When a guitar is tuned a half step down (also referred to as Eb Standard Tuning), it means that it is tuned one semitone (or one note on the piano) down from Standard Tuning.
All you need to tune your guitar a half step down is a tuner (if you don’t have one, check out our guide on guitar tuners), the new notes in the tuning, and your ears!
- Grab a Tuner: Plug in, turn on, or otherwise attach your tuner to your guitar.
- Start With Low String: Starting with your lowest (ie. the thickest string) pitched string (E), pluck the string while slowly turn the tuning head to decrease the pitch (flatten) until your tuner reads Eb.
- Fine Tune the Note: Fine tune the pitch until the string plays a perfect Eb (or Eb2 if your tuner indicates the octave).
- Complete the Tuning: Repeat this process on each string so that they are all one semitone below standard tuning: Eb Ab Db Gb Bb eb (see tuning guide below).
- String Stretch: Grab each individual string and give it a few gentle tugs upwards.
- Retune Again: Repeat steps 3 and 4 to fine tune your guitar into Eb Standard Tuning.
- Final Tuning: Pluck the strings and/or play a few chords to check tuning. Adjust as necessary.
If you’re new to the guitar or aren’t very comfortable tuning a guitar, read on for some more detailed instructions.
Eb Standard Tuning Guide
In Eb Standard Tuning, the strings on the guitar are tuned to the following pitches (from low pitch to high pitch):
- Flats: Eb Ab Db Gb Bb eb
- Sharps: D# G# C# F# A# d#
The sharp/flat tunings above are the same and are referred to as enharmonic equivalents (Eb=D#, Ab=G#, etc.). When switching from Standard Tuning to Eb Standard Tuning, the notes will change to the following (from low to high):
- E becomes Eb/D#
- A becomes Ab/G#
- D becomes Db/C#
- G becomes Gb/F#
- B becomes Bb/A#
- e becomes eb/d#
If you’re new to musical theory, don’t sweat it. A music theory book for guitar might be a handy pickup (pun intended!).
How to Tune a Guitar Down a Half Step – Detailed Steps
If you’re new to the guitar, there are a few tuning basics that will be outlined in this section.
When significantly changing the tuning of a guitar, it is good practice to tune the guitar at least two times. The first time gets the string close to the pitch that you want, and the second time is to make fine adjustments once the guitar settles from the change in string tension.
When tuning your string, pluck the string every 1 to 1.5 seconds at a medium loudness. This allows the tuner to detect the note when it is most consistent. If your tuner is not responding or seems to be acting in a weird way, mute the string for a few seconds until the tuner stops registering a note, then try again.
Before major tuning changes, check the current tuning of your guitar. If it is very out of tune, it may help to tune it to Standard Tuning before tuning it a half step down.
Step 1: Attach Your Tuner
There are many different types of tuners. The most common types used for the electric guitar are clip-on tuners, pocket/card-type tuners, stompbox/pedal tuners and phone apps.
As the name suggests, clip-on tuners are clipped directly onto the guitar’s headstock. These are also very useful for acoustic guitars, and do not require any additional equipment.
Pocket/card-type tuners are also very versatile, often detecting pitch using a small microphone in the tuner or through a guitar cable input.
These can be used for all sorts of instruments (like orchestral instruments) and sometimes include a metronome or a speaker that plays A440.
Stompbox/pedal tuners are specifically made for guitars, and are often used with other guitar effect pedals.
Stompbox tuners only take a guitar cable as an input and can only be used on guitars with pickups (such as electric guitars and acoustic guitars fitted with pickups).
There are also tons of free tuner apps (I use Tuner Lite by Piascore for iOS) that use the microphone in your phone. These are great to use in a pinch, especially if you’re out and about or without your regular tuner.
Each of these types of tuners generally use a needle style meter that tells you if the string pitch is flat, sharp, or in tune. When the needle is in the middle, then the guitar is playing the note in tune.
Measurements to the left of center mean your string is flat and you need to sharpen/ increase the pitch. If the measurement is on the right side of the center, the string is sharp and you need to flatten/ decrease the pitch.
Be careful to check which note is being detected on the tuner! It is possible to tune a string to an exact pitch that is not the intended note. If you are unsure about what note the string should be when tuning a half step down, refer to the guide in the previous section.
Step 2: Start With The Lowest Pitch String
When tuning a guitar, the best practice is to begin with the lowest pitched string (the thickest string). Since these strings have the highest tension, they can affect the tuning of the other strings when they are adjusted.
Tuning from the lowest pitched string to the highest will help keep the higher strings in tune (and therefore the whole guitar when tuned in this sequence).
Figuring out which way to turn your tuning heads is one of the most important things to know when tuning your guitar.
Using your tuner (and your ears if you’re confident in identifying lower versus higher pitches), turn the tuning head in one direction (start with 1/8th of a turn or less) and make note if the pitch increases or decreases.
Once you have determined which direction sharpens the pitch and which direction flattens the pitch, proceed to flatten the string to roughly Eb (assuming you are starting with the guitar in Standard Tuning).
Start by turning the tuning head to flatten the string by about a 1/8th turn and read the tuner. Continue to adjust in 1/8th turns or less until your tuner reads the correct pitch.
When making the coarse adjustment to the tuning head, it will likely require about a 1/4 turn total to get close to the desired pitch. If you are turning the tuning head more than this, slow down and check your tuner.
Always be aware of the note that is displayed on your tuner and make sure that it is the correct one! If your tuner is not displaying your intended note, stop tuning and write down which note is displayed.
Determine if you need to increase or decrease your string pitch to tune to an Eb, then slowly turn the tuning head in the proper direction. Over tightening a string can be damaging to a guitar, so make sure that you are turning the tuning head the correct way on the correct string!
Step 3: Fine Tune The Note
Always finish tuning your string by sharpening the note. This means that when you are fine tuning, the string’s note should start a little bit flat of the target and then be tightened/ sharpened up to the final pitch. This helps the tuners hold the string pitch more accurately.
Ending the tuning by flattening the pitch can allow the tuners to slip, and your guitar can more easily fall out of tune while playing.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2 & 3 For All Strings
Once you have finished tuning your lowest string, move on to the next lowest string. Continue the process of tuning the guitar’s next lowest string until all of the strings are tuned.
In Step 2, be sure to be flattening the string to the correct pitch (see the tuning guide at the start of this article)!
Once this step is complete, the guitar should be roughly in tune.
Step 5: Stretch Out The Strings (Suggested)
Since tuning a half step down causes a significant change in string tension, it is likely that the new tuning will not hold for very long. Similar to when installing new strings, gently stretching the strings can help them settle into the new tuning.
Using a cloth or a clean hand, gently tug each string a few times upwards. Do not pull too hard, we don’t want to come anywhere near breaking the strings. This helps stretch the string out a bit, and ensures that there is even tension across the string when it is seated in its regular position.
Step 6: Re-Tune
Depending on how much your strings have stretched (or if you decided to skip the stretch) the strings may be fairly out of tune again. Check the string on your tuner, and then sharpen the appropriate amount to get it back to the correct pitch.
Repeat Steps 2-4 to get the guitar finely tuned.
Step 7: The Final Check
Play each string individually once again, checking your tuner and adjusting as necessary. Repeat this until you are content with the tuning. I will often strum a few chords to make sure it sounds in tune to my ears.
I would recommend checking the tuning again after playing a bit to make sure it did not drop out of tune. If it did, fine tune as you normally would.
Tuning a guitar a half step down is something most guitarists will eventually do. Understanding the principles of tuning a guitar while taking things slowly will ensure that you can safely and reliably tune your guitar a half step down.
Remember to keep an eye on your tuner, and make sure your guitar is tuned to the correct notes. Once it’s in tune, be sure to check the tuning periodically and make adjustments as needed.