, you know the notes of standard tuning.

We’ll briefly cover the names of the strings here. Looking at your guitar strings from thickest to thinnest, the notes/names would be E-A-D-G-B-e. For a more in-depth look at the names of the strings check out our post about how to read guitar tab.

Because most clip on tuners are “chromatic tuners” – they display the pitch your string is currently tuned to – you should be familiar with the names of the strings. Knowing the names of the strings on your guitar will help you avoid any accidental mis-tuning. Memorizing the string names will also give you a head start on learning the notes up and down the guitar neck.

A simple way to remember the string names is to memorize this sentence:
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Getting Your Guitar In Tune

You’ve got your tuner clipped on to the headstock of your guitar. It’s turned on and ready to go. Chances are, when you pluck a string it won’t be in tune. It will either be “flat” or “sharp.” A flat note means that the string is vibrating slower than the intended pitch, producing a lower sounding note. A sharp note means that the string is vibrating faster than the intended pitch, producing a higher sounding note.

The goal is to get the string as close to perfectly in tune as possible. On the Snark ST-8, an in tune note is achieved when the green light in the center is lit up. Flat notes will light up the red lights on the left side of the tuner. Sharp notes will light up the red lights on the right side of the tuner.

Tips For Keeping Your Guitar In Tune

To help your guitar stay in tune better, always tune up from a flat note. Never tune down from a sharp note. If your starting note is sharp, first tune down to a flat note, then up to the in tune note. For example, if you’re tuning the lowest string and your starting note is an “F” then it’s sharp. You’ll need to tune down past the “E” note then back up to an in tune “E.”

Another way to keep your guitar in tune is to change your strings regularly. Stretched out, old strings have a tendency to slip out of tune more frequently than newer strings. An added benefit of changing your strings regularly is that you’ll get acquainted with the names of the strings quicker.

Changes in climate can have a big effect on your guitar. Wherever you store your guitar, keep the temperature and humidity regulated. Drastic shifts in temperature/humidity could not only affect the tuning of your guitar, but also cause damage to the finish and/or wood.


Of course, using a clip on tuner isn’t the ONLY way to tune your guitar. There are many other ways and gadgets for tuning a guitar, from expensive pedal tuners to free iPhone apps. The Snark ST-8 clip on tuners, however, are the easiest to use, most accurate and reliable tuners out there. We recommend them to all of our students!

Now that you know how to use a clip on tuner, you’re on your way to rock stardom! Have fun and stay in tune.

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