One problem that every guitar player will face is when they can’t tune the low E string on their guitar. All six strings of the guitar can have their own issues such as breakages and intonation problems, but the E string is unique because it presents more tuning challenges to musicians.
The thing about notes in the lower register is that they tend to be harder to hear because our ears have limitations when it comes to recognizing low frequencies. This is why almost all guitarists have experienced torment when they are tuning their low E string on stage while the drummer is blasting away on the drums before a crowd.
On top of that, the low E string has a more complex design compared with other strings in the set (most notably the thinner ones). The low E has thick-gauged wires wrapped around it, making it a hospitable environment for grime, sweat and other stuff that will contribute to the faster degradation of your string’s sound quality and intonation.
Keeping a guitar in tune all the time, should be the number one priority for every guitarist. Overlooking this crucial factor of your setup could ruin what is supposed to be a perfect performance. Proper maintenance of your equipment, as well as being prepared with the necessary tools, are vital in ensuring that your night will not be ruined by any tuning mishap.
Here’s a video you can use to match the tuning of your low E string:
Why can’t I tune my low E string?: how to fix this
Tuning a guitar that is not properly intonated can be a huge headache for most guitar players. You can try using all tuning methods on your instrument but none of them would work if your guitar is out of intonation.
Extreme weather changes and humidity are the most common causes of improperly intonated guitars. One way to check your guitar’s intonation is to compare the fretted note and the natural harmonics on the 12th fret. If they are not in tune with each other, that means your guitar needs some bridge adjustments.
If you are not confident with this process, it is much recommended that you seek the help of a professional guitar technician or a luthier. Tweaking the bridge or even the truss rod can cause a whole new set of issues if you are not sure with what you are doing.
As your set of strings wear off and gunk sinks into the crevices, their intonation can be affected, making it difficult to tune them. Since the low E string has the biggest coils of wire, more dirt can seep in and make their sound muddy. A dull string can also make the strings more difficult to tune, because they are difficult for human ears or even electronic tuners to recognize.
Tuning using ears
Tuning your guitar using your ears is not the best way to keep your instrument in tune. Even the most advanced guitar players will not perform onstage or record in a studio without the aid of a tuner. Very few musicians are born with the gift of perfect pitch, so unless you are a prodigy like Mozart, a tuner should be the number one tool in your guitar kit.
Additionally, lower frequencies are more difficult for human ears to perceive and if you are not accustomed yet to notes in the bass register, you will struggle tuning the E string by ear. Another problem with tuning your guitar without a tuner is that there are chances your basis might be inaccurately tuned (pianos can go out of tune and MP3 files can be altered digitally to change a song’s pitch).
Guitar nut issues
If the nut of your guitar is not properly shaped or placed, it can put some unnecessary pressure on your strings. Sometimes this could make the string ride too high over the nut, causing it to sound a bit sharper than normal.
Loose tuning machine
If you can’t tune the low E string, one reason could be a loose tuning machine. There are instances when you will be tuning your guitar perfectly, only to find out that it has strayed out of tune in just a minute. Check out the tuning pegs as well and make sure that they still have enough bite to drive the entire machine.
Try tightening up some screws on your gears and pegs to bring back their grip. If this doesn’t work, or if your gears and screws have already been eaten up by rust, your only option is to have the tuning machine replaced.
Electronic tuner problems and settings
Notes in the lower register, including a guitar’s low E string can be more challenging for some electronic guitar tuners to pick up. The solution to this is to try using the “bass” settings if the tuner has one, to allow it to read your bass strings better.
If you still can’t tune the low E string on your guitar, your electronic tuner might be malfunctioning as a result of being utilized on the road for too long. At this point, you will have to retire the good old tuner and replace it with a new one.