It goes without saying that if you’re not in tune it doesn’t matter how good a player you are – your guitar is going to sound bad or at least not as good as it could do. Tuning a guitar is actually not that easy for beginners to do, it requires a sensitive ear which normally takes time to develop.
Electronic tuners are great but they are far from perfect. Your ears should always be the final judge on whether or not your guitar is in tune.
You can tune your guitar totally by ear but it’s often an inaccurate method and not suitable for beginners to attempt. Most people tune to standard concert pitch where the A string (the 5th string on your guitar) is at 440Hz. This is the worldwide standard for tuning not only for guitar but for all instruments and even entire orchestras. When you buy a tuner in a music store it will also be pre-programmed to tune to this worldwide standard, in more expensive models you have the option to alter this and tune in different degrees either side of 440Hz. Some players do tune their strings slightly sharp of 440Hz as they believes it makes the sound slightly more exciting.
When learning how to tune it’s very important that you are in a quiet place and are able to give the task your full attention. The harmonics involved are often soft and you’ll need to listen carefully in order to pick them out. There are a number of different ways to tune a guitar such as by matching frets to open strings, matching octaves and matching harmonics. It’s a good idea to not only use all of them combined. Even with a tuner telling you which strings are sharp of flat, and by how much, it will still take you a while to get the hang of how to tune a guitar properly.
It can be the case that no matter how well you tune your guitar it will still sound out of tune for certain chords or as your playing progresses further up the neck. This problem is often attributed to something called intonation and in order for a guitar to tune up and play well its intonation must be perfect. Fortunately this is something which can be adjusted until it is right and it does not need to be reset too often assuming that you take reasonable care of your instrument. With any guitar it’s always worthwhile getting the intonation checked by a professional so you can be sure your guitar is going to tune up really well and as a consequence, your playing will sound as good as possible.