Electronic guitar tuners have made it possible even for beginners to keep their instruments pitch-perfect. But while this has made the job faster, many professionals complain that it hinders a musician’s ability to listen. They still swear by the tried and tested method of tuning by ear; to them, using your own ears to listen for frequency allows you not just to keep your guitar sounding the way you want it, but also helps you become a better listener and better musician.
Most tuners use the default frequency of 440 as a benchmark for measuring and adjusting frequency. With the machine doing the “listening,” new players risk becoming too dependent on it, losing their sensitivity to sound. This doesn’t affect the instrument’s sound quality at all, but it can desensitize you to frequency changes and make it hard to tell when it’s time to tune your guitar. Listening, after all, is one of those skills that need to be practiced regularly.
If you’re not ready to go old-school just yet, start by combining old and new methods—a system that even many music greats swear by. Start by using a tuning fork to tune your guitar by ear, then check your accuracy by running the electric tuner. If you’ve never tuned manually before, the differences may be a little disappointing at first, but that’s part of the process. As you start getting used to it, you’ll find that the gap is getting smaller and smaller and you’re becoming more precise.
The theory behind this is that the tuner serves not to do the job for you, but as a reference for your own perception. As you rely on it less and less, you develop a stronger listening ability and a better ear for music in general. You also become more familiar with the sounds your guitar makes, and thus will be able to tell when something is off. This is the same concept used by music and voice coaches to help students develop perfect pitch.
There’s nothing wrong with using an electronic tuner, especially when you’re pressed for time or simply want the convenience. Even professionals use them from time to time. What matters is that you don’t lose touch with your instrument and become a “technical” player, following the notes but not making the music. If you think you can benefit from electronic tuning, use your ears to choose the right one—if it sounds right for you, it probably is.