HOW TO SET UP YOUR
GUITAR & EQUIPMENT
So you just bought your first guitar, now what? Check out Fender's guide to learn how to get set up to play.
“The guitar has a kind of grit and excitement possessed by nothing else.”
- BRIAN MAY, QUEEN
IN THIS CHAPTER
- How to tune a guitar
- How to string a guitar
- What is a guitar setup?
- How to set up amps and pedals
- How to set up your practice space
HOW TO TUNE A GUITAR
WHY DO YOU NEED TO TUNE A GUITAR
Properly tuning your guitar allows you to play single notes and chords in a way that rings true and sounds pleasant. Tuning your guitar is also important if you’re playing with other people. If everyone playing together isn’t in tune, it’s not going to sound good. Every time you pick up your guitar—and after you finish playing—take a moment to tune your guitar. It will help you train your ear to hear each note. Plus, it’s a good habit to get into.
Even if your guitar hasn’t been touched in awhile, there are factors you might not be aware of that can impact a guitar’s ability to stay in tune. Those factors can include:
The neck of your guitar is made from wood, which contracts and expands in warm or cold temperatures. This affects your guitar’s tuning. Even if your guitar is stored in an area with a relatively consistent temperature, slight variations can affect its tuning.
When traveling with your guitar, it might get jostled around in transit and is also exposed to different temperatures. Traveling from NYC to Los Angeles? The difference in climate and weather will definitely change your tuning.
Let’s face it—bending strings is one of the most fun guitar techniques you’ll ever try. But bending your strings will wreak havoc on your tuning. Bending increases tension behind the nut and stretches the string. This can make your notes either sharp or flat.
BUMPING YOUR GUITAR
Accidents happen. You might drop your guitar or bump it against a chair or wall when you pick it up to play. Guitars are sensitive instruments and even a slight bump can mess with your tuning. Want to learn more reasons why your guitar may be out of tune? Read this article.
GUITAR TUNING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
Tuning a guitar guitar is one of the first skills any beginner learns. Here are a few tuning tips to tuck into your guitar arsenal—no matter what guitar you play or type of tuner you use.
UNDERSTAND STANDARD TUNING
Standard tuning refers to assigning a standard of notes to each of your guitar’s six strings. From lowest to highest, those strings are: E, A, D, G, B, E. This order was determined centuries ago to help make it easier to play and achieve pleasant-sounding tones. (Hey, who’s gonna argue with hundreds of years of guitar wisdom?) Learn more about standard tuning
TIGHTEN STRINGS AFTER PLAYING
End each practice session by tightening your strings and adjusting them slightly higher. This helps strings stay in tune longer because it creates more tension and prevents the gears in the tuning pegs from lowering the pitch, causing more slack in the string. That tension will help maintain tune so you don’t have to spend too much time tuning the next time you play.
STRETCH YOUR STRINGS
When a string breaks or you want to swap out your old strings with a fresh pair (more on that later!), stretching your strings will help them stay in tune longer. Once you’ve changed your string and adjusted it onto the tuning peg, gently pull your string upward and away from the fretboard. This will help your strings settle and hold their tune longer.
HOW TO USE A GUITAR TUNER
Using a guitar tuner can help you tune your guitar with precision, picking up whether your string is sharp or flat. Whether you play an electric or acoustic, there are some basic principles that apply to tuning any guitar, but there are some specifics you should know, too. Check out the steps and videos below.
- Start by tuning your low E string.
- Pluck the string to hear if your note is sharp (too high) or flat (too low). If your note is sharp, you’ll want to twist your tuning peg down. If your note is flat, twist your tuning peg upward.
- Continue plucking the string as you turn the peg. Listen for it to level out and hit a true low E. Your guitar tuner will also let you know when you’ve achieved the correct pitch.
- Keep moving down each of your remaining strings, continuing with the A string. Repeat the process until all six of your strings are accurately tuned.
HOW TO TUNE YOUR GUITAR BY EAR
If you don’t have a guitar tuner, you can learn to tune your guitar by ear. While there is no shame in using a tuner (even pros use tuners regularly!), learning this technique can not only help you better develop your ear, but it’s also useful in case you don’t have access to a tuner or tuning app on your phone.
Here’s how to start learning how to tune your guitar by ear:
- Begin by learning to adjust your guitar to standard tuning (E, A, D, G, B, E)
- Because standard tuning involves each string being separated by fifths (five notes higher than the last), you can use each previous string to tune the next.
- To start, you’ll have to be sure that first low E is perfect.
- If you practice enough, you can “hear” that low E note in your head. However, if you’re just getting familiar with notes and tones, there are a number of ways to “listen” for that low E:
- Play a low E on a piano, if you have one nearby.
- Pick out a song that you know and love that contains a low E. Identify that note in the song and replicate it when tuning by ear. A good example is the intro section to “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica. Another example is “A Horse With No Name” by America. The first chord in both of these songs is Em.
- Once you’ve perfectly tuned your low E string, you can fret the fifth fret of the string and use that as your basis to tune your next (A) string.
- Continue playing the fifth fret of each consecutive string to find the correct pitch for its adjacent string. The only exception is the G string. On this string, play the 4th fret to get a proper B note for the next string. You’ll have tuned all six strings by ear in no time!
TYPES OF GUITAR TUNERS
If you haven’t yet developed your ear to tune your guitar, don’t fret! (Sorry. Guitar pun.) There are a few different types of tuners that you can use to make sure you’re pitch perfect.
A free online guitar tuner (like Fender’s for acoustic, electric, and bass guitar. We have one for ukulele, too!) is a great option because you don’t have to download anything. Simply bookmark the page on your laptop, desktop, or tablet. If you’re practicing at home or in front of your laptop, you can easily access a guitar tuner online. If you’re at home in front of your laptop, it’s quick and easy.
The only downside to an online tuner is that you do need to be connected to the internet to use it. However, it’s a convenient and consistent way to adjust your tune before playing.
GUITAR TUNER MOBILE APP
When you download a mobile app for tuning, you can take it with you wherever you go. The Fender Tune app is convenient, portable, and free. The app is available for both iOS and Android users and can be used to tune either an acoustic or electric guitar, as well as bass and ukulele.
The Fender Tune mobile app uses your phone’s microphone to identify the pitch of your string. To make sure your phone can hear your string accurately, it’s best to use it in a quiet area where no other noise will interfere with the tuner.
Clip-on tuners clamp onto your guitar and help you adjust your pitch. You don’t have to worry about finding a flat surface to lay your phone or open up your laptop. Sometimes known as digital tuners, a clip-on tuner, can be clamped onto your headstock.
As you pluck each note, your tuner will let you know whether you need to tune up or down to achieve the correct pitch. Another convenient factor about clip-on tuners, like our Fender FT-1 Pro Clip-On Tuner, is that they have built-in vibration sensors to detect movement from your strings. This allows them to perform well, even in the noisiest club or garage. These types of tuners are battery-operated and have bright, LED-screens to show you whether a given string is flat or sharp. You can even tune up in the dark!
“I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it.”
- JIMMY PAGE, LED ZEPPELIN
HOW TO STRING A GUITAR
Yet another skill all new guitarists should know is how to put strings on a guitar. If you’ve had an intense practice session or bent your strings so hard you’d make Eric Clapton beam with pride, it might be time to change your strings. Here are some beginner tips for restringing your guitar.
BEGINNER TIPS FOR CHANGING GUITAR STRINGS
- Restring after every 200 hours of play: Regular restringing will preserve the integrity of your tone. It also ensures your string won’t break at a critical moment and slow you down. If you play your guitar for several hours daily, you’ll need to replace your strings much sooner than someone who only plays a few hours a week.
- Get the right strings for your guitar: Electric guitar strings are made from metals and alloys (such as steel or nickel) that work with magnetic pickups to amplify sound. Acoustic guitar strings are made from materials that resonate, such as bronze, brass, or nylon synthetics.
- Make sure you have the correct gauge string: String gauge refers to how thick or thin a string is. Lighter gauge strings are bright and easy to play. Heavier strings can be more difficult, but offer more volume and sustain. The gauge you choose depends on your comfort level as well as the sound you’re looking for. [Learn more about string gauges here](https://www.fender.com/articles/gear/fender-electric-guitar-string-guide "Learn more about string gauges here").
- Always have an extra set of strings: You never know when disaster can strike and a string (or two!) breaks. Tuck an extra set of strings into your guitar case or gig bag so you can swap out a broken string, if needed.
- Have wire cutters handy: Maybe you like the look of excess strings poking out from your tuning pegs like guitar antennae. If you prefer a neater appearance and don’t want anything extra protruding from your headstock, have a pair of wire cutters on hand to snip off the excess.
- Change each string, one at a time: Even if you want to install a fresh set of six new strings, do not remove all of your strings at once. Rather, change each string, one at a time. This avoids putting the neck of your guitar through major changes in tension, which could impact your guitar’s ability to stay in tune.
- Clean up while you tune up: Use restringing your guitar as an opportunity to clean the neck and the body. Often, the neck of your guitar gets neglected since the strings rest on it. Use a soft microfiber cloth to gently wipe away dust and oils from your fingertips from the neck and to polish the body of your guitar. Not only does this help you take pride in your instrument, it’ll last longer, too!
WHAT IS A GUITAR SETUP?
You may have heard the term “guitar setup.” This process is essentially the guitar equivalent of taking your car to a mechanic for a tune up. It ensures your guitar is properly maintained and that all parts are in good working order. A guitar setup also involves tweaking your guitar’s settings so that it’s unique to your playing style and comfort level.
A setup involves the following guitar maintenance components:
- Adjusting the bridge
- Adjusting the nut
- Making sure your pickups are secure
- Adjusting the truss rod
- Adjusting intonation
- Restringing your guitar
- Polishing and cleaning
Setting up a guitar can be a complicated—but not impossible—process for a beginner guitarist. We offer thorough directions for those who want to set up their own Fender guitars. If you’re interested in the process, tips, and tools, check out this article on how to set up a Fender guitar properly.
If you’re new to playing guitar and unsure of how to conduct a regular guitar setup, you can bring it to a local music store. They can do it for you, but also give you some pointers on what to look for so you can comfortably do a guitar setup on your own.
HOW TO SET UP AMPS AND PEDALS
While a guitar setup can refer to routine maintenance on your guitar, it can also refer to the type of “rig” or configuration of amps and pedals you can use to create your own unique sound. Many beginners are overwhelmed by the thought of electronics and effects—but they don’t have to be scary. Here’s a step-by-step guide for beginners to plug in their amp, pedals, and guitar correctly.
START BY MAKING SURE EVERYTHING HAS POWER
Plug your amp into an outlet. Once you’re sure your amp has power, you’ll also want to make sure that your pedals have power, too.
Pedals have either a nine volt battery or a power adapter. If you’re using an adapter, make sure it’s firmly plugged into both your pedal and a working outlet.
Some guitars have active pickups, which means they rely on a battery. If your guitar has a battery in it, make sure it has juice.
IF YOU HAVE A TUBE AMP, PUT IT ON STANDBY TO WARM UP
If you’re using a solid-state amp, you can just plug in and play. However, if you’re using a tube amp, it will need to warm up before you can crank out some fully-amplified riffs. Tube amps are sensitive, so while you want it to warm up, you may not want it to output any sound just yet or risk hearing loud feedback or horrendous noise while you’re getting your pedals and other effects plugged in. To avoid crackling feedback while still allowing your tubes to warm up, check to make sure the standby switch is on.
Learn more about the difference between tube amps and solid-state amps.
CHAIN TOGETHER PEDALS CORRECTLY
Do you like your guitar heavy on the distortion? Do you crave a little reverb or delay on the tail end of a chord? That’s where effects pedals come in handy! With your amp plugged in (and warming up on standby), you can now get to work chaining your pedals together. Start by plugging your guitar cable into the jack of your guitar. The cable should go from your guitar into the input of the pedal. String another cable into the output of your first pedal and into another pedal (if you’re chaining effects) or directly into your amp.
KEEP CALM AND DOUBLE CHECK YOUR WORK
Make sure everything is strung together correctly, then turn your amp on (or switch it off standby, if you’re using a tube amp). If you’re new to this process, test out your sound by turning the amp volume to its lowest setting. Then, turn it up slowly so you don’t get major feedback. If you’re not hearing sound, take a deep breath and retrace your steps. Make sure your cables are secured and aren’t loose from any inputs or outputs. Remember, there are also volume knobs on your guitar. Check them, too, if you’re not hearing sound.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH BASIC AMP SETTINGS
You may take a look at your amp and ask yourself, “What do all these knobs do?” Not to worry! Every amp has a set of basic knobs that help create a distinct tone. Play around with them to find a sound you like. Here are some basic settings every new guitarist should know:
Also known as “drive,” this setting controls the level of distortion. More gain gives you a more distorted sound. Learn more about gain here.
This knob controls the low end of your guitar, or how deep your guitar sounds when plugged into your amp.
This setting adjusts the higher frequencies of your guitar when it’s plugged into your amp.
This knob helps you equalize mid tones and balance your sound. Learn more about tips for finding your guitar tone.
HOW TO SET UP YOUR PRACTICE SPACE
Playing guitar can be a rewarding experience, but it’s not always easy to carve out time to practice. Sometimes, life gets in the way. However, having a practice space that motivates you to play can go a long way toward making time to practice.
One of the best ways to keep your head in the guitar game is to set up your practice space so you can get down to business and play without additional hassle. Here are a few tips for beginners to set up a practice space and make playing more fun:
- Keep your guitar in sight: Out of sight, out of mind. Keep your guitar in a spot where you can see it as a reminder to practice. Place it in its gig bag or on a stand in your practice space.
- Decorate your space: Go to any gym. They likely have posters of athletes covering the walls to motivate people to train harder. Guitarists are no different. Find posters or quotes from some of your own guitar heroes and put them up in your space. It’s a reminder of why you decided to pick up the guitar in the first place.
- Have a comfortable seat: Have a stool or armless chair in your practice space so you can use correct posture and play comfortably.
- Tools of the trade: In case you break a string while playing or need to tune up your guitar, have a guitar “tool box” handy in your practice space, packed with essentials. Fill it with extra picks, strings, a guitar strap, wire cutters, a screwdriver, and a soft cleaning cloth for wiping your guitar down after practice.
- Proper lighting: Lighting can help you set the mood, or also read notes and clearly see your strings and positioning while playing. Make sure you have lighting that won’t strain your eyes to encourage quality playing time.
- Stay organized: If you are playing electric guitar, you’ll have pedals, cables, amps, and power sources to tend to. But a chaotic practice space can be demotivating. If you have lots of extra cables, consider putting hooks on the walls to hang them and keep them off the floor. If you start to accumulate pedals, consider investing in a board to keep them all together.
NEED SOME MORE MOTIVATION TO GET PRACTICING?
Check out these articles for more tips & tricks:
“The violin is my mistress, but the guitar is my master.”
- NICCOLO PAGANINI
READY. GET SET UP. PLAY!
- Staying and playing in tune is one of the first and most important skills a beginner guitarist should know.
- There is no shame in using a guitar tuner to tune your instrument. However, learning to tune by ear is a handy skill to have, too!
- Regular maintenance of your guitar can help keep your guitar in good working order, making it more enjoyable to learn and play.
- Don’t be intimidated by electronics! Get acquainted with various settings on your amp and experiment with pedals.
- Make time—and space—to practice!
Practicing regularly for just a few minutes every day can help you expand your guitar skills. Fender Play can help you learn new techniques, songs, and help motivate you to practice more often and learn new things at your own pace.
MORE CHAPTERS IN THIS GUIDE
HOME:THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO GUITAR
Find everything you need to learn to begin playing guitar, all in one place. New guitarists of all ages can find what they need to start playing.
CHAPTER 1:HOW TO BUY A GUITAR
Get tips and advice on finding the right guitar for you. Learn how to shop for a guitar in-person, online, or how to buy used.
CHAPTER 3:HOW TO PLAY GUITAR
From chords to scales to putting techniques into practice to play a song, learn more about the fun and fundamentals of playing guitar.