Tuning: How to Use an Electronic Tuner
We will be using a chromatic electronic tuner to tune the steel guitar so it is important to understand how we will use it tune more accurately than our ear can hear. You will find that we will not be tuning each note perfectly (needle `straight up'). Some notes will end up slightly sharp; others slightly flat.
The tuner will have at least an INPUT. Plug your guitar directly into this input to give the strongest signal possible. Your tuner will also have a dial with a needle or LED readout that will show whether the note you are playing is SHARP or FLAT of the standard (A=440Hz). Some tuners allow you to change the standard, e.g., to 441 or other values. We will keep the standard set to 440. Plug the guitar into the tuner and strike the 4th string. The tuner should recognize the note as an E. If not, you will need to turn the tuning key SLOWLY in whichever direction brings you closer to E. A chromatic tuner is able to sense the nearest note to the one you're playing and tell you whether you are tuned too high (sharp) or low (flat). DO NOT USE A `GUITAR TUNER' - that type of tuner only tunes the open strings of a standard, 6 string guitar and is only of use to find a standard pitch, similar to the way you would use a tuning fork, if you are tuning your steel by ear (#1 of `Four Ways to Tune a Pedal Steel Guitar').
---------------CENTS or HERTZ????-----------------
what is a Hertz (abbreviated Hz), anyway?
One Hertz = a vibration that happens once a second -- it used to be more common to hear 'cycle per second'. It's the same thing. The tuning standard is that the A note you find on the first fret of the 3rd string of E9 vibrates EXACTLY 440 times each second. That standard is referred to as A440. You tune to a note that is IN TUNE WITH A440. This is a CALIBRATION SETTING, not the actual frequency at which the note vibrates. If you want to know the actual frequency of the vibration, you may find it HERE. If you calibrate to A439 by setting your chromatic tuner to modify the tuning standard from 440 to 439, you will be tuning SLIGHTLY FLAT OF STANDARD, CONCERT PITCH. When using the JUST INTONATION system of tuning (which the Newman charts are), you will need to adjust certain notes to be sharper or flatter than standard.
---------------and what is a CENT?
A CENT is 1/100 of a semitone, the musical distance between any two adjacent frets.
So if you divide one fret's distance in 100 equal parts, each one is ONE CENT
---------------and why do I CARE?
Tuners sometimes display the CENTS scale, sometimes the HERTZ scale, sometimes both. It's nice to understand how to convert between the two scales. Jeff Newman's chart is in HERTZ so, if your tuner only displays CENTS, you will need to make the following calculation:
(440Hz - chart setting) x (-4) = CENTS
If the chart reads 437.5 Hertz, subtract that from 440 (the tuning standard) = 2.5 Hz. This difference is multiplied by -4, giving -10 CENTS (or 10 CENTS FLAT). 10 CENTS flat means it is tuned 1/10 of a fret's distance flat. If the Hertz scale went that far, one fret flat would be about A=415 and one fret sharp would be about A=465
If the chart reads 441 Hertz, subtract that from 440 to get -1
REMEMBER THAT (-1) x (-4) = 4 (not negative 4)
To tune a note to 441 on a tuner that reads CENTS, Tune the note 4 cents SHARP.
What is A440?
A worldwide tuning standard is A440. This means (read this CAREFULLY) that you will tune all notes such that they will be in tune with an A note tuned to 440Hz. If your tuner reads Hz (e.g., 439, 440, 441, etc.) the conversion factor is 4 cents = 1Hz. If you tune to 439Hz you are tuning 4 cents flat. If you tune to 441Hz you are tuning 4 cents sharp. This is often a point of confusion. If you use other tuning charts, you may find that some use the cents system and others use Hertz. In any case, SHARP or FLAT means in relation to `straight up' on a tuner. `Straight up' means your tuner reads 0 cents or A=440Hz if you use the Hertz scale. Tuning to `440' means that you are tuning to the appropriate frequencies corresponding to A=440. A440 may be found on the E9 or E9/B6 tuning by playing the 3rd string with the B pedal engaged. IT IS THE ONLY NOTE ACTUALLY TUNED TO 440Hz. Some people will refer to tuning, for example, an E note to 440. This means that the E note is in tune with the A note tuned to 440Hz.