Tuning with Harmonics
Tuning is one of the most important skills you can have as a musician. There are many ways to go about tuning your guitar, but what you need to do with all of them is – USE YOUR EAR. Even if you're using an electronic or digital tuner, you still need to listen and let your ear be the final judge, because those listening to you will be judging you with their ears as well. After trying a bunch of different methods over the years, this has become my favourite way of doing it because it also has the best results. The reason this works so well is because we will tune everything to ONE STRING, thereby eliminating the cumulative error effect of tuning to five different strings. We're going to use the 5th string (A) to tune every other string. The reason for this is because the 5th fret harmonic on the A string is the pitch known as A440, which is the standard for tuning pretty much all instruments.
Before we get started, just a word about harmonics. To play a harmonic, you will touch the string very lightly precisely over the fret (not in between the frets). Then when you move your finger away, the string will keep ringing. This might take a little bit of practice, but it's a really cool effect and it produces a very pure tone, which is why it works so well for tuning. So, here we go...
Tune the 5th string using a tuner or with a tuning fork. If using a tuning fork, play the 5th fret harmonic and tune the string to A440.
Tune the 6th string - Play the 7th fret harmonic on the 5th string, then play the 5th fret harmonic on the 6th string and tune the 6th string to match.
Tune the 4th string - Play the 5th fret harmonic on the 5th string, then play the 7th fret harmonic on the 4th string and tune the 4th string to match.
Tune the 3rd string – Play the 7th fret harmonic on the 5th string, then play the 3rd string at the 9th fret (not the harmonic, but the fretted note E), and tune the 3rd string to match.
Tune the 2nd string - Play the 7th fret harmonic on the 5th string, then play the 2nd string at the 5th fret (not the harmonic, but the fretted note E), and tune the 2nd string to match.
Tune the 1st string - Play the 7th fret harmonic on the 5th string, then play the 1st string open and tune the 1st string to match.
This method will work well regardless of whether the 5th string is perfectly in tune, as we are tuning everything relative to that string.
The video below starts at step #2 and so assumes that your 5th string is already in tune - or close enough : )