How To Tune Down A Half Step

In this article I will describe several methods how to tune your guitar a half step down

  • with the online guitar tuner half step down
  • with a chromatic tuner
  • with a fixed frequency tuner
  • without a tuner, with only one guitar at hand
  • without a tuner, but with a second guitar at hand

For each method I give step-by-step instructions. No matter what type of equipment you have or how experienced you are: in the end your guitar will be tuned down!


 

Step by step: how to tune your guitar down a half step

 

With the online guitar tuner

The easiest and cheapest way is probably the Online Guitar Tuner Half Step Down on this site. With this method you just have the Online Tuner play back the reference note. While it plays back, you simply pluck the string you want to tune and turn the tuning head until the notes match.

Once you are done with all strings, you should check if the first string is still in tune. It probably isn’t, because as you detune one string, the others tend to detune as well, if ever so slightly. To fix this simply start over again and tune all the strings til you get the desired result. This goes for all the tuning methods described below as well.

 

With a chromatic tuner

This is your typical run-of-the-mill tuner. So, if you own a tuner and wonder whether it is a chromatic tuner, the answer is most probably ‘yes’.

So can you tune down to Eb with that thing? Yes, you can, that’s what it was made for. A chromatic tuner is called that, because it can tune to every note, hence it can also tune to E flat.
With some tuners you have to select the tuning you are aiming for, which can be a bit confusing depending on the specific model.

The majority of tuners just display the note they are hearing and whether it is higher or lower than the note it is closest to. Every manufacturer comes up

with his own confusing symbols, and it often takes some getting used to. But here is how it generally works:

For example if your E-string was tuned to standard pitch, as you tune it down the tuner would display something like ‘> E’. This means ‘your note is closest

to E, but lower. Tune up to get an E’. As you continue to tune down , the display would shift to read something like ‘EbEb/D#’.

So what are the notes you have to tune your guitar to? Here they are:

Low E string: Eb or D#
A-string: Ab or G#
D-string: Db or E#
G-string: Gb or F#
b-string: Bb or A#
high e-string: eb or d#

 

With a fixed frequency tuner

A fixed tuner has a range of 6 notes it can detect. If you want to tune to a different set of notes, like half step down, there is no direct way of doing

this. You have to sneak your way around the limitations of your tuner.
The trick is to first tune the lowest strings to a higher note, and then tune the high e-string against the b-string.

Here is how it works:
Grip the low E-string on the 6th fret and pluck the string. The tuner will show something like ‘Bb While still holding the note, reach over with your right hand and begin to tune down the E-string. Look at the tuner: your goal is to tune this fret to the note A. Because if this fret is tuned to A, then the E-string will be tuned to Eb.
Continue to tune down til your tuner says that the 6th fret on the E-string is an A.
Now continue with the actual A-string: put your finger on the 6th fret, pluck the string and tune it down to the note D.
Tune the 6th fret of the D-string to a G.
Now we are at the G-string. This one works a little different, because the b-string is only 4 semitones higher in pitch. Therefore, you have to put your finger on the 5th fret of the G-string and tune it to the note b.
On with the actual b-string, again grab the 6th fret and tune it to the high e.

Now we have reached the end of the tuner. In order to tune the remaining high e-string, go on like this: put your finger on the 5th fret of the b-string and tune the e-string down to that note.

That’s it.

 

Without a tuner, with only one guitar at hand: tuning the guitar against itself

So let’s say you don’t have access to a tuner and for some reason cannot use the Eb online guitar tuner. All is not lost!

Given your guitar is tuned accurately to standard tuning, you could still tune the guitar against itself. This is generally only good for a rough tuning.

With a Floyd-Rose-type tremolo this method won’t work at all. If you have a Floyd-Rose-type tremolo, you will have to use the 2nd method, as described below.

With a fixed bridged guitar, like a Les Paul or an SG, this will work OK. With anything other than a fixed bridge, the reference note will move up in pitch

as you release tension from the low E-string. So there would be no accurate Eb note to tune against. With a fixed bridge the A-string will stay in tune as you detune the E-string.

The idea is to play the reference note Eb on the A-string and tune the low E-string against this note. Of course the note on the A-string will be an octave higher, but it will be no problem to match te notes.
For this method you would grip the 6th fret on the A-string and pluck both the A-string and the low E-String simultaneously. It will sound horribly out of tune.
Now, start to tune down the low E-string until it sounds in tune with the A-string (6th fret). As the E-string gets closer in pitch to the A-string there will be a slight beat that is getting slower as you approach the correct pitch.

 
Without a tuner, but with a second guitar at hand: tuning against another guitar

In case you have a second guitar at hand, you can use this method. It is especially useful for half step down tuning guitars with a floating bridge.
The general concept is the same as above. Only you use another guitar to tune against. This way you can tune the guitar against a stable pitch, that isn’t affected by the changes of the other strings. It may be easier to have a second person play the reference notes. This person does not need to be able to play guitar. If there is no second person, you can just put the guitar near you and pluck the strings yourself.

Given both guitars are tuned to standard tuning, the other person would play the 6th fret on the A-string. You would then tune the low E-string as described above.

 

With or without a tuner…which is best? And a couple of tips…

Generally there are two ways to tune a guitar:

  • either against a reference note, with your ear being the judge, or
  • with a tuner, with your eyes being the judge.

Let’s talk about tuners first. Technically a tuner is a device, that detects the pitch of your guitar and then provides a visual feedback.

There are several drawbacks to this method, because, as it turns out, detecting a pitch is one of the hardest tasks in audio processing.

The reason for this is, that the note you play on a guitar will never be one fixed pitch. Let me explain: when you pluck the string the pitch will be highest. As the the note rings out, the pitch will get lower and lower. The differences in pitch are small, but big enough to make it hard for a tuner to come to a definite conclusion as to what the exact pitch is. Simply because it is changing slightly all the time.

This leads to the well known phenomenon that the the display on the tuner will change nervously between different notes it has detected. Obviously it has a hard time figuring out what the actual pitch of your string is. As the note rings out, the display settles for a note, and this note is often slightly too low.

Tuners sometimes have a built in microphone. This allows you to tune an acoustic guitar, which doesn’t have a jack. Do not use the tuner this way, if you want to tune an electric guitar. If your tuner offers the possibility to connect your guitar via a cable, then you should definitely do so. It makes it a lot easier for the tuner to detect the pitch and will speed up the tuning process big time. The microphone function is only for acoustic guitars.

Tuning against a reference note, as with the online guitar tuner on this site, is the traditional way of tuning any stringed instrument.

The only reason to use an electronic tuner is that you can tune your guitar in loud environments, such as a stage, because the tuner receives the signal via cable and  provides a visual feedback.

If you’re not in a loud environment it is as good, if not better, to tune against a reference note, like with the online guitar tuner Eb.