Ok, so everyone should have by now learned how to use an electronic tuner. If you’re new to this however, it can seem simpler than it is. Lets start with the basics:
1. The Electronic Tuner
The tuner you choose can make a difference. I went through a couple before I actually settled on a Snark. The Snark (http://www.snarktuners.com/prod_gb1.html) that I use is simple, has some decent features, and works with both electric and acoustic. Probably not the choice for a gig situation, but it’s accurate and very fast, so it’s exactly what I was looking for. The others that I’d tried were just as expensive, but much slower response, and definitely not as accurate acoustically.
2. The Guitar Intonation
It’s important to make sure your guitar is properly intonated. This means that when you fret a note, the note doesn’t go sharp or flat by the process of simply fretting it. You can look this up on the web and do it yourself, or bring your guit to a luthier or guitar tech and have them do it. Some guits are simpler to intonate than others, so it probably depends upon your particular gear as to whether you do it yourself or have someone else do it for you.
3. The Strings
Although string brand and type are dependent upon your gear and your particular tastes, it is important that you have relatively fresh strings installed. “Fresh” is a matter of how well you care for your gear as well as personal preference to an extent, but we should stress that as strings get “old”, they will be less likely to sound clear and true. Some people insist you need to change your strings as often as every month. I think this is ridiculous and a waste of money. However you should start considering a change at the very least every 4 months or so with regular play. Strings get flat spots at the frets, and also get “tempered” or harden. The harder the strings, the more fret wear you’ll get, but still, it’s up to you.
Ok, onto the meat of this. With your tuner connected to your guit and powered on, we’ll start by rough-tuning the guitar. That involves simply plucking each string in turn, starting at the fattest one (low E) and turning the tuning machine until the tuner shows it’s reasonably close to what it should be based upon what your electronic tuner indicates. This should get you reasonably close to being perfectly in tune. My experience has been that the low E seems the most difficult followed by the B string. You should try to pluck the string with the same amount of force each time, and the force should be moderate (not too hard, not too soft) as the louder the string, the more likely it will be to produce harmonics, which can affect the way that the electronic tuner responds.
Next, we want to tune to the 12th fret harmonic. Picking a harmonic simply is resting your finger on the string at the fret, without actually pressing the string against the fret, and then plucking the string (pick or fingers) and releasing the string at the same instant with your fretting hand. You’ll hear the note ring-out, but differently than if you actually had fretted the note. If you tune each string in turn to the 12th fret harmonic, you’ll be that much closer to a perfect tuning. Again, pay particular attention to the A string, as our next step is based off of that string.
Final Comment: There is some following of people tuning to 5th and 7th fret harmonics. I know skilled guitarists that do this, and I did until recently. However after reading about the the actual results of what 5th/7th fret harmonic tuning actually accomplished, I’ve decided to stop doing it. It seems that by doing this you’re actually putting your guitar out of tune, not in tune. Tuning string-to-string actually sounds like it should make sense, but it seems in reality it can put it out of tune by as much several cents from what it should be. This seems unacceptable to me, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong – I’m sure I’ll enjoy the debate regardless of the outcome!